Japan's fastest-aging village seeks young people, fresh ideas

MAEBASHI - The nation's fastest-aging village is desperately trying to meet a Saturday deadline to recruit three people aged 20 to 40 who can come to the village to join a project to revitalise the community.

The village of Nanmoku in Gunma Prefecture launched the project, called "Chiiki Okoshi Kyoryoku Tai" (Volunteers for cooperation in community revitalisation), in December. However, no one had applied to join as of Monday noon, and village officials in charge of the programme have become increasingly concerned as the Saturday deadline for applications approaches.

This is the first such project by the village. It has received few inquiries despite the offer of a house to live in and a monthly payment of ¥150,000 for up to three years. "We don't set a limit on what [the recruits] can do [to revitalise the village]," a senior village official said. "I want them to freely come up with ideas through discussions with local residents."

Nanmoku is in a mountainous area in the southwest of the prefecture, and is home to about 2,200 people. The cultivation of konjac and flowers are its major industries. However, the village has neither a railway station nor access to an expressway, so residents must travel to a neighbouring town to use trains or the expressway.

According to the 2010 census, 57.2 per cent of residents in Nanmoku were aged 65 or older - the highest proportion of any municipality in the nation.

A report by the Japan Policy Council released in May last year found the village was facing the greatest decline in female residents aged 20 to 39 of any municipality from 2010 to 2040. The private research institute also estimated the population in the village will have declined to 626 in 2040.

The village government is seeking people living in areas around Tokyo. Those selected would tackle revitalisation of the village for at least one year, including formulating marketing strategies for "Michi no Eki" rest areas and creating new local specialties. They would also work to attract new residents to the village.

The village would cover other expenses such as gasoline for those who join the project.

"We'd like to think about the future of the village with innovative ideas," said Taketsune Moteki, a chief of the village's employment promotion section, which is in charge of the project.