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Young Jobless Japanese Heading for Countryside

Posted April. 16, 2009 07:28,   


Kenji Oshima, 35, an accounting clerk at a manufacturer in Tokyo, was let go by his employer in February. After failing to find a new job, he applied for an agricultural training program for urbanites sponsored by the government.

“Unlike the tense work environment at a company, farming is attractive because I can do everything by myself, from sowing seeds to harvesting. I will become a full-time farmer when I finish the training,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that young Japanese, who face mass layoffs amid their country’s worst post-World War II recession, are seeking new opportunities in rural areas.

A growing number of Japanese are going to the countryside, not only temporary workers but also regular workers who were laid off.

Young people who have moved to farming villages are not simply engaged in agriculture. They are different from past generations in that they pursue “creative farming” and maximize efficiency by combining agriculture with marketing.

They set farming plans from the seed-sowing phase to cater to the demand of urbanites, who want safe and fresh food.

For example, Farmer’s Kitchen is an organic food restaurant gaining growing popularity. This method of farming constitutes a “quartic industry” integrating the primary industry of agriculture with the tertiary industry of services. Japan’s central government and provincial governments also paying attention to agriculture’s potential as an alternative method of job creation.

Tokyo recently launched a program designed to teach farming to laypeople at a cost of 10 million U.S. dollars. Competition for the program was so intense, 110 people applied for eight openings when Oshima applied for it last month.

Japan’s provincial governments, which have been struggling amid the aging population in rural areas and lack of workers, are racing to offer agricultural information sessions.

The daily Mainichi Shimbun said the number of such sessions in Tochigi Prefecture, a major rural region in Japan, increased from 31 in December last year to 61 in February and 77 March 14. About 80 percent of people who attended the fairs for counseling were in their 20s to 40s.

Critics, however, warn against impractical fantasies about going to the countryside and lack of alternatives. Fukiko Oshiro, 49, who runs a large farm in Okayama Prefecture, received five trainees from large cities last year. Three of them left in less than a month, however, as they failed to adapt to rural life.