Are the Japanese coming home?
Updated: Aug 26, 2022
Following World War Two, and especially after the start of the great Economic Miracle, an exodus of young people left the Japanese countryside (Inaka) in favor of education and job opportunities to be found in Japan's growing urban centers. This departure left the Japanese countryside bereft of the people, energy and ambition necessary to sustain an agricultural way of life which had been intact for centuries. As a result, many thousands of large and beautiful farmhouses which had once housed two or three generations together, became the lonesome haunts of aged men and women, quietly keeping up old ways until passing and leaving their homes and way of life to a generation of Japanese living elsewhere. Whole villages went silent in this way, and the Japanese countryside became a very quiet place, devoid of the animating qualities of children, adults and families striving to grow, make a living, keep home, and maintain a community. As softypapa, I once explored and documented this condition on my YouTube channels Walking in Japan and Abandoned Japan - that is, until my family too left in 2014 to finish raising our daughter in the United States. All along though I've wondered if the day might come when the younger generation in Japan decide they've had enough of what we in the West call the rat race. And if that day did come, would that generation return whence their parents had come, back to the countryside, back to the villages, farmhouses, small shops, temples and shrines which once defined the lives of their grandparents and ancestors beyond.
Well, that day appears to be upon us, thanks largely to COVID-19 and the challenges and changes which entire cultures have faced down while learning to do life differently. The pandemic appears to have been the force and catalyzing agent which may have tipped the scales in Japan back towards an older, simpler way of life. The stress and frustration of two years of uncertainly about work, school and home have seemingly led many people in Japan (and elsewhere) to wonder if better living might be found away from the nexus of these challenges, away from the crowds of the vast Japan urban sprawl, perhaps up there, way up in the valleys and along the clear-flowing rivers and upon the slopes of the mountains where Japanese villages were left behind by their parents. Maybe a better life can be found there? This question appears to have been asked, and answered, by a host of young adults striking forth to give this curious prospect a try. But, these people are not just going back to the simpler lives their grandparents knew. Many are bringing their good-paying jobs with them, or creating jobs for themselves from the skills they acquired and the tools they gained in the cities and via on-line opportunities. And they are aided by a changing work culture in Japan (again fostered in part by the pandemic) which is now more accepting of remote work; many being given a green light from their bosses and peers to make the move, which change and acceptance is a paramount culture shift should this experiment succeed, let alone be tried.
But the young people who are going back to the countryside are also bringing their people with them, their communities, and their connections. On-line venues such as Discord and multi-player games such as Minecraft provide ready access to e-communities which have sprung up for all during this time of involuntary isolation, as well as providing access to family and friends wherever they be. And the fact of high-speed Internet availability almost everywhere in Japan ensures our human connections are never more than a mouse click away. Ironically, the things we once thought would push us apart - the Internet and the pandemic - have in fact helped to form and solidify human connections and render distance irrelevant. Yes, some young - and not so young - Japanese (and perhaps a few foreigners) may be considering a return to a life more like the life their parents and grandparents once knew, and in the places their parents and grandparents once lived. I wonder if such a return is in time to recover what was almost lost out there in the valleys, along the rivers and on the mountain slopes? Is there time yet to restore community to the Japanese inaka? To bring back children, adults and families? To bring back businesses and livelihoods and community? I for one think there is. And I can't wait to see what happens when the Japanese decide it really is time to come home.
Check out the list below of amazing people who have already found their way home.
Japanese people making the change
Takasu Tile A young Japanese man making his way nestled in the heart of Inaka
Okudaira Base Japanese couple building a home and life of simplicity and style
DIY Fufu Japanese couple living simply and doing simply everything themselves
DIY JP Japanese family taking on life beyond the urban sprawl
Miryoku Cafe Japanese mother and daughter