Understanding Marginal Villages in Japan: Definition and Challenges

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In rural areas of Japan, depopulation and aging are rapidly progressing, with many communities facing a state called “genkai shuraku” or marginal villages. This article explores the definition of marginal villages and the reasons behind their “marginal” status.

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What are Marginal Villages?

Marginal villages refer to communities where elderly residents aged 65 and above make up more than 50% of the population, making it difficult to maintain social communal life. These villages represent a state of declining regional vitality due to depopulation and aging.

Definition and Criteria of Marginal Villages

The definition of marginal villages is based on the following criteria:

  • Elderly residents aged 65 and above account for more than 50% of the village population
  • Difficulty in maintaining social communal life
  • Survival of traditional community events, such as weddings and funerals, is at risk
  • Increase in elderly residents living alone or in households consisting only of elderly individuals
  • Decline in regional economic activities and difficulty in maintaining living infrastructure

These criteria indicate the severity of aging and population decline in the villages.

Difference Between Villages and Municipalities

Villages refer to smaller units of local communities, while municipalities are administrative units that include multiple villages. Marginal villages represent areas within municipalities that are particularly affected by depopulation and aging.

Why are they called “Marginal”?

The term “marginal” is used to describe these villages for the following reasons:

  1. Limits of social communal life
    • Difficulty in maintaining traditional community events and collaborative work due to aging
    • The very existence of the village is at risk
  2. Limits of the regional economy
    • Decline in regional economic activities and loss of employment opportunities due to population decline
    • Difficulty in continuing agricultural and forestry production due to a shortage of successors
  3. Limits of living infrastructure
    • Difficulty in maintaining public transportation, medical, and welfare services due to a decrease in users
    • Hindrances in maintaining roads and bridges
  4. Limits of village survival
    • Increased risk of village disappearance due to accelerating population decline and aging
    • Uncertainty about the village’s future due to the outflow of young people and declining birth rates

These points illustrate that marginal villages are facing social, economic, and existential limits. They grapple with various problems, such as accelerating population decline and aging, economic decline, shortage of successors in agriculture and forestry, increase in vacant houses and village degradation, lack of medical and welfare services, and difficulty in maintaining transportation infrastructure. These issues are interconnected and create a negative spiral.

Current Situation and Countermeasures for Marginal Villages

According to a survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, out of approximately 65,000 villages nationwide, about 17,000 are estimated to be marginal villages. To address the issues faced by marginal villages, the national and local governments are implementing the following measures:

  1. Introduction of regional revitalization cooperators
    • Recruiting young people from urban areas to support regional revitalization activities
    • Encouraging migration and settlement to curb population decline
  2. Strengthening support for migration and settlement
    • Enhancing vacant house banks and support systems for migrants
    • Supporting the securing of employment and housing to promote migration and settlement
  3. Industrial promotion utilizing regional resources
    • Promoting industries that leverage local specialties and tourism resources
    • Creating new employment through sixth industrialization and collaboration between agriculture, commerce, and industry
  4. Maintaining life services through the development of small hubs
    • Establishing “small hubs” in village centers that consolidate necessary life services
    • Ensuring convenience by incorporating multiple functions, such as medical care, welfare, and commerce
  5. Maintaining and securing public transportation
    • Securing means of transportation by introducing demand-responsive transportation and utilizing private paid passenger transportation
    • Supporting elderly residents’ hospital visits and shopping to maintain quality of life

These measures are crucial for revitalizing villages and enhancing their sustainability. However, for a fundamental solution, it is necessary to consider regional development strategies from a broader perspective.

Conclusion

Marginal villages refer to communities where depopulation and aging have progressed to the point where maintaining social communal life has become difficult. They are called “marginal” because they face social, economic, and existential limits. The national and local governments are implementing measures such as introducing regional revitalization cooperators and supporting migration and settlement to revitalize these villages. The issue of marginal villages is one of the significant challenges faced by rural areas in Japan, requiring concerted efforts from residents, local governments, and the national government.

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