Friday, January 16, 2009

Prime Minister Aso and Rural Japan

It's no exaggeration to say that Japanese rural towns are turning in municipal nursing homes. If you happen to spot someone below the age of 70 in the country, you can be sure they're just in from Tokyo to visit grandma. That's why Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso has decided to promote the joys of the country to unemployed urbanites.

As part of Aso's emergency economic package, the Japanese government will pick up the tab to send 80 Japanese unemployed folks on a 10-day visit to the country to investigate the prospects of working in agriculture.

The dwindling population in rural Japan is a symptom of the demographic problems facing Japan as a whole. The Japanese birth rate is one of the lowest in the world and it seems that it's a chore to convince Japanese women to even have one baby.

Japanese young people in the countryside often ditch their small towns as soon as they can, heading off to the bright lights of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. It remains to be seen whether the decrease in auto exports will mean more unemployment and a reverse migration of workers back to the small towns of their ancestors.

Although Aso's plan is novel, it's hard to image the "new human beings" (as these modern young Japanese are known), turning in their cell phones and Ipods for rice fields and fishing boats.

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