How does Japan manage to revitalize its regions and increase the attractiveness of its cities?
Published on 27/02/2022 | La rédaction
Japan, with its aging population, wants to revitalize and make depopulated areas attractive again. With its Digital Garden City program and its know-how in digital and technology, Japan proposes particularly interesting solutions to revitalize its small towns.
In 60 years, the village of Kamiyama has lost 70% of its population. However, this mountain village is an example in Japan. This village of 5,000 inhabitants has woken up thanks to the strong will of a local child and the intense development of broadband.
Green Valley wants to turn Kamiyama into a business incubator
The director of Green Valley, Ominami Shinya, does not hide his ambition for the city where he grew up: "I asked myself if I could not transform this beautiful place into Silicon Valley and that is why I undertook the digitalization of the city".
Often in renovated traditional houses, about 15 companies have installed antennas and satellite offices. Most of them work in the computer and telecommunications sector.
Accompanied in his installation by Green Valley, Sumita Tetsu, an entrepreneur from Tokyo, opened in 2013 the largest satellite office in the village, with about fifteen employees.
Sumita Tetsu, leader of Plat-Ease Corporation: "In our case, employees can choose to work either in Tokyo or in Kamiyama City, the jobs and salaries are basically the same in both locations. I think the number of companies using digital technology will increase in rural areas," says Sumita Tetsu, the head of Plat-Ease Corporation.
Today, the number of people moving into the village is greater than the number leaving. 70% of the children in day care centers are from families that came from outside.
The development of Kamiyama started in 1999, by welcoming Japanese and foreign artists. Then Green Valley set itself another objective: to facilitate the installation of companies.
Technology for the elderly: telemedicine
The city of Ina excels in digital technology: it delivers to the elderly with drones, or, as here, brings the hospital closer to elderly and isolated patients.
"In Japan, doctors are very few, especially in rural areas. To solve these problems, we thought it was necessary to bring the service to the patients, using telemedicine technology", explains Yasue Akira, head of the promotion of new industrial technologies of Ina.
Here in the Japanese Alps, it often snows in winter. This is an additional obstacle to travel. The mobile clinic is a godsend for Nishimura Akira.
The visit is made at the foot of his house, one hour away from the nearest hospital. A doctor from the hospital conducts the consultation via video conference.
"When I go to the hospital there are people all around and there are things I can't say. But here, face to face, I feel like I can really express my concerns," said Nishimura Akira.
Nurse Yazawa Rina also expressed her surprise: "What impressed me the most was the stethoscope, I am amazed that you can share the sound online with the doctor. " Doctor Kamiyama Ikuo reports that thanks to this technology, he has the opportunity to check more patients during the day.
Fukushima, a new center of opportunity?
Regional revitalization is not just about rural areas. Another province looking to attract residents is Fukushima, evacuated after the 2011 nuclear disaster. As early as 2014, in Minamisoma, an incubator welcomed startups, sometimes from other regions. At its head, Wada Tomoyuki determined also to accelerate the return of evacuees to his city, twenty kilometers from the plant: "If there are many problems and people think they can not live here, then to solve them I am ready to create 100, even 1000 small businesses and that is my mission."
Among the 18 businesses launched with the support of Odaka Workers Base is that of Jin Yoichiro who is a professional horseman, and he offers horseback riding to tourists in a city known for its equestrian tradition.
"The head of Workers Base Mr. Wada served as a mentor to put me in touch with important investors," says the young entrepreneur.
The Haccoba team opened a craft brewery for sake, the famous Japanese beverage, and setting up in the region is no small matter. Owner Sato Taisuke shares his pride in actively contributing to the local economy: "Working here, I feel like I can offer an additional feeling to our production. For example in an area near the Fukushima power plant, there are farmers who make rice and we can pass on their efforts through our sake to the world."
Japanese robots serving humans
In this city of Minamisoma, innovation is on the way to the future. Revitalization comes not only through digital, but also through technology. And this unique robot testing center, located in the town, has a role to play. In the air, underwater, on land, companies test all kinds of robots here, especially those designed for disasters.
Robot testing center in Minamisoma, Japan
Suzunki Shinji, the director in charge of robot testing in Fukushima, explains the important role of robots in the revitalization of Japanese regions: "The introduction of robots in rural areas is very promising. We need people who can operate them, but also control and maintain them. I think this will revitalize rural areas by providing new jobs for these people