The last couple yearsGojome is a country town located in Akita, northern Japan. Well known for its 500-old street market and the then effervescent forestry businesses, the now small town has been going through a change in its landscape in the last few years. Looking for a change of scenery and quality of life, new forms of businesses, along with people from different regions of Japan, have moved to Gojome.
Because of that, Gojome has been experiencing a rare phenomenon for rural areas; an influx of new people from other regions to the town. People with very diverse backgrounds, searching for quality of life and a more accessible, less stressful environment. The population of Gojome has been warm towards the establishment of start-ups and alternative business models, which brings a welcome new air to the city.
This new movement, which englobes a simple daily life, varied lifestyles and business models, and the traditional mood of a typical country town provides quality of life in a calm, relaxed and cosy environment.
Seeing those changes and the beneficial impacts in daily life caused by that phenomena, more and more companies and people became interested in Gojome. The local government also realized it, and started to act as mediators in expanding that process, focusing on supporting new forms of business and alternative approaches for existing issues, such as hybrid schooling, vacant-house renovation, incubation supports, etc.
MomentumThis change in the landscape was not a scripted story or a project fuelled with large financial support, but it slowly shaped up with the actions made by new population who shares the general idea of better living environment, especially for their children to grow. Yet Gojome is just like any other country side, except for one random idea came up in early 2013, when one of the elementary schools in town got closed.
The school closed is called Babame elementary school, about 10 minutes drive from centre of Gojome, recognised with its still new, beautiful wooden architecture and modern layout, adaptable to open-space schooling. In 2013, it was still only 13 years since the whole school complex was built, local government of Gojome had to come up with the idea of utilising the building instead of breaking it down.
After few minor modifications on the building, elementary school turned into a small office complex, specifically more for the incubators. In late 2013, Babame elementary school changed its name to “Babame Base”, where multiple start-up businesses work close to each other, not only working together but building community around job and education.
The community in Babame Base gradually expanded over time, including ones moved in from cities, with people who fell in love with Gojome for each to their own reasons. There were only three companies at the beginning, now grew to 13, with mix of new people and local start-up businesses. When we talk about start-ups, not all of them are necessarily working on a laptop; some of them are farmers or beautician.
People with different speciality and background, gather around and having community is what small country town never expected to experience. Some of locals are also very open and curious about the change in the scenery, balance between freshness and tradition started to show within this small country town of Gojome.
Gojome’s NarrativeIdentity of Gojome pretty much aroused from the history of Morning Market; its location led small country town to play important role from before Edo Period.
Town of Gojome is located roughly in the same distance from other big cities spreading across in Northern Akita region, from mountains to the sea. Back in the day, when there were no fast, mass transportation, various merchants brought up their products from different parts of Akita, Morning Market had been packed with people for the last couple hundreds of years.
Today, with the emergence of supermarkets chain across the country, number of people using morning market had been declining. Meanwhile, some locals along with those new people moved in to town focused more on supplemental functions of once prospered shopping street, granting women and children to hang out in town. Group of mothers started holding weekend events in 2016 and now it has started to get attention from younger generations also.
Surrounded by rich forestry resources, Gojome had been recognised for woodworking and blacksmithing. Demand for traditional/ordinary woodworking products such as wardrobes and joinery has been declining dramatically, effect of this cannot be overlooked for certain. However, some younger woodworkers are updating their products to present different ways of experiencing wood processing technique. Issues related to succession of such historical businesses can be seen across in forestry/wood related industry which are yet to be solved.
OpportunitiesAs the town started swallowing in more diverse backgrounded population, stable yet possibly tedious atmosphere in typical country town has agitated by non-natives; inspiring new businesses has been established in many other rural towns across country. What we believe that it is more likely the characteristics of locals are very important for such mixology to occur, as well as locals’ knowledges to get more fun out of living in such interesting environment, including rich snow.
Depopulation and rapid aging are the topics we’ve been facing here in Akita, situation is worse particularly in Gojome. However, we think that those are not necessarily the problems we should tackle, but more of the issues that could possibly be solved in the process of younger generations trying to cultivate updated way of rural life in Japan.
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Our teamMy name is Takugo Miwa, currently located in Gojome, Akita, working with town hall of Gojome as Local Vitalization Cooperator. As it’s been mentioned above, we’ve been facing sever depopulation and aging, which is among the highest/worst in the whole world. What we’ve been trying here however is not to solve such problems but discussing about smaller issues, and maybe turn our life into something a bit more favourable.
I was born and raised in Saitama, of one the outskirts of Tokyo, then spent four years of my university life in Surrey, United Kingdom. Majored in Tourism Management, moved to Akita to start my career in slow, rural tourism.
If you are interested in knowing more about our town or even visiting us, please feel free to get in touch with me through the form below, or through Instagram or Facebook!