SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

XIE_Zhihai “Is the COVID-19 a good opportunity for revitalization of local area?”

Our daily life has drastically changed due to COVID-19 in 2020. To begin with, lifestyle of inhabitants in the cities, where population density is high, had to be changed. Large enterprises started working remotely to prevent commuter rush. However, companies which have little infrastructure for remote works or workers in service industries who cannot work remotely had to go to their offices being petrified by coronavirus which are floating everywhere. City life cannot avoid the “three C’s” (Closed, Crowded, Close contact) anywhere and it is considered as gloomy. 



People here in North Kanto area, 100 Km away from Tokyo, where I am living, have been easy-going because there is no “three C’s” because of its automobile society. At ramen shops, they make “three C’s” queues always, not to protrude to roads and the lines are “straight”.

I had an impression that it is Japan. When you go to supermarkets or drug stores, you can see a lot of people there. And the situation is the same with “before the COVID-19 pandemic” and they make “three C’s” queues. (At present, you can see a seal on the floor to keep space between a guest in front.) There are differences how people understand TV broadcasting which are sending regardless of cities and countryside.



Then, how do people in the cities understand the life and actual situations of countryside?

When people began to talk about “remote XXX”, we have been talking about movement from city to countryside. If we can work from home or work once or twice a week at office, we can live in big house in countryside without high rent in the cities and go to office to take care of something when needed. We can expect vitalization of countryside by such work style.

According to weekly magazine the “Toyo Keizai” issued in July, there would be a lot of merits in “movement to countryside”. You can work and child-care in spacious living environment.

But I, living in countryside, do not think it will be easy to move in.



I looked around our town where I live and neighboring city where I work and I observed present situation of countryside from my car window. I would like to convey my message hereunder how people understand the situation when they consider movement to countryside from city under the COVID-19 pandemic. When I walked around for the first time for six months, I was surprised at the shops which have closed. I do not know exactly whether the close down was from pandemic or not. You can see a lot of private owned restaurants, general stores and clothing stores closed. Not only IZAKAYA (Japanese Pub) chain but fast-food restaurants also withdrew. As they did not remove their signboards, people who just pass by car could not  know their closings.



In another column of the Toyo Keizai magazine, they wrote : If people, who move to countryside from city, would be allowed to do side jobs, they will work in local companies or advise the companies in countryside being home in cities. If so, there would be positive effects from the viewpoints of vitalization of business activities of local companies and development of industries in countryside. If they can do so, it may be wonderful. But I think only the people, who live in cities, can say so. It will not be possible for the people, who move to countryside only one-hour ride on Shinkansen, to live like in Tokyo. Hence, it is not exaggerated. For example, after office hour and before returning to their homes, Tokyo people post a letter in postbox and go shopping in supermarket or convenient stores withdrawing some money from ATM. They may drop at drug stores. They act without any preparation every day.  



However, here in countryside, each destination is remote. We need to take own car to faraway place as there is no public transportations available.  Car is only conveyance. When they move to countryside, they must open an account at a local bank to buy a car because there are few mega-banks in our prefecture and local banks are working for their existence. We can find local banks everywhere. I opened an account at a local bank out of necessity a few years ago and was obligatory to buy a car.     



I like to simulate possible situation of migration, not transference, under the CORONA-19 pandemic. In case, people, who telecommute with Tokyo office, like to visit local office to contribute to local enterprises, must have a car and its time consuming. The office of local companies may not be necessarily near stations. Then, you might possibly feel right for the employee to have house nearby. When he has a meeting at Tokyo Office, he has to be dropped by his family member to the nearest railway station because taking a car self-driven could be expensive due to the troll tax and the parking fees.  



Another situation, related to car, is a case of family with small children. In this case, there must be two vehicles in family one for children being dropped and pick up from school regularly and for others. There are traffic congestions every morning at rotary of the nearest station and we can see many students (including university students) in uniforms who are sent by their mothers. In the afternoon, we can see also middle and high-school students who go to jyuku (cram school). Can you imagine that mother, who works energetically in city is too busy dropping and picking up her children?

To raise young children is another story. Parks are not adjoining resident areas.  Mothers must send their children to parks by car if they do not live near parks. It is characteristics of countryside areas. You can see one swing in parks in cities. Since there are no such parks in countryside, you cannot see children, who are brought by their mothers, are playing at small parks near their houses. You cannot see students of higher grade of elementary schools go to parks and play together, which is quite common in the parks in Tokyo.



There are no delivery services of perishable foods like Amazon Fresh or supermarkets which are common in cities. Only one delivery services in countryside is by cooperative. There were no Uber_Eats or “Demaekan” but now Uber_Eats has started their service since September.  If restaurants here, would close or withdraw, what shall we do?



In addition to restaurants, you can see a lot of vacant houses in this area. Last year, a high-rise condominium was completed in front of the station which Shinkansen stop. Due to extension of pedestrian deck which connect station and condominium, it was “SOLD OUT”.

We saw, however, many vacant houses even after its completion. After the pandemic, I thought the number of occupiers (tenants) would increase due to the media which report about spread of “remote works” or “movement to countryside from cities”. I saw flyers in newspapers which introduce many types of this condominium saying that “condominium for investment” or “for speculative purposes”.  I can even see fliers now.  



I have written about present situation of local area. For the people who have been living in local area for a long time, they know automobile societies well and will not be reluctant to move to local area. On TV, we can see pictures where a lot of people who moves to-and-fro in city center. But such pictures are different from real circumstances of local areas. I think people, who evaluate migration to local area, are living in city center. Of course, it will be the best to live in a big city like Tokyo. But we cannot say “it is invincible life” and there would be “pitfalls”.



Revitalization of local area is a big issue in Japan even if there was no coronavirus. My town is making strong efforts for PR activities for tourist and for special products. I think it is important and appealing to attract migration from big city to local area as much as possible possible, points like “livable area” or “no natural disasters”. At the same time, they should improve infrastructure so that migrants can accustom to a town life immediately, for example, increasing frequency of fixed route buses and better transportations.   



SGRA Kawaraban 651 in Japanese (Original)



XIE_Zhihai /Associate Professor of Kyoai Gakuen University


Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sabina Koirala