Jul 21, 2021

Kuni: A Japanese Vision for Reviving Rural Lands

The Kamiechigo Yamazato Fan Club founder Tsuyoshi Sekihara is the subject of international research, writing, and symposia. While isolated and shrinking rural communities in Japan face extinction, Sekihara has, for the past 20 years, crafted a system of regional management that reverses the depressing trend of decline. Ongoing ties to urban repeat visitors, and a sense of autonomy that matches direct social services with deeper connections to tradition, the ecology of place and a shared sense of purpose in the right-sized community of rural Joetsu, Japan. I am grateful to The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, The Japan Society, and the Japan NPO Center to support the development of the forthcoming book. To learn more, watch the 2019 symposium at the Japan Society in NYC; and read my post, “How You Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm?” elsewhere on this site. 


I could spend a lifetime with the spiraling journey of Kuni. Why is this? I believe there are many. However, I think I figured out one reason. When Sekihara insisted upon the importance to cultivate repeat visitors, I immediately nodded affirmatively. I remember how after the flood waters left the city in New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina, we were again flooded. But this time, we were flooded with people. This new demographic became known as "voluntours." Almost overnight, the city became party to a new industry: "voluntourism." It came with its complexities: rubbernecking, leering into the lives of those who have experienced trauma. However, it also spoke to a serious deficit in many people's lives: Meaning. Recently, I discussed this pull that the city has upon outsiders — individuals for whom post-Katrina New Orleans still has a psychic hold upon them — with a college graduate who first came to the city in high school to build houses, clean up neighborhoods, etc. It is this personal need for meaning that — if done with care — is something to trade on. The Kamiechigo Yamazato Fan Club is the gateway for many Tokyo residents who seek meaning. This idea can be replicated in many places. However, it takes care, vision and action. 

Useful links:

The book will be published in the autumn of 2022 by North Atlantic Publishers. Read more from Seinsheimer Literary
The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership
The Japan Society
The Japan NPO Center