A couple of years ago the village we live in topped Japan for having the fastest aging population in the country. Now it's slipped back a few places to 3rd or 4th place, but even still, 54% of people here are over 65 years old. The newsletter that comes from the village office monthly has a little section with births, deaths and numbers of people leaving and moving to the village. Every single month, except the month we moved here, the population has been decreasing. When our neighbour was a kid, there were 3000 people living here - now there are just under 1500. Only five babies were born here last year, and in the whole of the primary school there are just 46 students. With every second house uninhabited, the place feels so empty sometimes!
Anyway, I'm coming to the point of my story here. Y. had the day off today, so we went to visit a neighbouring village. There's an area where old houses have been preserved so tourists can see what life used to be like. It's just one street, mostly thatched roofs, with noodle shops and souvenirs places everywhere. I didn't realise until we got there how touristic it is - they have 1 million visitors a year! Quite unbelievable. We took this photo at the bottom of the street, can you see the tourists having a group photo taken?! It's gotten so big that locally produced souvenirs etc can't keep up with demand, so they've outsourced it all. Down the middle of the street there used to be the river, but they filled it in to be more tourist -friendly.
Apart from the tourist area, this village seemed so similar to our village that it was quite surreal. My first thought was that I'm so glad our village hasn't ended up like that. These people bus in with big tour companies from Tokyo, buy a whole lot of rubbish that's been trucked in from who knows where, take a couple of photos and then pile back on the bus to go home. But thinking again, I wonder what is to become of our village if things continue the way they are now. We have often been told that if they can't turn things around in the next five years, it's pretty much over. As it is, so many people seem to have already given up hope.
On the way back, we went through the main city of the area to pick some things up from the supermarket. A rare and exciting opportunity! Going home it's over an hour's winding drive - you can see where we're headed through the windscreen, right in the middle of all those mountains. What a place to live! After being here for four months or so, I can totally understand why people leave and never come back. But right now, there's nowhere else in Japan that I would happily live, and so I feel like we have a responsibility to help to make a future for this place. I guess that's what Y.'s job is all about, but I wonder what I can do? Hmmm, I'm sure I'll think of something!