Omori Town, located at the foot of the World Heritage Site Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine (Oda City, Shimane Prefecture), is experiencing a baby boom. It comes from a younger generation who are making a succession of “U-turns” and “I-turns”, when someone returns to their hometown or moves to the countryside from the city.
In the 10 years through March 2021, 32 families moved into the town and 43 babies were born in Omori Town. While depopulation and aging are issues in many mountainous areas, this town has experienced an increase in the number of young people and a baby boom.
Taking a deeper look, behind the phenomenon is the support of locally based businesses and the efforts of women raising children in the town.
A Whole Town Raising Children
Omori Town is surrounded by mountains. The town prospered in the era of the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine, especially during the Edo period (1603-1868), when the silver mines were at their peak. In those days the population numbered several tens of thousands.
Once a single municipality, Omori was incorporated into Oda City in 1956. The current population is 392 (as of April 1), almost unchanged from its population of 412 people 10 years ago.
“Here, I am seen not only as the mother of my children, but also as a member of the community with my own role as well,” says Naoko Matsuba.
The 37-year-old representative of the town’s childcare support group “Morino Donguri Club,” was born in this town. After moving to Tokyo and giving birth to her first child, she returned to Omori with her family in 2012 and is currently raising five children, including a sixth grader. She says, “There was no one around me to talk to about raising a child in Tokyo, and I couldn’t imagine how I would balance returning to work and raising children.”
After making the “U-turn” and giving birth to her third child, Ms. Matsuba decided that she wanted to create a gathering place for raising children that was in tune with the times. So she launched the Morino Donguri Club.
Morino Donguri Club
The club offers “Yamarisu Class” (mountain squirrel class) for infants and toddlers and “Uribo Class” (wild boar piglet) class) for elementary school children. The club also offers yoga lessons and cooking classes for mothers, and operates an after-school children’s class to support raising children in the community.
Morino Donguri Club currently has 29 families with children enrolled.
Ms. Matsuba, who is a licensed nursery school teacher and takes care of the children herself, explains the merits. “The whole town helps us raise our children,” she says. “The children are able to interact with people of diverse ages.”
Two-thirds of the Residents are U/I-Turners
Behind the increase in the number of children is the presence of two leading companies headquartered in the town. One is Iwami Ginzan Seikatsu Bunka Kenkyusho Corporation, which operates apparel and restaurants nationwide under the brand Iwami Ginzan Gungendo. The other is Nakamura Brace, a manufacturer of prosthetic limbs and appliances.
Both companies have purchased vacant houses in the town and provided them as residences for their employees. Of the approximately 70 people working at the Iwami Ginzan Seikatsu Bunka Kenkyusho Corporation head office, two-thirds are U- and I-turn migrants.
Kumiko Onodera, who is 39-years-old and in charge of production management at the company, is one. She lived in Tokyo as a nurse, but moved to the town with her family in 2014 when her 41-year-old husband, Takuro, was transferred to work as a chef at the company’s historic folk house inn, “Takyo Abeke.”
Kumiko Onodera and her husband Takuro made an I-turn move from Tokyo. Takuro is trying his hand at making a bamboo charcoal kiln.
When my child has a fever, my neighbor watches over him until I return home. Compared to the long commute to work in Tokyo, I have more time to spare. I have never felt inconvenienced,” Kumiko says. She has four children, three more than when she moved to the town.
From Waseda University to Omori
Chihiro Yamazaki, who is 27 and lives in the company’s women’s dormitory, was born in Iinan Town near Oda City in the same prefecture. After graduating from Waseda University, she worked at a Tokyo-based company. But left after about two and a half years to join Iwami Ginzan Seikatsu Bunka Kenkyusho Corporation.
She says she felt uneasy during her time in Tokyo, like rootless grass. Now she oversees everything from serving customers to cleaning and cooking at Takyo Abeke. “I feel I am rooted right here,” she says.
The Future is What You Make
Due to an increase in the number of children, the local Omori Elementary School (21 students in total), which has had several grades sharing classrooms together since 2013, has six first graders and seven second graders in the 2022 school year. For the first time in nine years, each grade has its own classroom.
Ai Kawai, a 38-year-old elementary school teacher who was born and raised in the town and still lives there, just gave birth to her second child in December 2021, a son named Kippei. Ms. Kawai is a graduate of Omori Elementary School.
“There were nine of us in my class,” she said. “But the number of children in the lower grades was decreasing rapidly. I used to think I didn’t want to live in such a rural area, but now I want to raise my children in this town where I can live with a sense of the seasons.”
One of the residents who created this family-friendly environment is Tomi Matsuba’s mother, the 72-year-old director of Iwami Ginzan Seikatsu Bunka Kenkyusho Corporation.
41 years ago, she and her family moved to her husband’s hometown of Omori, where there were many vacant houses. She set out to revitalize the town to attract young people.
Tomi believes that the town’s development is not about creating external excitement through means such as transient events. She says, “The future is something you create. People will put down their roots in a town where they feel there is hope.”
- Tamba Sasayama: Reimagining a Rural Town for the Future
- [Bookmark] Akiya and Inaka: The Complexities of Buying Empty Houses in Japan’s Countryside
(Read the story in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Yuri Fujihara