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Local gov't in north Japan invites remote workers to experience rural life

A screenshot of the Akita Prefectural Government's "Remote work in Akita" website which contains a photo of Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake is shown here.

AKITA -- The northern Japan prefecture of Akita has been calling for residents outside the region to move to the rural area as the option of working remotely has become prevalent amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

    The move to promote remote work in Akita has been made as challenges posed by the heavy population of the greater Tokyo area have surfaced due to the pandemic. The Akita Prefectural Government estimates that the promotion of remote work will create a new option for people to live in rural areas while working for a company in or near the capital, and hopes that it will act as a countermeasure against the prefecture's declining population -- a significant challenge for the region.

    Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake appeared in a full-page advertisement in The Nikkei business daily in early October. The ad included the catchphrase, "Don't you want to put an end to sacrificing your daily life for work?" Through the ad, the prefectural government aims to promote its "Remote work in Akita" project among individuals affiliated with companies.

    That same month, the prefectural government conducted a survey targeting some 4,000 companies, including those listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, about their views regarding employees moving to regional areas for remote work, and the possibility of having them work from Akita. Responses were obtained from 559 companies, and among them, 63 answered that they considered remote work from Akita a possibility, according to the prefectural government's section that promotes relocation to and settlement in the prefecture.

    The prefectural government also uploaded a promotional video on YouTube where the famous Hachiko dog statue, placed in front of Tokyo's Shibuya Station, tells viewers that it decided to work remotely from its birthplace of Akita. The video highlights the merits of living in Akita, including a nice environment for raising and educating children, low residential land prices, and the ability to enjoy seasonal leisure activities.

    In addition to the remote working project, the prefectural government has included related expenses for a program that promotes "workation," where employees can do their jobs while enjoying vacations at tourist spots or resorts, in its supplementary budget draft submitted to the prefectural assembly during an extraordinary session in July. The prefecture seeks to address its serious population drop, which was revealed in results indicating Akita ranked worst in Japan for its population decline rate as of Jan. 1, 2020, in a population movement survey based on the Basic Resident Register network system conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

    Meanwhile, falling populations have been raised as a common challenge for rural areas, and it is expected that there will be intensifying competition with other prefectures regarding projects to encourage workers in the capital to move to regional areas following the coronavirus pandemic.

    The head of the prefectural government's residency promotion section commented, "Although the absence of geographical disadvantages is the attractive quality of remote work, there may also be the option of moving to areas in the Kanto region nearer to the capital. We'd like to strive hard so that people will choose to live in Akita."

    Meanwhile, endeavors to promote remote working and workations have been spreading in the private sector in the prefecture as well. The "Akita workation promotion association" was established on Nov. 10, led by Cable Networks Akita Co. and travel agency Tohoku iTours, both based in the city of Akita. About 80 organizations, including companies and universities in the prefecture, have joined the association to engage in planning projects in Akita, as well as promotional and informational activities through social media.

    During a press conference held in the prefectural government building on Nov. 5, Cable Networks Akita Chairman Ryuichi Matsuura, who represents the association, commented, "From the standpoint of economic revitalization, we'd like to contribute to an increase in the population that interacts with and has a relationship with Akita, and encourage people to move here and settle down."

    (Japanese original by Hiroshi Takano, Akita Bureau)

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