I’ve begun a new chapter in an old space, and have decided to restart this blog.
After leaving the village of Kawakami in Nara-prefecture, Japan, five years ago to start a career as a journalist, I freelanced around the world covering issues like the stories of North Koreans living in South Korea, the plight of disenfranchised ethnic minorities living along the India-Nepal border, and what it was like camping out with around 10,000 refugees bottlenecked along the Greece-Macedonia border. My most widely circulated story was a documentary that I shot with Vice in 2016 on Nepali villagers who hunt for hallucinogenic honey off the side of cliff faces. I eventually found my way to New York City, where I found work as a staff reporter with the Japanese daily newspaper The Tokyo Shimbun, and later as a producer with the Japan’s public broadcaster NHK.
Earlier this year, I saw a recent statistic that of all the towns and villages of Japan, the little village of Kawakami has been projected by the Japanese national government to have the highest rate of decline in all of Japan. Rural flight and the quest for opportunity had taken its toll.
While in New York, I became obsessed with the thought of whether it is necessary to depend on major cities for work and whether villages like Kawakami have to die. Living shoulder to shoulder with millions of other people, working in offices under florescent lighting, and relying on the unreliable New York Subway for commuting five days out of the week can grind you down. We live in an era where in many fields, if you have an internet connection you can find a job. I reflected fondly back on the bucolic life that I lived in Japan when I first started this blog and wondered if it might be possible to once again live a good life away from the city. I obsessed with the question of whether we really are bound to opportunities that exist in the geographical locations around us, or if it is possible to create new opportunities and bring them with us.
I’ve discovered a handful of individuals and communities in rural Japan that came to me like an answer to this question, and quickly their numbers are increasing. The Japanese countryside today is not the same countryside that I left five years ago. I’ve met a wide spectrum of individuals out here ranging from Japanese hippies focusing on raising dairy goats and cultivating microbiotic foods to hackers developing automated farming technologies to benefit their local farming communities.
Little attention is paid to what is happening to all of the rural areas where people from the worlds’ cities are coming from. In Japan, there has been a mass exodus from the countryside that has been going on for decades. This problem is not unique to Japan, however Japan offers to the world a very extreme example. Combining rural flight with a declining population and a rapidly aging society, the result is that places in the countryside are beginning to feel like ghost towns. Japan currently estimated to have 8.5 to 10 million abandoned houses, more abandoned houses than any other nation in the world. What direction Japan decides to take from here could serve as a model for the rest of the world: either as a story of brilliant success or a story of collapse and failure.
Through the inspiration of others, I decided to take a leap and see what I opportunities I could grow if I became one of these individuals living on the cusp of this grand social experiment to geographically unplug from the world’s cities to work towards creating a new world where humans can be empowered and connected no matter where they are on the globe. I quit my job in New York, canceled my lease with my landlord, and bought a one-way ticket to Japan to live once again in what is now Japan’s fastest declining village, Kawakami. Somehow I managed to convince my girlfriend to embark upon this same journey.
I really do have hope that it is possible for us to do something different than simply chasing dollars, and I’ve always felt that life is too short to live a comfortable life where at the end all that we can say is that we helped carry forward to status quo. I hope that at the end of my life I can think that the way that I lived was worthwhile and that I was able to make a positive impact on others, or at the very least that people can learn from the mistakes of my trial and error.
A big part of this blog will be to share about the lives and works of others who are far greater than myself who helped inspire me to get to where I am now, and I hope that they can affect you in a similar way. Other posts might be on my thoughts and observations here in Kawakami. I intend for this blog to be defined by an overarching focus of rural revitalization and the transmission of success stories of geographical decentralization away from cities and the human empowerment that follows from this. I’ll try to be as interactive as possible and to answer any questions that I receive through email should you have any.
Thank you for your support. I hope that from time to time you may be able to gain something from reading about this journey.