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Rural village rejuvenates with farming road station

Date Posted: 2010-07-29

Mitsuhiro Ohmura is a man with a dream, and a vision for breathing life into the tiny Gushikan area of Motobu in northwest Okinawa, where young people have abandoned the community for the bright lights of the big city.

Gushiken, where almost half the residents are 80 years of age or older, has seen its population drop to only 380, leading Ohmura to put his head together with Motobu Town and Nakijin Village offices and Ryudai and Meio Universities to turn the exodus around and attract new blood. The result is the Rural Landscape Station, where people can venture into the countryside and raise fruits and vegetables--and even rice--on rental plots of land, and then sell them at the adjoining shops complex.

The idyllic area chosen for the Rural Landscape Station is in the vicinity of Hupukaa, spring that has gushed water for centuries. It’s taken Ohmura and his colleagues in NPO Murakoshinet nearly seven years and ¥1.4 billion to develop the area, which now offers 70 gardening plots and 20 rice paddies that can be rented by anyone interested. Developers expect amateur farmers to raise daikon, carrots, potatoes, greens and onions, at least for starters. The plots can be rented for five years. The rental plots offer free water, and training in the art of farming is available from the Motobu Town agricultural staff and from experienced local farmers.

Garden plots are 40-70 tsubo, about 1,400-2,500 square feet, while rice paddies are 90-100 tsubo, some 3,200-3,600 square feet. There’s about 101,000 tsubo, 82.5 acres, available for the farming adventures. Once produce and vegetables are grown, the adjacent multipurpose building will handle the sales for the farmers if they so desire. The building already has five tenants, with room for another half dozen offering produce, juices and flowers. There’s also a restaurant with soba, champuru, curry and local products. At one end of the building is the Gushiken Village Museum, which chronicles the history of the village.

Rental cottages are still part of the dream, and on the books for future development, but the NPO Murakoshinet says this project element will take some outside investment by private business to make a reality. For now, it’s the farming plots and rice paddies that are attracting would-be farmers—some from mainland Japan, others from Naha City—wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for fresh air and an opportunity to work with their hands going back to nature.

The Hupukaa area with its terraced rice paddies once was the lifeblood for the Gushiken area, but cheap rice grown elsewhere forced farmers to switch to growing sugar cane. That venture didn’t work well because of the wet soil. In the meantime, young people began migrating to larger cities in search of non-farming careers.

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