By Ayaka Toyota & Koki Yoshida
“It struck me,” says Oba Shizuka while driving a winding mountain road to Niyodogawa town. “The beauty of the valley moved me. Until I visited Kochi for the first time, I thought that Shinshu was the place I would spend the rest of my life. But I had a change of mind. I hoped for living here by intuition.”
Shizuka used the “Two-Step Immigration” system to immigrate from Okayama to Kochi in 2021. She talked about the step to immigration cheerfully. However, changing the place to live from the city to the countryside took a lot of work for her. That is because immigration from urban to rural areas means that an immigrant’s life changes dramatically.
Let’s assume that you are an immigrant. You leave your laundry hanging out to dry and leave your new house. After a while, it begins to rain. You noticed it and went home thinking that your laundry might be wet. However, your neighbor has already put the laundry away inside the house. How do you feel in such a situation? Do you blame your neighbor for invading your privacy? Or are you grateful for your neighbor’s kindness?
This will be perceived differently depending on the person. Some people think it is a good thing, but others don’t think so. It is not that one is worse than the other; it is a difference in values.
Whether serious or not, such trouble happens to every immigrant.
However, Shizuka chose to have a close relationship with the residents. She enjoys chatting with her neighbor in the neighbor’s house naturally. They call each other by their first name. It never happens in life in a big city, but it is just normal in this community.
Overcoming various difficulties, she lives in Niyodogawa town happily now.
What secret is hidden in Kochi that attracted Shizuka so strongly?
What is “Kochi Two-Step Immigration”?
“Kochi Two-Step Immigration” is a new type of immigration. In this system, Kochi prefecture supports people who want to live a comfortable life but are worried about moving from the city to the countryside.
The “Two-Step” Immigration System
It is not a good idea to suddenly live in the middle of the countryside. Therefore, two steps exist. The first step is living in Kochi city, a relatively urban area. In this step, an immigrant meets with professional staff and researching the local community and surroundings. In the second step, they finally find an area that fits them and move there as the second destination of immigration.
Immigration is not that easy, especially from urban areas to rural areas. When you move to a new place, you need to find a new shop, change how to take out the trash, fit into a new workstyle, and adapt to the local community. Immigration, changing the place you live, means changing your whole lifestyle. That is why immigrants need generous support.
How has it changed since it started? What does it provide to immigrants by the system? Let’s look at the “Kochi Two-Step Immigration” system in more detail from tree different perspective: Operators, immigrants, and their neighbors.
In Kochi prefecture, 34 municipalities are cooperating in an initiative called “Kochi Two-Step Immigration.” This is part of the “Alignment Kochi” project. The reason why this system started is the population decline in Kochi Prefecture. Kochi Prefecture has a population of 740,000, ranking 45th out of 47 prefectures in Japan. Kochi prefecture has made an effort to stop this decline by increasing the number of immigrants. In addition, although there are many attractive areas in Kochi, some people hesitate or even cancel to immigrate because they have concerns about suddenly moving to a new place. Kochi prefecture focuses on this and tries to solve this problem by providing detailed support for immigrants.
“The budget for this project was 25.52 million yen in 2021”, said Mr. Ikenaga who is a staff of Kochi City Community Revitalization Promotion Division. With this enormous amount of money, they are providing commercials and four main types of support:
1. If an immigrant go to the town office of at least three municipalities, ask for a consultation for immigration, he/she can have Step ism passport stamped. After submitting it, they can receive the following subsidies.
2. Financial support up to 200,000 yen for the cost of trial immigration to Kochi City, which is the first stage of two-step immigration.
3. Support rental car expenses, up to 20,000 yen, when touring in Kochi for the second step of the immigration process.
4. The support of meeting with professional staff so that people can immigrate to Kochi without worries.
“Step ism passport was very useful for me”, Shizuka says. The passport system is designed to encourage immigrants to visit various cities, towns, and villages and consult with local government offices. Since it requires that they visit three or more offices within six months, this is a good opportunity for immigrants to collect information.
Also, immigration support staffs hold “Immigration Consultation Meetings” in major cities such as big cities, Tokyo, or Osaka. People who are thinking of immigration to Kochi can also consult with the staffs in a city.
The real meaning of immigration is that you accept different values and are accepted by other cultures. For successful immigration, you must collect information, cooperate with neighbors, and make an effort by yourself. However, it is too difficult for immigrants to do it on their own, so “Two-Step Immigration” system helped them a lot.
Then, how has the number of immigrants who use this system changed over the past few years? This table shows the numbers.
|Number of grants used||24||25||33||47||16|
|Number of immigrants||44||36||60||97||28|
Also, the number of people who moved to Kochi was 302 in H29, but in R3, it became up to 498. During 4 years, the number of immigrants increased by 196 people. This number shows two-step immigration project affects stimulating immigration to Kochi.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic began in the middle of this table.
Effects of the Pandemic
“The number of consultations had decreased because there was a period when the pandemic canceled the consultation sessions themselves after the COVID-19 pandemic began”, Mr. Ikenaga responded. “However, the number of immigrants itself has slightly increased. One change that the consultants have noticed is that while migration was mainly among seniors who had reached retirement age in the past, after the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people working and raising children has increased. I think one factor is that teleworking has become widespread, eliminating the need to live in urban areas, and more people are finding Kochi attractive as an environment to raise children in.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people moving to Kochi Prefecture is increasing. Undoubtedly, the “Kochi Two-Step Immigration” program has made this increase possible. This level of support for immigration is unparalleled in Japan. What are the strengths of the Kochi Two-step immigration program? What is the secret of how it is possible?
“If Kochi City and other municipalities cannot cooperate, the second stage of immigration cannot be realized,” Mr. Ikenaga said. “I believe that Kochi’s two-step immigration can be realized because we have a common understanding of the issues that Kochi Prefecture is facing, and we have built a cooperative relationship to solve them.”
While the government office speaks this way, how immigrants feel about their immigrant life?
Interview with an immigrant: Oba Shizuka
“Kochi is a very inconvenient place for sightseeing because it is wide from east to west. But now that I have moved to Kochi, I have more time and money to enjoy things I can’t do just for sightseeing. Kochi’s remote location is attractive to me”, Shizuka says.
She was glad that Kochi Prefecture helped her with the cost of moving. Also, it was good for her that she was able to take her time to find a place to settle in the second phase. The Kochi two-step immigration system is advanced. In Kyushu, where Shizuka had previously attempted to immigrate, there was no system like the one in Kochi. She had to visit various offices to get information and go through the procedures for immigration on her own. For this reason, she gave up immigrating to Kyushu. On the other hand, Kochi has a good immigration support system, which was one of the deciding factors for her to move to Kochi.
However, when she lives in the area, she feels inconvenienced by the poor selection of goods and high prices at supermarkets. “But I think we have to give up and accept this. I believe that in exchange for this inconvenience, I got a beautiful view and the home I wanted”, she says.
Living in the countryside also requires ingenuity in human relations.
“It is also difficult to return the gifts I receive from my neighbors. People in this village give me a lot of vegetables and other things to share, but I can’t just take them. I make sweets and bread by hand and give them to my neighbors as return”, Shizuka says. “Also, I sometimes feel that the people of the village are conservative in their thinking. I feel that diversity is not recognized.”
Living in the countryside brings closer human relationship. As a result, an immigrant may feel this kind of difference in thinking. How did Shizuka integrate into the local community?
“I am working at a community activity center as a member of the Regional Development Cooperation Center”, she says. “Because this center is managed and operated by residents, I had many opportunities to get involved with the villagers, so it was easy for me to integrate into the community. Also, I have a dog, so I could make friends with local people through my dog”. Her cheerfulness, flexibility, and ability to communicate well with others in the community are also probably factors in her success.
Shizuka talks about people in this area as follows.
“The people in this area are all very friendly. That alone makes me glad to live here.”
While Shizuka was driving, she passed several elderly people, and she greeted each one of them. There are strong connections between people that are not find in the city.
Then, how does she feel about “Kochi Two-Step Immigration”?
“People outside the village tend to interfere and expect what young people do, but the people living in the village just want to live quietly”, she says. “I feel that there is a temperature difference between the government and the people in a depopulated area”.
Also, she pointed out the shortcomings of the system.
“The response is too different from municipality to municipality. Some municipalities charge thousands of yen for complicated procedures to be introduced to vacant houses, and some of the staff in charge are not polite. I felt a lack of cooperation between the municipalities and the prefecture”, Shizuka says. Furthermore, the number of vacant houses is not enough. There is a shortage of vacant houses that are ready for human habitation, so the situation is like a battle for vacant houses.
Although the immigration system is well established, the lack of cooperation between the local government and the prefecture and the shortage of vacant houses are current issues. If these problems can be improved, the number of immigrants is expected to increase further.
Interview with Shizuka’s neighbors: Sumiko, Tokimi, Mr.Nakanishi
“Thank you for coming all the way!”, a woman about 80 years old came with light steps, carrying the laundry she had taken in. “I am so glad Shizuka-chan came to this town”, said Sumiko smiling, who is Shizuka’s close neighbor. When saying goodbye to Shizuka, Sumiko gave Shizuka a white rape which she grew.
When neighbors talked about their thoughts on immigrants, all of them welcome immigrants.
“The people who have come to immigrate are lovely people”, Mr. Nakanishi, who is a Shizuka’s boss says. “When young people come, we feel energized.” Niyodogawa town is very rural and has a very large elderly population. They are glad that young people immigrate here.
Tokimi, who is an owner of Shizuka’s house talks about immigrants as follows.
“Because of the Kochi Two-Step Immigration System, immigrants come to the city through the city office. Because there is a sense of trust in the town office, we can rest assured that a reliable immigrant will come”, she says.
“However, I was sad to see that some immigrants leave here as soon as the immigration support was over. Shouldn’t immigrants also make more effort to get accustomed to our community”?
More support is needed to enable immigrants to stay longer. The Two-Step Immigration system still needs to be improved.
“I wasn’t good at connecting with others and having close relationships. I thought it was a hassle. But in the second stage of my immigration, the environment was such that I couldn’t say such a thing, so I tried to fit in with the local community. As a result, I came to think that this kind of community isn’t so bad, that it can be fun”, Shizuka says.
Many people failed in the second immigration stage, but some succeeded. Immigration is a challenging story. There are a lot of fun and a lot of hardships. However, it is difficult for the immigrant to overcome these difficulties alone. Some immigrants strive to overcome difficulties, and residents are willing to accept them, and support from the local government is essential.
There is no doubt that Kochi Prefecture is an attractive place for people from the city to move to. It is rich in nature, and the people are friendly above all. It is also true that the current support system is advanced. That said, with even more substantial support, future immigrants must increase. Let’s look forward to the future of “Kochi Two-Step Immigration”.
Kochi is a very beautiful and wonderful place, so if someone considers immigrating to Kochi, I strongly recommend!
I can say the Two-step Immigration System is friendly not only for Japanese but also for foreigners. Kochi’s Two-step Immigration System should be known widely because of its characteristcs.
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I think Kochi, especially in the countryside has beautiful nature and more people should experience that, so I hope people from other areas will come through this Two-Step immigration system.
I think Kochi is a unique place, because Kochi City and the other cities are quite different. I think the “Two-Step” Immigration System is the best system to attract people to Kochi Prefecture.
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