village decline

Japan’s Villages



raft (2) boost measure (2)
flag (2) birthrate unprecedented
crisis rapid repercussion
heart (2) eccentricity demographic
alarm shrink announce
lonely dwarf (2) thoroughly
concede isolated challenge (2)
recess arrange elsewhere
slip slip away hang in the balance
abandon board up as far as I’m concerned
thrive timber temporary
settle order (3) left behind
axiety diminish renovation






Japan’s leaders are working on a raft of new measures to encourage citizens to get married and have children in a bid to boost the country’s flagging birthrate.

With fewer babies being born and a rapidly aging population, Japan is facing an unprecedented demographic crisis with vast social, economic and political repercussions.

So what’s at the heart of the problem?

And what’s being done to fix it?

Adrian Brown has been to the shrinking town of Nanmoku to find out.

It’s 7 am in the mountain village of Nanmoku, announced with typical Japanese eccentricity by the town alarm clock.

Seven year old Yusuki Aiwa and his brother and sister are off to school.

Nanmoku Elementary School dwarfs the houses around them.

There used to be over twelve hundred students here; now there are only 37.

Yusuki is in first grade. He’s been of of his class all year.

But there’s a simple reason for that: he’s the only pupil.

Yusuki: “If I write the wrong answer, I’ll be in trouble. I enjoy being the best. Sometimes I feel sad. I feel lonely.

My teacher is kind. It’s lonely being the only one, but I enjoy school.”

Matsuda Mitsunobu, Teacher: “The good side is that we can teach thoroughly.

Headmaster Matsuda Mitsunobu concedes that Yusuki’s isolated lessons aren’t without challenges.

Masuda Mitsunobu, Teacher: “The bad side is that, because teaching is done one-to-one, there can be over-teaching. And a group program isn’t possible.

It’s difficult to arrange group learning or sport for him.”

It’s only at recess and lunch that Yusuki gets to play with his friends. For how much longer is unclear.

With the entire population of the town slipping away, the future of the school is hanging in the balance.

Journalist: “What is the reason for that big decrease?”
Masuda Mitsunobu, Teacher: “One reason, as far as Nanmoku is concerned, is lack of employment. Because they can’t find a job here, parents leave Nanmoku and settle elsewhere.”

As a result, we have less and less children.”

As long as there is at least one child, Nanmoku village has a school.”

But if there’s no child in the village, and there’s no need for a school, it will close temporarily.”

Every year, fewer babies are being born, and more and more young people are leaving.

Hundreds of homes and businesses are boarded up or abandoned.

Left behind are the elderly. More than half the population is over the age of 65.

Tomio Ichikawa, Furniture Maker: “That we have few schoolchildren is a problem for this village, but Nanmoku is a small example of the whole of Japan, and I think what’s happening here will happen in other areas of Japan.”

For almost 40 years, Tomio Ichikawa worked in Nanmoku’s once thriving timber industry.

Tomio: “My orders these days are small renovations, small changes in parts of the house. You know, improvements. They’re very small jobs.

There are no more orders for new houses in this village. So small builders working alone like me can’t get work any more.

Journalist: “If the population keeps diminishing the way it is, are you worried that the village is simply going to die out?”

Tomio: “We know that the population here is definitely shrinking by almost 100 per year.

Our population of 2,000 will be gone in 20 years.

I can only continue my business while there are people, so I have my anxieties.”

Tomio invited me to meet his family.

He only married four years ago, and says he and his wife are too old to have children of their own.

The couple care for Tomio’s elderly parents.

Mother: “I used to prepare food for children’s lunches at school. School lunches.

That was my job, to cook lunches for schoolchildren. Just in this village, there used to be about 1,400 children.

It’s a problem. It’s lonely.

It’s lonely when the young people are gone.”

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1. What is the demographic trend in Japan?

2. Describe the elementary school in Nanmoku. Has it always been like that? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the elementary school?

3. The village is shrinking. Is this correct or wrong? Why is it shrinking?

4. Mostly elderly people live in Nanmoku. Yes or no? Is it unique or representative of villages in Japan? Are the villagers happy, sad or indifferent about the situation and trend?

5. The situation is very different in the cities. True or false?

6. People want to get married, make love and have lots of children. Is this correct or wrong?

7. What will happen in the future?
A. Are villages in your country increasing in size, decreasing or remaining the same?

B. What is the demographic trend in your country? Is this good, bad, neither or both?

C. Should there be more, less or the same amount of people in the world?

D. What will happen in the future?

E. What are some solutions to this situation?


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