Yabu Japan



Keywords: agriculture,regulation,sakae hirose,shinzo abe,yabu
Description: Yabu will have fewer rules so it can attract outsiders and investment

Tomiyoshi Kurogoushi sighs as he looks over the terraced rice fields that generations of his family tended in the mountains of central Japan. Most are now covered in weeds and grass. The area of land Kurogoushi still farms in Yabu, Hyogo prefecture, has shrunk to a small plot around his house where he and his wife, Yoko, grow potatoes, cabbages, and carrots to feed themselves and his mother. Rather than sow rice, the 66-year-old Kurogoushi works at a ski resort as a general manager.

“Farmland is deteriorating as people here are getting old,” says Kurogoushi, whose two daughters have married and moved away. “Even though we have the land for farming, we can’t really keep doing it. Paddy fields have to be tilled or they’ll be ruined.” The amount of abandoned arable land throughout Japan has almost doubled in the past 20 years.

Although many villages and towns in Japan are imperiled by these trends, Yabu has gotten a second chance. This sleepy community was thrust into the national spotlight in March when it was chosen by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration as a testing ground for economic policies to revive the nation’s declining provinces. Along with five other regions—the Tokyo area, the Kansai area, Fukuoka City, Niigata City, and Okinawa—Yabu, 600 kilometers (373 miles) west of Tokyo, was designated as a strategic special zone where the regulations and laws governing farming, commerce, and land can be loosened or removed to attract investment and workers. If these experiments succeed, they might be applied nationally.

Yabu is located in a little-known semi-mountainous region. It has a past that includes silk farming, tin mining, and rice growing—unlike the other five special zones, which are established centers of industry, agriculture, or tourism. “Now is the last chance to revive agriculture,” says Sakae Hirose, the mayor of Yabu. “In three to five years the old farmers will lay down their plows, the farmland will be left uncultivated, and Yabu will fall into decline. We have to create an environment where new entrants can easily come in.”




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