Rural Planning in Hokkaido, Japan

I want to share an anecdote from a friend in Japan, an American who has lived in a rural Japanese village in Hokkaido for many years.  The town near his home has lost two thirds of its population in the last thirty years, as its residents have aged and younger generations have moved to the cities.

But there's another town, about 90 minutes away in the central part of Hokkaido, named Higashikawa, that has made some creative and surprisingly successful efforts to expand. One of the things they do is provide a subsidy for people who move into the town and build a new house. They also provide a subsidy for current residents to "reform" existing vacant houses.  And each child born in this town receives a hand-made wooden chair in celebration of their becoming new residents -- what a wonderful tradition!

More interesting is that they've made a big effort toward internationalization. For example, they opened a Japanese language school for foreign students, and they have a network of "sister city" relationships in several countries that aren't just symbolic: they actually bring a representative from the town over to work in "international exchange" at the city office.

Higashikawa has also branded itself as a city of photography, with an international photography contest, galleries, and what must be one of the few remaining rental darkrooms in Japan.  Having a "brand" is common among towns in Japan, going back to the Edo Period, and it presents an intriguing possibility for adoption.