Japan island depopulation: lessons for Scotland

This research report - commissioned from a team based at Scotland's Rural College - explores policy approaches to depopulation on Japan's islands, and proposes a series of recommendations to the Scottish Government which may help inform the development of future island depopulation.

5. Japanese Case Studies

Drawing on a desk-based review of written and digital sources, and a small number of interviews, this section presents the findings from four Japanese island case studies. The four islands have taken differentiated and innovative approaches to the issues of depopulation, demographic ageing and economic decline. The four case studies are: Ama Town (Nakanoshima Island); Sado Island; Amami Island and Gotō Islands. This chapter presents information relating to each case study in turn, providing background to the case studies, a brief overview of the initiatives that have been undertaken, and the key learning points. Due to limited time and resources, these case studies can only provide an outline of the islands and their initiatives and as such the following is intended to be a point of departure for future empirical and comparative research.

5.1 Case Study One: Ama Town (Nakanoshima Island)

Ama Town, situated on Nakanoshima Island, itself part of the Oki group of islands, is a relatively well studied case in both English and Japanese (e.g., Ginani 2019; Lewerich 2020; Klien 2020). The Oki islands are situated 60km off the north-western cost of the main island and as with many islands in Japan, services are limited. The mainland is accessible but requires a journey by ferry (3 – 4 hours) or jet boat (2 hours), with further travel necessary to reach the nearest cities once reaching the mainland (Lewerich 2020). From a peak population of 6,900 in 1950 (see: Ama Town Statistical Report 2018), the population had fallen to 2,267 in 2020, with those over the age of 65 making up 40% of the population (see: Regional Economy Society Analyzing System Website). Historically, economic activity on the island focused on agriculture and fisheries, but primary industries now contribute only 5% of the economic activity on the island with the public sector (30%), commerce (10%) and construction (10%) making up the largest proportions of economic activity (see: Ama Town Interindustry Relations Report 2020).

Looking at demographic changes more closely, Ama Town experienced a steady but pronounced net negative migration trend (more out-migration than in-migration) between 1995 and 2008, with 2005 being the only year with positive net migration during this period. This net negative migration has occurred alongside a 'natural' population decline, with the number of deaths exceeding births between 1995 and 2005 (Ama Town Statistical Report 2018).

Following the 2004 Trinity tax and administrative reforms carried out by the government at the time, Ama Town lost some 130 million Yen (~ £810,000) from its budget. This budget loss, coupled with a falling working age population and national economic changes resulted in some speculation that the town would go bankrupt as others had around that time (Lewerich 2020).

Following the election of a new mayor in 2002, a number of reforms and initiatives were undertaken in order to address Ama Town's situation. The emphasis of these reforms was on moving away from exogenous forms of development and building self-responsibility and local autonomy. As part of this, it has been reported that the number of local officials was reduced while the remaining officials took pay cuts of up to 50%. Other reforms and initiatives included investments in seafood processing, the branding of local beef, the renovation of local houses and, most famously, education reforms focusing on the high school (Lewerich 2020).

Ama Town Key Initiative: High School Project (高校魅力化プロジェクト)

Following years of population decline, Ama Town's high school was in danger of closing permanently. However, following efforts to reform the school, entitled the High School Attractiveness Project, there has been a significant increase in the number of students. The project site, Okidozen High School, is the only high school in the Oki group of islands and is a public school for students not only from Nakanoshima but also from two other islands, Nishinoshima and Chiburijima. Before the start of the project, the school had only one class per year group and the number of students totalled 89 in 2008. However, by 2017, eight years after the start of the project, the enrolment had increased and the school had two classes per year group with around 180 students in total (see: Oki Dozen Project Website). The high school also started to attract students from outside of the Oki islands with 57% of the students from outside the islands (see: Shimane Abroad Programme Website).

The reasons for the low number of students were the declining birth rate and the deteriorating educational environment. According to national legislation, the number of teachers in a high school is determined by the number of students. Since this school had small number of students, few teachers were allocated, so one teacher was responsible for several subjects. Partly due to the high workload, the quality of education fell and students were at a disadvantage when it came to achieving the grades necessary for university. Therefore, children who wished to go to a good university often left the island when they reached high school age. In many cases, their parents also moved due to the significant financial cost of sending children to live and attend school off-island. Local staff from the town hall played a key role in initiating the project as they saw an impending crisis and, as a result of conversations with the town's mayor, the High School Attractiveness Project was launched in 2008.

The goal of this project is to create an attractive and sustainable school and community. To achieve this, the Okidozen High School introduced community-based learning to the school curriculum in which teachers aim to support the diverse ambitions and abilities of each student and train them to be community builders who can be active both globally and locally. This does not mean that the goal is for students to remain living on the island, but rather they are encouraged to 'fly as far as they can' and then come back to the island with skill and experiences (this process is likened to a boomerang) (Yamanouchi et al. 2015).

It was noted by an interviewee that to help support students, Ama Town hires coordinators who are skilled in processes of human resource development and places them within the school to connect the children, the school and the local communities. In addition, an 'island study abroad programme' (島留学) was established to welcome students from outside the island and from overseas. This has reportedly helped to reduce the outflow of students to the mainland in search of new relationships and connections.

Further, a respondent for this project noted that national subsidies, such as grants for Revitalisation of Remote Islands (離島活性化交付金) and grants for the acceleration of the Regional Revitalisation Strategy (地方創生加速化交付金) were used for operating costs, including salaries for the coordinators and maintenance costs for school dormitories. In order to ensure the sustainability of the project, there is a future plan to make use of the Hometown Tax Donation Programme (ふるさと納税) which is a national programme to support the development of regional areas, especially small or less well-funded municipalities, through tax reductions given to tax payers who donate to local municipalities.

Overall, the high school has achieved a doubling of the number of students, which is unusual in remote areas of Japan (the number increased from 89 (2008) to 184 (2017)). The elementary and junior high schools around the islands have also started 'island study abroad programmes' and have hosted several groups of students and their families. This increase in the number of students appears to have resulted in a positive cycle of improved attractiveness of the island as a whole and a further influx of young people and families. This was reported to have positive knock-on effects in terms of a boost for local industry and revival and maintenance of traditional cultural practices. As such, an interviewee argued that there are now positive signs in Ama Town – tourism has developed, with a 30% increase in the number of visitors, from 9,329 in 2008 to 12,202 in 2015 and the proportion of villages that take an active role at the local festival has increased from 36% in 2006 to 64% in 2016 (see: Oki Dozen Project Website).

The project on this small island has also reportedly impacted positively on local and national policies. Since 2011, the prefectural government has had the funds to encourage other high schools in remote areas of the prefecture to implement the High School Attractiveness Project. Furthermore, the national government has amended the law on the number of teachers in high schools to ensure that there is an adequate number of teachers even in small schools (Yamanouchi et al. 2015; Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology 2021).

Ama Town Key Lessons

It is important to note that Ama Town is still experiencing population decline, but the rate has slowed. There are increasing numbers of in-migrants (between 2005 and 2017 migration was net positive (see: Ama Town Statistical Report 2018)) and the numbers of high school students appears to have increased directly as a result of the education reforms.

An interviewee for this project reported that the biggest barrier encountered in the project was the tendency of high school teachers to want to maintain traditional educational approaches and subjects. They reported a number of 'allergic reactions' to the community-based learning, including in relation to embracing new and different cultures, the involvement of the community, and different educational transition pathways.

A key turning point of the project seems to be the increase in students' educational performance. Students and local residents reportedly now tell newly arrived teachers about the school's character. Personnel changes are also taken into consideration so that teachers who have improved their skills at the school can share their approach with other high schools around the prefecture. It was argued by an interviewee that this is evidence that the High School Attractiveness Project has taken root as a culture across the wider region rather than as one project in one location. Nakanoshima is sometimes referred to as a 'miracle island', but the High School Attractiveness Project was referred to by one interviewee as 'not a success story but a challenge story' as it has demonstrated how important it is to constantly experience trial and error when running a project like this.

One key lesson from this case study is the importance of mobilising a network of people from inside and outside the community (as discussed in western rural development discourse under the terms 'networked' or 'neo-endogenous rural development'). In this project, it was reported that the involvement of people from outside the island had helped to bring in new ideas and challenge strong traditional ideas and the somewhat fixed relationships within the community. Local residents were said to have displayed some opposition to the project being carried out by 'outsiders' initially, and in response an organisation was established which includes the director of education and the mayor of each island alongside parents, teachers and residents to ensure that a diverse range of voices informs decision-making.

Recently, the town has launched new initiatives to continue to tackle the challenge of depopulation, including the 'Island Study Abroad for Adults' programme (大人の島留学). This was launched in 2020 as a three-month to one-year work-based trial migration programme for young people from Japan and overseas. Through this programme the aim is to provide opportunities for young people to tackle island challenges and also for people from the islands to return to the region.

Education-related Scottish Examples

The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) campus on the Isle of Skye, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, is the National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture and is the only Gaelic medium college anywhere in the world. Not only has the campus developed and grown since being established in 1973, but the wider area has also seen economic growth.[11] Most recently, this is illustrated by plans for a new village which will incorporate 93 new homes. UHI also has campuses on a number of Scottish Islands: Orkney; Shetland; Western Isles. These are supplemented by a number of smaller learning centres across rural and island locations in north and west Scotland. Taking a different approach to the focus in Nakanoshima and Sabhal Mor Ostaig on having a physical educational presence in rural and island locations, e-Sgoil is the term used for the use of technology to connect schools and pupils throughout the Western Isles. The aim is to improve equality of opportunity across the Outer Hebrides through curriculum redesign and digital delivery. e-Sgoil set out to tackle the problem of shortage of teaching staff in the Western Isles which means there can be a lack of teachers in certain disciplines.

5.2 Case Study Two: Sado Island

Sado Island, part of Niigata prefecture, is located 50km off the eastern cost of mainland Japan. It is currently accessible by ferry and hydrofoil, taking 2.5 hours and 1 hour, respectively, from Niigata port. Transport options have been reduced, with an alternative sea route cancelled in 2019, and commercial flights having been stopped in 2014.

Originally made up of 10 separate administrative districts, following municipal mergers Sado Island is now administered as one single district - Sado City (Matanle 2017). Part of the driver for these mergers nationally has been cost reduction through administrative centralisation and rationalisation in the context of shrinking and ageing populations. Like many remoter regions of Japan, Sado has seen significant depopulation over the last 60 years with the population having fallen by over 50% from 1960 (113,000) to 2020 (51,000) (see: Sado Government Website).

As with many remote regions in Japan, farming, fisheries and related industries are important on Sado, with primary and secondary industries making up around 20% of Sado's economy. In 2020 there were just over 10,000 people employed in these sectors with an average income in 2020 for all sectors at 2.1 million Yen (~£12,000) (see: Sado Government Website), a figure that is roughly half of Tokyo's. Tourism has also been an important source of income on the island, with 1.4 million tourists having visited in 1994. However, the numbers have reduced steadily and significantly, with only 500,000 coming to visit between 2019 and 2020 (see: Sado Tourism Association Report 2021). Part of the attraction for tourists visiting Sado is the gold and silver mines with some 400 years of history although the last closed as a productive mine in 1989 (Johnsen 2020).

Matanle and Rausch (2011: 297) argue that Sado island has been caught in a 'spiral of decline' exacerbated by public service rationalisation. Jobs on the island are seen as poorly paid and unattractive by many younger people, which drives outmigration of those looking for better and more rewarding employment. This outmigration underpins population shrinkage and ageing which itself is linked to economic contraction. In this context, Matanle and Rausch (2011) argue that the reduction of public service positions through centrally driven government rationalisation and attempts at cost-cutting serves to close off a traditional source of relatively well paid and secure employment on the island. In this way, contraction and decline, and the responses to it can serve as drivers of further contraction and decline. However, there are a number of initiatives on Sado which have sought to address the issues of population and economic decline.

Sado Island Key Initiatives

Migration Support for Start-Ups

Sado City established the Migration Exchange Promotion Division in 2021 to help support migrants and business start-ups. The local government is focusing on supporting start-up companies with the aim of becoming the island with the highest success rate for entrepreneurship. Since Sado City is designated as a national inhabited border island, it is eligible for subsidies to fund the expansion of employment opportunities. These subsidies cover 3/4 of the costs of equipment, renovation, advertising and publicity, shop rental, personnel and research and development for up to five years for start-ups (up to 4.5 million Yen (~£27,000) per year) and business expansions (up to 9 million Yen (~£54,000) per year). The city also runs a business contest for start-ups that have been in business for less than 10 years. Winners receive support such as priority for the subsidies, rent discounts at incubation centres, business follow-up support and matching to venture capital (see: Sado Business Contest Website).

The incubation centres have been established to provide support to entrepreneurs and others in the early stages of business start-up by renting out offices and other facilities at low rents. So far, four centres have been developed on Sado Island by renovating old houses using a government grant for regional development telework and a temporary grant for Covid-19. There are 10 IT companies which set up their bases on the Island in 2021. The city also provides an incentive of 1 million Yen (~£6,000) per company if they move their head office functions or if two or more employees move to the area, and two companies have taken advantage of this offer.

One interviewee commented that these initiatives have contributed to an increase in the number of young migrants. In 2020, 503 people moved to Sado and 65% of in-migrants were under the age of 40 in 2020; the proportion was 58% in 2019. There are plans to encourage interaction between the local community and the IT companies based in the incubation centres. It is anticipated, for example, that entrepreneurs can teach local shop owners how to sell their products on the internet and teach programming to local children.

Agriculture and Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems

In 2011, Sado island along with the Noto peninsula were the first areas in Japan to be designated as a "Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System" (GIAHS). Launched by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in 2002, the scheme's aim is to identify and safeguard sites that are characterised by an 'evolving system of human communities in an intricate relationship with their territory, cultural or agricultural landscape or biophysical and wider social environment' (see: FAO GIAHS Website). Sado Island's designation was on the basis of its interconnected mosaic of socio-agro-ecological systems including terraced rice paddies and irrigation ponds, the creation of which was driven by a high demand for rice during the period in which the gold mines operated.

The GIAHS designation followed efforts by local and national actors to promote the re-introduction of the crested ibis on the island through the introduction of ibis-friendly agriculture. Through a certification scheme, rice farmers could brand their rice as toki (crested ibis). To be certified, farmers had to meet a number of criteria including: 1) the creation of swales, fish ways and biotopes; 2) the irrigation of paddy fields in winter; and, 3) the reduction of chemical inputs by 50%.

GIAHS designation was anticipated to strengthen local pride, boost recognition of toki rice and other agricultural products, and increase tourism and rural-urban linkages centred around collaboration and learning. In this way, designation was not simply related to habitat and socio-ecosystem conservation but also revitalisation (see: Sado GIAHS Designation Proposal).

A report by the United Nations University (UNU 2017) notes that since 2008 the number of ibis friendly certified farmers has increased 256 to 524 and the area of land covered has almost doubled. The report argues that farmers' income has improved as rice sales have increased and toki branded rice commands a premium fetching almost double the price of conventionally grown rice. Further, the report argues that following GIAHS designation, there has been an increase in international and national exchanges helping drive efforts to conserve local culture and knowledge and contributing to Sado residents regaining a sense of pride in their landscape and way of life.

GIAHS designation has linked into other development initiatives. For example, a member of Sado's Community Cooperative Support (see section 4.3.1) has been organising activities and events to promote an understanding amongst visitors of the importance of Sado's socio-ecological system with the aim of leaving world-class terraced rice paddies to the next generation. Many of the visitors are university students from the Tokyo metropolitan area and some of visitors are reported to consider Sado Island as their second home town due to repeated visits. In some cases, these events and activities play a role as a gateway to getting to know the island and have encouraged some people to move there.

Research by Yamagishi (2020) has, however, highlighted a number of considerations. First, while the GIAHS is administered by the FAO internationally and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) nationally, the day-to-day management and responsibility falls upon the local government, adding to the burden of the local administration. Second, Yamagishi (2020) highlights a 'gap' between the GIAHS designation of Sado as a driver of economic growth and revival, and the reality of Sado. Yamagishi (2020) suggests that population decline and ageing is inevitable on Sado, and rather than attempting to revitalise, there is a need to develop a vision of the future that is more centred on long-term sustainability and adaptation to change in-line with original conception of GIAHS. Yamagishi (2020) points to the fact that while there was an increase in the area designated as 'ibis friendly' in the early years of the scheme, there has been little increase since then, and the number of farmers has actually been reduced. This links into a broader critique of the 'growth' orientated goals, both economic and demographic, of many rural development policies in Japan (see: discussion in section 4.2.8 above and Matanle 2017).

Tourism and Art

Part of the rationale for applying for GIAHS designation was that it would raise the profile of Sado leading to an increase in tourists. Similarly, in 2022 an application was made for Sado's historic mines to be inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, a move that was politically contentious (see: New York Times Article 2022). Nevertheless, the aim of the application was in part to bolster tourist numbers on the island, as has been apparent on other Japanese islands which achieved World Heritage status (Funck 2020). There are currently museums and a range of other attractions on Sado that are linked to the mines and the history of gold and silver mining. One particular initiative of note which embeds the history of mining on Sado is the Sado Galaxy art festival.

Japan has now quite an established practice of art-led rural development initiatives (see for example Kitagawa 2015). Through a networked approach between private art galleries, artists and local and regional stakeholders, a few art festivals are taking place in rural, remote and island communities in Japan (for an example of an island-based large outdoor art festival see the Setouchi Art Triennale). A review of the literature drawing on the prolific Echigo Tsumari Art Field in rural Niigata (see: Gkartzios et al. 2022) demonstrated opportunities for economic development through such festivals as well as their place-based sensibilities. For example, such festivals mobilise local cultural and heritage resources for the wider promotion of the regions in question, avoiding concentrating impact only on the duration of the festivals (for example through organising all year-round events). However, there are concerns over the overreliance on art as a way to deal with prolonged rural pathologies and unequal power relations across the art-policy network (see Favell 2017). The annual Sado Island Galaxy Art Festival (the most recent edition of which took place in 2021 (Galaxy Art Festival Website)) mirrors this approach. The festival is rooted in the place capabilities of Sado and invites visitors to 'rediscover Sado's nature, history, and folklore' through artworks which are exhibited in open spaces throughout the island and collaborative art residency projects.

Sado Key Lessons

Two of the initiatives highlighted here are linked to tourism, yet tourist numbers have fallen steadily and significantly since 1994, and Covid-19 has no doubt added to the drop in tourist numbers. Fundamentally, locations often compete for tourists and while Sado's agricultural system is perhaps unique, Sado's art festival takes place in the context of larger, more famous and more established art festivals in Japan.

The case of Sado perhaps brings to the fore the debate about whether growth should be the objective of development policy in peripheral areas of Japan. Questions have been asked as to whether growth is a realistic goal on Sado, or whether there should be a focus on long-term sustainability and adaption to change (Yamagishi 2020). Either way, human resources are critical, and it is important to highlight that there are a notable number of in-migrants and repeat visitors to the area who see the island as their 'second home'.

However, an interviewee for this project suggested that there are people who have moved to Sado Island with high hopes and expectations, but who have become isolated and leave because they do not 'fit' with the local community. Experienced migrants and citizen volunteers can play a key role here in offering advice to potential migrants and newcomers on any problems or difficulties they may be facing. Although support for entrepreneurship is provided, newcomers have not been able to find jobs, so preparations are underway to launch a scheme next year that will allow them to experience multiple jobs on the island (see: Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Webpage). There are many activities to attract people (either as permanent, semi-permanent migrants or kankeijinkō) including the island's agricultural heritage and the art festival on Sado Island, but a key lesson is that it is important to inform people of the reality of both living and working in the community and to offer support to those who are thinking of moving to the island.

Furthermore, Sado Island highlights the development opportunities attempted through artistic practice (from attracting tourists, to new practices in support of local community governance). More research would be required to know the politic regarding the realisation of the Galaxy Art Festival, but in theory at least it is commendable to see activities that, as discussed in earlier parts of this report, mobilise local capital and resources through artistic practice.

Arts-related Scottish Examples

The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, Orkney was established in 1979 to provide a home for an important collection of British fine art in partnership with the Tate Gallery in London. Although it constitutes a formal artistic space (rather than the site-specific art projects in Sado Island), it plays a key role in mobilising the local and extra-local artistic community, has library and archive services, and runs a programme of education and outreach activities.

Orkney also holds various arts and cultural activities, such as the St Magnus Festival, the Orkney Folk Festival and the Stromness Shopping Week.

5.3 Case Study Three: Amami Island

The municipality of Amami (Kagoshima prefecture) is located between the Japanese mainland and Okinawa. It consists of several islands including Amami-Oshima, the third largest island in Japan which is the location of the commercial centre, Naze area. Agricultural land is located in the centre of the island and the air and sea ports offer access to major cities and sub-islands. The tropical islands are also home to species certified as endangered by UNESCO. The culture of the island has diverse origins and local music and arts attract eco- and cultural tourists (see: Amami City Website).

Amami was integrated into Japan in 1953 following occupation by the allied forces and the islands' revenue has been subsidised by the Act on Special Measures for the Amami Islands Promotion and Development which helps with the cost of transportation, retail and logistic through subsidies (Kagoshima Prefectural Government Report 2021).

Amami has a range of national offices/bases for the legislature and border control (Amami Coast Guard Office). For workers and tourists, transportation is good with daily flights and ferries to major cities at a similar price to that on the mainland.

Amami follows the broader demographic trends of islands in Japan with decline during World War 2 followed by a baby boom, then continuous decline (Amami City Report 2020). Amami still has a relatively high birth rate of 1.9 which is 1.3 times the national average. Yet, the population of working age individuals between the ages of 15 and 64 is small, with roughly one in three of the population over 65 years old (Amami City Report 2020). However, the number of households has been stable since the 1970s, despite the population shrinkage with one reason for this being the numbers of migrants returning on retirement (Jung 2010) which is reported to be higher than on other islands (e.g., Okinawa islands) (Suyama et al. 2013 Takahashi 2018).

Amami Key Initiatives: ICT and Flexible Work

Amami has been a pioneer of 'public freelance' programmes (schemes aimed at allowing free-lance workers to work remotely) and in the field of kankeijinko. There is support on Amami for full- and semi-resident citizens/independent entrepreneurs, including job training, internships, remote/telework environment, child-care, marketing opportunities for home craft-makers, 'introductory living experiences' (see above in section 4.3.3) and related needs. The city government opened an ICT co-working facility in 2016 (ICT plaza Kasari) conveniently near the main airport which provides a good internet connection speed. The tenant companies which currently use the facility also provide training and support services to freelancers including web design and cloud sourcing services (Amami City Freelance Initiative 2022).

According to one of the Amami City Freelance Initiative participants, many of the other freelance participants are either returnee migrants, or originally from the mainland and have settled following tours or internship programmes. Indeed, it appears that Amami has been relatively successful in attracting repeat tourists (Amami City Tourism Trend 2021), and there are a number of young people from urban areas who could be classified as kankeijinko (see section 4.3) due to their longer-term involvement in marine and cultural activities. An interviewee for this research noted that they used to come to the islands for vacation and later found a place to live and a stable job through their local friend's networks. They currently work half their time on Amami and half in urban areas of Japan. Compared to the rent in the big cities, the interviewee commented, island property is spacious and cheaper, and the food is of better quality. Furthermore, the cost and standard of living on the island is similar to the mainland.

Amami Key Lessons

According to one of the Amami City Freelance Initiative participants, many of the other freelance participants are either returnee migrants, or originally from the mainland and have settled following tours or internship programmes. Among more than 200 participants of the programme, there are over 50 entrepreneurs who settled between 2015 and 2020 (Sharing Economy Association Japan 2020). Many were attracted to and visited Amami repeatedly as tourists prior to the programme (Amami City Tourism Trend 2021). These young people from urban areas could be classified as kankeijinko (see section 4.3) due to their longer-term involvement in marine and cultural activities. An interviewee for this research noted that they used to come to the islands for vacation and later found a place to live and a stable job through their local friend networks. Some of them are based on Amami where the property is cheaper and spacious and occasionally travel to the mainland for work. One of the immigrant entrepreneurs noted that Amami has better quality food and natural environment, which makes for a better life and work balance, compared to the big cities.

Employment-related Scottish Examples

Smart Clachan is an innovative project in Uist in the Western Isles, based on a combination of housing and teleworking. The concept of 'Smart Clachan' is driven by community-led cooperation and has been designed to address the triple and connected challenges of island depopulation in Uist, demographic change, and the climate crisis. The project is led by Rural Housing Scotland in partnership with community landowner Stòras Uibhist.

The project aims to develop live / workspaces which are "affordable, cooperative, interconnected, sustainable and low carbon" in locations across Uist. As well as helping to stem depopulation and encourage relocation, the project aims to support Gaelic language and culture.

5.4 Case Study Four: Gotō Islands

Gotō City is a municipality that is part of Nagasaki prefecture located off the southwest coast of the Japanese main island. It consists of 52 uninhabited and 11 inhabited islands, of which the centre is located 100 km from the municipal capital (Myasoedov and Ota 2021). The actual city of Gotō is on the largest island called Fukue. Gotō City Municipality has a population of 34,391 residents (see: Goto City Report 2021). Access to Fukue is possible from Nagasaki and Fukuoka via boat (1.5 hours up to 4 times a day), or air in 30 mins. Access to the other smaller islands is only possible via boats transferring from Fukue.

Fisheries and farming were historically the primary source of household income but these sectors have declined in importance with labour emigration since the 1960s (for detailed statistics see: Japanese Government's e-stat portal; see also: Miyamoto 1972; Takeuchi 1963). Growth sectors of the economy have centred on medical welfare for the increasing elderly population, childcare support and retail commercial sectors. The construction sector has also grown steadily in recent years (see: Goto City Reports).

The demographic trends on Gotō are typical of island transformation since WWII, with a population peak of over 90,000 in 1955 followed by rapid decline between 1955 and 1970 as the national economy picked up (see: Gotō Population Vision 2015). Population decline slowed from the 1970s onwards, but has continued up until the present (see: Nagasaki Prefecture Report undated). However, between 2007 and 2018, while still net negative, the number of in-migrants increased relative to the number of out-migrants. Further, in 2019 and 2020, in-migration exceeded out-migration for the first time in at least 20 years, which is unusual on Japanese islands, although this trend subsequently reversed in 2021 (see: Nagasaki Prefecture Webpage).

Gotō Key Initiatives: Renewable Energy

Gotō City's municipal government has implemented various types of cross-cutting schemes to combat population decline including those related to business support, and subsidising residents' transportation costs, education and medical bills, initiatives that are often found on other islands too. Funding for some measures and initiatives to combat population decline is linked to the central government's Act on Preserving Remote Island Areas (有人離島法). However, what is striking about Gotō is the number of funding sources that have come from different ministries to finance a range of different types of projects which did not primarily aim, but helped, to create job opportunities. One example is the 'Renewable Energy Project' which aimed to develop sustainable and stable energy production for the islands' local communities. Although the energy project was not conceived as a 'population project', it has reportedly increased the profits of the farming and fishing industries, and has had a positive impact on the job market. Renewable energy now makes up 50% of the islands' electricity (in comparison to a national average of 20%), but is expected to generate 80% in the next few years (see: Maikōhō; Myasoedov and Ota 2021).

A reliable energy supply is a critical issue for island communities as they are susceptible to energy cost fluctuations. In this context, there is a demand for sustainable electricity at a competitive price for island industries. In 2010 an experimental wind project was completed on Gotō by a non-profit organisation with the support of the Ministry of Environment (Promotion and Research Institute for Ocean Economics 2018). After ten years of technical support and investment in local skills, electricity generation was handed over to the newly established local initiative, Gotō Shimin Denryoku, which is half owned by the local public office. The other half is owned by private enterprises and individuals including local businesses and entrepreneurs (Myasoedov and Ota 2021).

However, one of the primary stakeholder groups, fishermen, were initially dubious about the expected benefits from the renewable energy project. Local residents were also uncertain about the potential benefits and had concerns related to the cost of electricity and profit-sharing. In order to address these concerns, local government and academic institutes held consultations and mediated between stakeholders in order to understand the issues and allay the concerns of the local population (Gotō City Renewable Energy Report 2018).

Gotō Shimin Denryoku now provides half of the household and commercial electricity on the island through a mix of renewable technologies including wind and solar. Electricity used in the industries is supplied at an agreed fixed rate. In a few years, it is hoped that 70 to 80% of energy demand will be supplied by constructing more wind farms. Seafood production has increased around the vicinity of the wind turbines, due to the positive impact on fish habitats, which has, in turn, improved the employment opportunities in the construction sector, which was also stimulated by profits from electricity production (Promotion and Research Institute for Ocean Economics Presentation 2018). One of the consequences of the lower structures of the floating offshore wind turbines, was the creation of an excellent nesting environment for marine microorganisms (Myasoedov and Ota 2021).

Gotō Key Lessons

In examining documents from this case study and drawing on interviewee testimony three key points stand out in relation to the approaches taken on Gotō: 1) the identification of key demographics and their needs; 2) partnership and communication with stakeholders to help spread awareness about the issues and potential solutions and overcome concerns; and 3) approaching depopulation from multiple angles with multiple interconnected projects.

Understanding the reasons behind and context of age-specific emigration enabled targeted support of the working-age population through business-related initiatives and educational schemes or scholarships (often provided on the condition that young graduates would come/return to live on the island (see: Gotō-shi Education Funding Scheme webpage)). Initially, according to interview testimony, a high percentage of jobs were created by public funds, e.g., through renewable energy and sustainable tourism projects. From this initial funding, businesses brought in new investment and job schemes which in turn drove expansion of related industries (see: Gotō-shi Funding Scheme for a list of funding schemes). Further, these projects can have impacts beyond the islands on which they are situated, bringing benefits to other island communities. For example, the maintenance of wind turbines is a specialist skill that can be transferred from local maintenance companies to different projects both in Japan and abroad (Gotō City Renewable Energy Report 2018).

The projects on Gotō, particularly the renewable energy project, highlight the importance of understanding local relations, issues and concerns and working in partnership with local people. According to informant testimony, many of the island residents of Gotō have known each other throughout their lives, including local civil servants and key stakeholders. Consequently, an interviewee for this case study argued that development programmes need to be carefully implemented within the close human relationships found on the islands and successful initiatives require an understanding of social relations and need to garner trust amongst people who may have different goals and aims.

Dedicated, well informed and creative civil servants who have a good understanding of national strategies and funding opportunities as well as the specific local strengths, opportunities and issues also appear important in the case of Gotō. In Japan, it is common practice in human resource allocation for local civil servants to move between departments that cover different sectors and initiatives (e.g., housing, digital transformation, etc.). This can mean that local civil servants become well connected across the workplace and develop a good knowledge of the work of other departments and activities of local government. The importance of working across domains can perhaps be seen in the renewable project above which was the outcome of five departments working together towards establishing Gotō as the 'City of Energy'.

Renewable Energy-related Scottish Examples

The ORION project (Opportunity for Renewable Integration with Offshore Networks), set up by Shetland Islands Council has a net zero focus and is a collaboration which includes UK and Scottish government agencies, regulators, and industry stakeholders.

The purpose of the project is to develop a far-reaching clean energy plan for Shetland and the wider region. The project aims to support the generation of clean, affordable power, which will help to eradicate fuel poverty, whilst also protecting the environment and providing employment opportunities locally.

The Isle of Eigg generates all of its electricity using a mix of solar, wind and hydro energy. The community owned company has been supplying electricity on the island since 2008.

A project in Orkney is being developed to address demographic challenges on the island. Hope Cohousing is a community interest company working to establish a small cohousing project in St Margaret's Hope, Orkney. The aim is to create rented 'eco-aware' homes for older people who want to live independently but with shared amenities within a supportive community.


Email: population@gov.scot

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