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Decentralize population to revitalize rural regions

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TOKYO >> The spread of the novel coronavirus has shed light on the issue of Japan’s concentrated population, and the government should make efforts to encourage people to move to rural areas.

This year’s policy on regional revitalization will also help ease the excessive population in Tokyo. That in turn reduces risks associated with overcrowding, including the easy spread of infectious diseases in densely populated urban areas.

It also addresses the concern of a natural disaster hitting Tokyo — home to 30% of the nation’s population. Such a crisis could be enormous. The situation must be corrected as soon as possible.

Government policy calls for continuing to promote teleworking, which has been implemented by many offices to contend with the pandemic; facilitating the establishment of satellite offices, which would serve as regional bases for companies; and other measures. The government should support corporate expansions into regional areas by improving information and telecommunications networks, and providing tax breaks.

Major companies have heavily increased teleworking and reduced office spaces. In fact, according to a government survey, some 30% of workers have participated in teleworking during the pandemic. As a result, there has been an increase in a workforce that can be productive regardless of location, as well as an increased interest in relocating to countrysides.

If there are opportunities to reside in rural areas while maintaining a career, the quality of life for workers will improve.

Local governments play a large role in the success of such transitions. In the past, some workers who committed to a move to the country wound up feeling isolated and returned to urban areas. A government system that warmly welcomes new residents would go a long way in ensuring success.

It is particularly important to encourage young people to settle in rural areas. The largest group moving to the Tokyo metropolitan area are young adults about 20 years old who leave their hometowns in pursuit of higher education or work.

Forty percent of all college students are concentrated in Tokyo, while provincial universities are seeing student shortfalls. This year’s government policy calls for increasing attendance at national universities in regional areas, with reforms that include improving specialized education in science and technology.

Shimane University, for example, aims to create a world-class research base for metallic materials, in cooperation with major companies. Other universities have developed unique curricula, such as specialized research on robots and aerospace that deliver practical education leading to employment.

Boosting the vitality of regional areas requires nurturing human resources that will play a key role in the future. And that takes the cooperation of industry, government and academia.

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