Table Speech

“The Future of Marginal Villages and Mountain Farming Villages”

May 14, 2008

Mr. Tokumi Odagiri,
Meiji University

 What is happening now in mountain farming villages? What will their future be? I use the phrase, “Three Hollowing Outs” to express the changes in the mountain farming villages.

 The first hollowing is the “exodus of people” that arose during the rapid economic growth period between 1960’s and 1970’s. This was depopulation. In particular, the villagers’ heirs left the mountain farming villages. This phenomenon did not however, lead directly to hollowing-out. The reason is that during this period farming was being mechanized, so even with fewer people farming and forestry remained sustainable.

 Almost a generation has passed since that time, and when the parents of the district aged there was no one there to carry on farming and forestry after them. In the latter half of the 1980’s, “abandoning cultivation” emerged, and the abandoning of farm and forest land started. The second hollowing was the “hollowing-out of the land”.

 Passing these periods, today we are faced with the third hollowing-out. This is the “hollowing out of the village”. This phenomenon has continued since the high economic growth period from 1990 and onward to today. These three hollowing-outs; the hollowing out of people, land and village bring about the “evisceration of pride”, which is a very serious problem.

 The elderly lament “I don’t want my children staying in a place like this” or “I feel sorry for the child born in such a disadvantaged place”. A situation in which no pride or future can be identified for the mountain village regions is beginning to fester in people’s hearts.

 The phrase “marginal village” was first used by Professor Akira Ohno of Nagano University. He defined a marginal village as a village with a population consisting of 50% or more senior citizens. In this case, the term “senior citizen” refers to people age 65 years and older. The most significant countermeasure in helping “marginal villages” is to fight the evisceration of pride, and to create pride in the local region.

 Based on various statistical analysis and field studies, we consider that when the absolute number of people in their prime (30-60 years in age) falls below 4, a village becomes marginal. When a village approaches the margin, “resignation” spreads throughout the residents. When this happens the local authorities or even outsiders must look out for the village. The staff of the local authorities visiting the village and reaching out to the people and examining the situation is extremely important, and is the best and most significant countermeasure to the hollowing-out of local pride. External NPOs visiting the village, calling out to the local residents, walking through the village and, at times, discovering something valuable in that village is another source of great power.

 All of these villages have their own individual histories. These are all regions that possess the “wherewithal to live through in that particular area” according to the regional conditions presented them. To record the history, skill, and the people who lived there is also extremely important. Archiving all these things is necessary from now on.

 At an UN meeting, there was a person who commented, “In Africa there is a saying ‘when an elder passes away, it is the same as a small library burning to the ground’”. We Japanese also lose the “wisdom and skill” that have been accumulated by people when a small village is lost. I consider this a national loss.

 Albeit gradually, positioned as the 2010 Mountain Farming Village Issue, NPO activities in support of farming have been increasing. Not only in marginal villages, but also in mountain farming villages NPO’s volunteering to cut grass in the villages are forming. In some groups, 300 people participate annually in grass cutting events, and 70-80% of those participants are women in their 20’s. Students are also very active in their volunteer activities. Recently students’ awareness has been raised in reference to supporting mountain farming villages.

 Corporate CSR activities are also not irrelevant. There are surprising numbers of companies that are active in mountain villages. A pharmaceutical company began setting a day in February of each year for all of its 2,000 employees to volunteer in cutting grass in all the terraced rice paddies throughout Japan.

 I think that the 2010 Mountain Farming Village Issue will be overcome by gathering together the strength of young women, students and corporate CSR activities.