A low-key wooden teahouse stands halfway down a winding road that connects the center of a remote mountainous town in western Tokyo to a scenic lake that supplies the capital with water.
Inside the old Japanese-style residence, there are several mismatched tables and chairs on a tatami mat floor, where hikers and cyclists can take a break along the approximately 9-kilometer route between the train station. ‘Okutama and Lake Okutama.
Naoko Ida and her husband, Takayuki, who moved to the city several years ago from Kawasaki, opened the store last year after reforming a century-old home they bought as part of the rejuvenation program of the city.
It is the second second-hand home the couple have acquired in Okutama through programs aimed at attracting young settlers to the city, where half of the residents are 65 or older.
âWe were living with my parents and looking for a place to live on our own,â said Naoko Ida, 45. “We wanted to live close to nature somewhere in the Kanto region and we really liked Okutama when we drove here.”
Joined by her 33-year-old husband, their two teenage daughters and their 5-year-old son, the family first moved into a city-run apartment three years ago and quickly found a five-room house with a garden. as part of a program in which ownership of housing and land will be transferred to them when they have resided there for 15 years.
Last year, the city also associated the family with the house they turned into a cafe, about a 15-minute drive from their residence.
Families with children or young couples planning to have them are welcome additions to the aging city.
âSince the city of Okutama was created by amalgamation in 1955, the population has continued to decline,â said Kazutaka Niijima, head of the city’s office for youth settlement measures.
The city’s population in 1960 was nearly 13,800, but that number has fallen to around 5,200 in recent times.
Okutama – formed from what was once the town of Hikawa and the villages of Kori and Ogochi – sits at the western end of Tokyo and has an area of ââ226 square kilometers, which is equivalent to about a tenth of the area of ââthe metropolis. The entire city is part of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park, so nature has been preserved.
Niijima said Okutama was once a bustling city thanks to the logging industry, but its fortunes declined due to falling timber prices due to the liberalization of imports and reduced demand for timber. ‘artwork. This drop in demand is due to the replacement of wood by other materials, such as steel, for construction work, and by other types of fuels.
âPeople who worked here had to look for other jobs elsewhere,â Niijima said. âWhile the young were leaving, the older generations were being left behind. We have come to a point where the city has only one person of working age for each senior. “
Nationally, there were about 2.2 people for every person aged, or over 65, in 2017, according to the Cabinet Office.
The Niijima office, established in 2016, manages a number of programs, including housing plans used by the Ida family, aimed at attracting younger residents in hopes of increasing the proportion of children in the population. and eventually have a greater ratio of young people.
The city uses donated vacant homes and finds suitable families to live in while offering potential residents up to 2 million yen for renovations.
Some of these programs are aimed at married couples aged 45 or younger and families whose parents are 50 or younger with a child of high school age or younger.
The city also offers generous childcare assistance, including subsidizing all medical expenses for children up to high school.
The Idas say they are enjoying their life in Okutama but have noted that all is not well. For example, the grant to renovate their home was not enough to cover all of the modifications they made, which totaled around 5 million euros.
In Japan, people have come from as far away as Hokkaido, and families who have moved to the city through rejuvenation programs include people from the Philippines and China.
Now the city is set to welcome New York’s newcomers – Shinichi Kashihara, 50, his 39-year-old Canadian wife, Samara Stob Kashihara, and their 5-year-old son, Issa.
âI had been thinking about changing our environment, as my child was soon of school age, and moving to Japan, as my parents there were getting older,â said Kashihara, a fashion business consultant who has lived in New York since. 20 years. âIt was then that I heard about the Okutama project from an acquaintance and started to take an interest in it.
He first contacted the city by email in February this year and applied to live in a vacant four-room house which turned out to be available several months later. A few visits later, the Kashihara family were fortunate enough to live in the 50-year-old home.
âMy work is mostly mobile, so I plan to continue it even after we move to Okutama,â he said. “With the Tokyo Olympics approaching (in 2020), I hope I can get involved in international projects from my base there.”
Niijima of Okutama said he hoped to make housing available more regularly, but said it could be difficult because the programs are dependent on the houses donated.
âVacant houses will become industrial waste if they are not used, and we believe their use for our resettlement measures is effective in turning them into resources and preventing them from being abandoned,â he said. “We hope that people who want to live in harmony with nature will settle here.”
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