Last weekend I attended a class field trip to Fujiyoshida, a small town west of Tokyo in the Yamanashi prefecture. The two most interesting things I learned from this field trip was just how drastic the population overturn has been in rural Japan as well as the differences in life in smaller towns when compared to Tokyo.
We were given a lecture when we first arrived at Fujiyoshida that gave incredible insight into the impressive regional revitalization process the city has been pushing for the past several years. It was mentioned that Fujiyoshida was a textile producing factory town that at its peak had about 300,000 residents, but after work started getting outsourced to other countries people left to work in other places. We were told at one point the population was as low as 300 people! They started the revitalization process in 2018 and now in 2022 the population has exceeded 48,000 people. Outsourcing textile jobs to other countries was responsible for the rapid depopulation, but the ability to get the population increasing so dramatically so quickly is truly incredible. The beautiful location of the city is obviously a large contributor, but the town could not have ever recovered without the hard work and effort of the townspeople. Holding events to spread awareness like the one I was able to attend, holding events in Tokyo to try to get people moving out, sponsoring trial periods to allow potential new residents to see if they like living in the city, encouraging entrepreneurship and giving people the opportunity to run businesses as they see fit, and holding festivals in town to get people visiting more often are all ways that Fujiyoshida was able to revitalize. This is not an extensive list either, which goes to show the planning and effort that goes into successfully convincing people to choose the Japanese countryside over the massive world class metropolises.
The population overturn is something to behold, but just as interesting to me was seeing what life in rural Japan is like. First thing I noticed was I was seeing a lot less people outside. Of course I don’t expect a small town to match the foot traffic of the largest metropolitan area in the world, however, I still expected to see some of the residents out and about. Not including the touristy areas almost everyone I saw was inside of a car. The town is still a mixed purpose city like Tokyo and not divided into residential and commercial areas like America, so there is still a reason to be walking around, but it was still more spread out enough to justify driving more often. I think a consequence of having less eyes on the street is less of a need to have active frontages. It could have just been because of the areas I visited, but I did not see business being conducted outdoors like I do in the many market areas around Tokyo. All these qualities together makes Fujiyoshida more slow paced and relaxed.
I really enjoyed my trip to Fujiyoshida and as someone who generally prefers the countryside over large cities I would be very happy to live somewhere like Fujiyoshida.