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Sunday, Oct. 14, 2001

Easing the way for U and I

Staff writer

For rural areas suffering from depopulation, it can only be good news if city-folk want to move to the country.

Over the past decade, countryside municipalities have used so-called U-turn and I-turn policies to encourage migration from the cities -- the key to success, it seems, lies in making detailed information available about the locality, and the jobs on offer.

"U-turn" and "I-turn" are the names given to two patterns of town-country migration. A "U-turn" is when an urban worker chooses to return to his or her native prefecture, while an "I-turn" is not really a turn at all, but describes a one-way movement from the city to the countryside.

Local officials counsel visitors at a recent U/I-turn fair in Tokyo.

"Rural municipalities became eager to attract workers from big cities around '93 and '94, after the bubble economy collapsed and city people rediscovered the value of countryside living," says Tomoyuki Koyama, editor in chief of job information magazine, U- I-turn B-ing, published by Recruit Co.

By offering concessions and incentives such as home or land rental at preferential rates, or even granting relocation money to migrants, some municipalities succeeded in attracting fresh blood.

But at the same time, the social and familial costs of relocating and settling down in an unfamiliar place need to be better understood.

"To better appeal to urban people, municipalities have recently begun to focus on providing detailed information about the locality and job vacancies, in addition to offering incentives to encourage migration," Koyama says. "They are no longer saying 'come here, everybody.' Instead, they are trying to find people who understand the locality and the local business -- and who will then stay."

Reflecting this shift, the past few years have seen more and more prefectures open offices in Tokyo dedicated to supplying information for potential U/I-turners.

In 1997, for example, Niigata Prefecture opened its U-turn Information Center inside N'espace, a three-story complex on Tokyo's fashionable Omotesando-dori, showcasing the prefecture's industry and culture.

At the center, users can access all the employment information sent to the 15 public job offices in Niigata, and can also find details of the inward migration policies of each of the prefecture's 111 municipalities. In addition, the center offers advice on practical matters such as local housing and runs a counseling service for those looking for specific jobs, such as farming.

"The number of inquirers about U-turns and I-turns has increased dramatically since we opened this information space," says Mitsuaki Watanabe, chief counselor at the center. In particular, he noted, the number of relocating couples comprising a Niigata-born wife and non-native husband have been growing -- the wife doing a U-turn and the husband an I-turn.

"As prospects on the job market are currently not very bright, I don't think the number of people making a U- or I-turn has jumped drastically recently," Watanabe says. "But I am sure our measures to provide more information in Tokyo will have a knock-on effect on local business and communities eventually."

Nagano Prefecture has been offering a similar service at its office near JR Tokyo Station, providing information on job vacancies in the prefecture. However, counselor Yoshiaki Hirata says that purely promoting migration is not the I-turn center's sole aim.

"Of course, it is good to be able to increase the population in Nagano, but the main purpose of this place is to draw in the workforce that local companies need," he explains.

Skilled workers for IT-related businesses in the prefecture are in especially short supply, according to Hirata, and such jobs are plentiful for interested outsiders.

Those attracted to this nature-blessed prefecture but who have few technical skills may find it difficult to get a job immediately, Hirata warns. But the combination of depopulated municipalities eager for new settlers and companies increasingly prepared to look outside the prefecture for employees, he hopes, will lead to people using the center to find both the right job and a new place to live.

Indeed, at the two-day Good-bye Tokyo U-turn I-turn Fair, organized by Recruit Co. in Tokyo last weekend, 16 Nagano-based firms were among the 52 companies pitching jobs to about 2,000 potential U- and I-turners.

Judging from the readership of his magazine, Koyama of Recruit believes that I-turners now outnumber U-turners -- unlike 10 years ago, when 75 percent of his magazine readers were potential U-turners. "The number of people hoping to I-turn is definitely increasing, and what they want to do outside Tokyo is diversifying," he notes. "With the increase in information on working and living being put out by regional areas, I anticipate that living and working outside a big city will become just one more lifestyle option for people," Koyama says.

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