The spread of the novel coronavirus has highlighted the issue of population concentration. The government should make effective efforts to disperse the population to rural areas.
The government has decided this year’s basic policy on regional revitalization. It stressed the need to rectify the excessive concentration of population in Tokyo to reduce the risks associated with overcrowding.
Infectious diseases tend to spread easily in densely populated urban areas. If a disaster occurs, such as an earthquake with its focus immediately below Tokyo or catastrophic rainfall, it will cause enormous damage. Considering crisis management, the current situation, in which 30% of the nation’s entire population is concentrated in the Tokyo metropolitan area, must be corrected as soon as possible.
The basic policy calls for further promoting teleworking, which has been spreading due to the coronavirus disaster, facilitating the establishment of satellite offices, which serve as local bases for companies, and other measures. The government should support corporate activities in rural areas by improving information and telecommunications networks and providing tax breaks.
Major companies have started to try to drastically increase teleworking, eliminate the practice of job transfers away from employees’ homes and reduce the number of offices. An increase in the number of people who can work regardless of their location will provide an opportunity to decentralize the population to rural areas. The government needs to take appropriate measures for that purpose.
According to a survey by the Cabinet Office, 30% of workers have experienced teleworking amid the spread of the virus, and many respondents said that their interest in moving to the countryside has increased.
If it is possible to continue to work and live in rural areas with a good living environment, the quality of life will improve.
The role of local governments that accept people moving there also is large. Some people who had made such moves, longing to live in the countryside, wound up feeling isolated and returned to urban areas. It is hoped that a system will be established to warmly accept new residents, such as by providing detailed advice for them.
It is important to create an environment in which young people can settle in rural areas. The majority of the population moving into the Tokyo metropolitan area are young people around age 20 who leave their hometowns for reasons such as advancing to higher education or finding work.
The basic policy calls for increasing the number of students attending national universities in local areas. The government plans to consider relevant reforms, such as improving specialized education in science and technology.
Forty percent of all university students are concentrated in the Tokyo metropolitan area, while a shortfall of students below the intake capacity is a serious issue at universities in provincial areas. Even if the quota of students at local universities is increased, students will not remain in their hometowns unless the content of education at local universities is made more attractive.
In cooperation with major companies, Shimane University aims to create a world-class research base for metallic materials. Some universities have a unique curriculum, such as strengthening research on robots and aerospace. They are characterized by practical education that leads to employment.
In order to boost the vitality of rural areas, it is essential to make efforts to nurture human resources who will play a key role in the future in close cooperation among industry, government and academia.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 29, 2020.