Arriving in Umaji village, we can breathe the clean air. This village is surrounded by trees, we find the sign of Umaji village. We feel our souls healed and we have been here before somehow.
Despite the excitement we have, we have a little fear at the same time. There is no one we can see from our car. Where are the people of this village? Are we going to interview animals? We are getting nervous. Driving through the arch of trees, we find Umaji village office.
Umaji village is well-known as successful business of Yuzu products. In fact the total sales of Yuzu products in 2006 was about 3.3 billion yen. As a matter of fact, Umaji village was famous of forestry, however, it has declined with the times. 98% this village is composed by forest.Due to the decay of the forestry, Umaji village had declined until they have succeeded with Yuzu.
Most Japanese small villages have a common issue. Surely this peaceful village also has the same issue. The population of Umaji village has dropped from 3500 in 1960 to 1015 in 2011. Umaji village is composed of Umaji area and Yanase area. Focusing on Yanase area, the population is just around 200 compared to Umaji area around 800. This fact has been badly affected on the schools in Yanase. Umaji village began to take action to solve this problem in 1991.
Since 1997, Umaji village has accepted sannsonn ryuugaku sei (“village stay students”) and their parents from the outside of Umaji village. Many villages are making a similar effort to survive against the decrease of population, however, Umaji village’s program has some interesting and attractive features. The interesting feature is that Umaji village has prepared an apartment for sannsonn ryugaku students and their parents, and the rent is just 1,000 yen a month. Umaji village also accepts the victims from the catastrophe the East part of Japan had in March and bullied students who yet have a desire to study.
From kindergarten to the second year of junior high school age students and their parents are able to apply for this village stay program. There are two reasons why Umaji village targets young children. One of the reasons is that there is no high school and university in Umaji village. The other reason is that Umaji village wants the village stay students to have “I – Turn” in the future. “I – Turn” is the phenomena that people from urban city get a job in country side and live there for their entire life.
The other Umaji village’s effort is arranged marriage tour called Yu-yu tour which started in 1997. This tour is composed of 10 men from Umaji village and 10 women from out side of the village. Surprisingly, it has be succeeding a lot. This arranged marriage tour has taken place 10 times and 11 couples have married, which in turn has led to the births of 18 babies. Participants are supposed to get together with the intention of getting married so that they can see each other more seriously.
In Umaji village, we reached one of the staff of the Umaji village office. The most difficult thing about the village stay Mr. Kiooka mentioned was the effort to make the sannson ryugaku students adapt themselves to the people and the environment of Umaji village . Most students have some problems in the city they used to stay in. It’s not so easy for them to open their mind to people in Umaji village.
He also expressed a concern about the arranged marriage tours. Due to the small of population of Umaji village, people who have relationship or marriage by this tour are obviously remarkable, which sometimes brings them trouble. Rumors spread so quickly and everybody knows what’s happening between people. This is a particular problem small villages always have.
Beautiful view, warm people, delicious food in Umaji just makes us want to stay here even longer. Everything in here seems to welcome us at any time. I’ve read the article of Mrs Kitano who is from Umaji village. She says she got married, moved to urban city, and used to have busy life . Her daughter stayed in Umaji village for a year as a student of Umaji village stay and got back to the urban city again, however, she no longer could enjoy herself in such a busy life. She was finally not able to go and study at school. Then, Mrs Kitano made up her mind to get back to Umaji village and live there with her daughter. After moving back there, She could see her daughter’s smile appearing on her face again. (http://www.kochinews.co.jp/rensai02/idomu016.htm) This attractive village can always make people cheerful and bring happiness. The end of our visit in Umaji village, we feel this village wipes away all of our unpleasant matters in our mind and makes us smile. Leaving from Umaji village, we decided to come back here again.
Yuzu total sales : http://www.syoku-brand.com/torikumi_jirei/post_645.html
If you’d like to get more information about Umaji village stay or other information, I recommend you to check the website of Kochi news. http://www.kochinews.co.jp/rensai02/idomufr.htm