Eight years ago this month, when I was notified of the place I would live while on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, I couldn’t resist looking it up on Google for a sneak preview. As might be expected, given its size—a mere 543 households as of October 2014—not a lot came up for Shimode, Kagoshima Prefecture. I remember imagining a vast expanse of rice fields dotted with houses.
My vision turned out to be not far from reality. And, to my delight, I soon found the locals to be some of the warmest people I had ever met. It was—and still is—hard to see them struggle with the effects of chronic depopulation. What was once a thriving market area with schools full to bursting has become a place of abandoned homes, a partly shuttered shopping street and services at risk of closure.
Due to its remote location and lack of job opportunities, demographics are heavily skewed towards the elderly (some are aged over 100), rather than the young. Yet despite economic difficulties, the adjacent communities of Shimode, Kuroki and Imuta, are nothing short of vibrant. Activities led by, and for, the locals range from go-daiko (set of five) drumming classes to tug of war and bamboo-burning festivals, not to mention lessons on planting sweet potato and a mini-marathon.
Although the events differ, there is one ever-present component: the ability of the local people to draw on their often inherited skills for the good of the community at large. I saw first-hand how events cement ties, allow traditional customs to be passed on, spark new ideas and, perhaps most important, bring joy.
It was, therefore, with great interest that I learned of the work being carried out in Yamagata Prefecture to revive a similar rural community. Briton Adam Fulfold is bringing locals and visitors together to harness the area’s natural and cultural resources in the hope of strengthening the community economically and socially.
In these pages
In keeping with cultural relations, albeit on a global scale, this issue features a review of Bridges, a celebration of Anglo–Japanese cultural pioneers. The book offers insights from academia, business, media, government and the non-profit sector on cross-cultural relations: a topic increasingly important for business.
Also making her mark is London-based art historian and writer Sophie Richard. As the youngest recipient and only non-Japanese in 2015 to receive an award from Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs, she shares her story with BCCJ ACUMEN.
Celebrating 90 years
To mark Her Majesty’s official 90th birthday, we reflect on the remarkable landmarks in UK–Japan relations that have taken place over the years since her birth. In honour of the occasion, British Ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens CMG LVO has a special message for readers.
We are also delighted to showcase a selection of rare photos of the Queen and her family, as well as visual highlights from Her Majesty’s birthday party at the British Embassy Tokyo.
Happy birthday Ma’am.