By Shiori Taoka
Many older women and men are sitting and talking, laughing and drinking coffee in a small community hall. Just the other day, they had been playing cards, shogi, and singing karaoke. They seem to enjoy doing the activity with their friends. This “salon” is held twice a month for residents of Inabu, so everyone who wants to take part in can attend this gathering with paying only 100 yen.
“The bell of the temple, a local community, the normal country life, traditional life lived with a family. These small communities, and basic lifestyles are necessary for making a sustainable region,” one of a staff of Team Inabu explained. It’s an idea Michels Robert, the German political scientist called “The Patriotism of the belfry”.
Team Inabu is one of 52 syuraku-katsudou-senta (“community activity centers”) in Kochi now. This organization was created by Kochi prefecture, and is run by residents of the region. Basically, it is built in some areas or villages which is in the middle of the mountain to improve the quality of resident’s life, and solve local problems. The purpose of this center is maintaining and developing community activity, making a society where everyone cooperates to have a meaningful life. The facilities used are usually a closed school in an area.
Now, Japan, especially Kochi is an aging society. The population of Kochi is now under 70,0000. The number of the elderly is more than double of the young. This means, continuing to live in the town or village with few residents is difficult. This situation is seriously happening in some area which in the middle of the mountain, or even in some towns. And the population of Inabu is about 1600 people, and the rate of population aging is about 40%.
Inabu is not in the mountains. It is in Nankoku city, which is the second largest city of Kochi. “Team Inabu” organized in 2014. It is the first community activity center which is not in the middle of the mountain. Usually, most community activity center runs a closed school as an accommodation, or a meeting place, and the place which they make products such as a local specialty of the town. Inabu area’s base is “Inabu fureaikan,” it is the community hall of Inabu and it is in next to Inabu elementary school. And they do lots of activity by themselves and sometimes receive support by Kochi university’s students. To be specific, they make an opportunity which the elderly can gather and talk, corporate with Inabu elementary school, making local specialty, doing an emergency drill, and so on.
“The core of doing regional revitalization is school,” one of the staff of Team Inabu said.
Inabu does regular activity that residents who are most the elderly, cooperate with elementary school children and their parents through rice planting, the radio exercises, reading picture books, and holding a festival of local specialty products. This activity named PTCA. As you know, PTA is Parent-Teacher Association, and “C” of PTCA means “community”, so Team Inabu thinks the school does an important role to strengthen the community ties. And this activity is a model of the ministry of Education, Cultures, Sports, Science and Technology. How do you think about your school? School is your memory of the good old days, and if you have a child, he or she will go there. To do PTCA activity, children can take part in supporting for the school, community development continuously, even after graduation from the school. Therefore, it is easy and effective to involve residents of the town in regional revitalization. That’s why the core of doing regional revitalization is school. There are about 30,000 schools in Japan, and one third of that is working on this cooperation region and school activity now and Inabu is a model of all these schools.
Also, Team Inabu thinks “health promotion” is most important. These days, it is a big problem that older adults go to the hospital regularly even they don’t have any sick. It because they use hospital as a salon to talk with their friends or somebody. It is bad because they don’t have an illness, and don’t need to take a medical examination. They come to the hospital just because to talk with somebody. To get rid of this situation, Team Inabu hold “Salon” at the community hall twice a month to offer an opportunity to talk with acquaintances. As a result, they could decrease the fee for medical treatment of Inabu about 21,500,000 yen, and also the number of medical examination decreased 866 compared with 4years ago. It’s not only affected by Salon, but also other activities such as PTCA activity, and every activities they have done.
“The ultimate protective measure of requiring nursing care is connected with people.”
Because of the community link, the elderly can be healthy, not only their mentality but also their body. From the view of social epidemiology, people who have shut themselves up indoors, or don’t talk with other people tend to be requiring nursing care. It is said that the people who mix with the residents of their region are fewer the risk of the dementia than people who not, and also their average life span is longer.
One of the women who is more than 80 years old said to the staff, “If Salon were held every day, I don’t need to go to the hospital.”
“When I heard these words, I thought this is what I wanted to do, and now it comes true.” The staff of Team Inabu was smiled.
Why is decreasing fees for medical treatment necessary? It is because if it decreases, this money can be used other project. Now, fees for medical treatment in Japan is increasing by 1,000,000,000,000 yen per a year. Team Inabu thinks this cost should be decreased immediately, because if the country or prefecture want to advance other project, they need lots of money. However human life is should have priority, so money is used saving life and for medical examination whether people have illness or not. After all, there is no money to use for a new project such as promoting industry. That’s why Team Inabu thinks health support is important.
Lao Tsu who was a thinker of old China, and he taught his student, “the most superior leader is a person who doesn’t feels his existence.” Team Inabu thinks this superior leader is not a person, but a method. They think if they can make “Inabu method”, they hope it becomes a leader or a base of something. If it will be Common sense which everyone can see, that means they could sustain community development. The existence one leader is not good and not enough in the community, because the leader is not always able to be there, then people can’t rely on him, and it is not sustainable. However, if everyone has a method, they don’t need a leader because they can see themselves. The cooperation of a region and school is “Inabu ism”. Keep doing activity with residents, they can get consensus of Inabu region.
“We almost build Inabu ism, and we keep trying hard.”
In 2022, Inabu elementary school will have the 150th anniversary of the founding. Now, the goal of Team Inabu is reaching this with lively Team Inabu.