Family ties pull young Japanese back to rural areas

TOKYO • An increasing number of young people from cities are migrating to provincial areas to live in the same town as their grandparents.

The "mago-turn" trend - "mago" means grandchild in Japanese - is similar to the "U-turn" trend when people return from cities to live in their home towns, and the "I-turn", when people migrate to rural areas different from where they grew up.

For young people who want to be closer to nature but feel uneasy about living in an unfamiliar place, moving to areas where their grandparents live can be an attractive option because it will be easier for them to assimilate into the community.

Mr Taro Nakazawa, 24, was born and raised in Chigasaki, Kanagawa prefecture, and moved to Hokuto, Yamanashi prefecture, last month.

He works as a "local community revitalisation corps" member promoting tourism in the city in the north-western part of the Kofu basin.

Mr Nakazawa's parents hail from Hokuto and he often visited his grandparents when he was growing up. He has been drawn to the area's magnificent mountains and highlands since childhood.

Although he had hoped to live in the area someday, he joined a construction firm in Kanagawa after graduating from university. But the death of his maternal grandfather last August prompted him to make the move sooner rather than later.

RICHER LIFE

I don't have to ride a packed train. I work less overtime. I feel like my life has become richer.

MR TARO NAKAZAWA, on moving to Hokuto, Yamanashi prefecture, to live with his grandparents.

"I thought it would be better to move while my (paternal) grandparents are still healthy," Mr Nakazawa said.

His income is lower than what he earned in Kanagawa, but he said: "I don't have to ride a packed train. I work less overtime. I feel like my life has become richer."

Mr Nakazawa's paternal grandfather, Mr Kenichi Nakazawa, 89, lives with his grandson. He said: "I'm enjoying (living with him) because he makes our home lively."

Facing declining populations, some local governments have recently introduced measures to support people who migrate to the areas where their grandparents live to attract more young people.

In April last year, the local government of Bungotakada in Oita prefecture began offering a financial incentive of 100,000 yen (S$1,240) to people who move there if their grandparents live in the city. Other criteria must also be met to receive the reward.

Other local governments have adopted different measures to encourage mago-turn, including offering academic scholarships to households with children.

"If mago-turn results in more young people moving to rural areas, the areas will be rejuvenated and the wave could attract other young people without family ties to the region," said Meiji University's Professor Tokumi Odagiri, an expert in rural policy.

"Mago-turn could become a major pillar of future migration policy."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2017, with the headline 'Family ties pull young Japanese back to rural areas'. Print Edition | Subscribe