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Saturday, Feb. 7, 2009

JAPAN LITE

Float this stimulus package


For years Japan has struggled with the question of how to revive the countryside. With few jobs and an aging population, the countryside isn't much of a draw for anyone under the age of 80.

This goes for the islands in the Seto Inland Sea too, where the last generations of fishermen barely manage to hang on to a folkloric lifestyle. There have been many thoughts on how to revive the islands, but despite the half-hearted promotional efforts by the government, nothing much changes here.

But, I have an idea on how to revive not only the island where I live, but all of the islands in the Seto Inland Sea. My plan would increase the overall island population by 400,000, build a new industry, and create up to a million jobs. This idea would make you, me and Japan very rich.

My economic stimulus package for Japan is this: Japan should lease out the 200 or so inhabited islands in the Inland Sea.

Why? Because we already have a potential buyer. The Maldives. You see, the Maldives (a series of over 1,000 islands, but of which only about 200 are inhabited), have this sinking feeling that they are not going to be around for much longer. The relatively flat islands are disappearing as sea levels rise due to the warming of the planet. The Maldives are already relocating its population to safer ground.

The Maldives government considered the possibility of protecting their islands by building giant sea walls around them, but the idea was deemed impractical and too expensive. Eventually people would be living in holes in the ocean and they'd need repelling gear and possibly miners' hats to get down into the holes to visit their relatives. Centuries later, people would have to drill for their ancestors.

So instead, the country is looking for a new home. The Maldives government is already saving money to buy up land somewhere else. They have reportedly looked into large tracts of land in India, Sri Lanka and Australia.

Hey Japan, these people have cash! Their population needs islands, and our islands need population. And since our islands are basically mountains, should the seas continue to rise, we can always move to higher ground. With the Maldives population 70 percent Buddhist, I see a smooth transition to traditional island life in Japan.

But it gets even better. Most of our islands are part of the Seto Inland Sea National Park, which, by the way, could use some animal inhabitants. So, part of the deal would be that the Maldives bring their diverse wildlife with them. This would put the Seto Inland Sea National Park on a par with the great national parks of the world.

Imagine the possibilities these animals would bring to our islands: leopard tourism, loris tourism, and elephant tourism. Japan's TV stations would have plenty of material close at hand for numerous documentaries on the sloth bear, the jackal, and the mongoose. There could be annual water buffalo races, giant squirrel safaris and eco trips for student groups to study the behavior of the hanuman langur.

A whole new meibutsu for the area would develop: sambar cuisine. Move over Hello Kitty — these exotic animals will all be available on key chains and cell-phone straps!

After all, are the Maldives just going to leave all their animals there to drown? If animals can survive in zoos around the world, they can survive here in Japan. If it's a little cold for some of the elephants, just give them kimono.

We wouldn't want the Maldives tourist infrastructure to go to waste, so we could load all the hotels and other structures onto cargo ships and transport the entire country over here. Then all we'd have left to do is divert flights. Anything headed to the Maldives would be redirected, in mid-air, to Japan. Heck, some tourists probably wouldn't even notice.

Bringing the Maldives here will create jobs in our new joint-tourism sector. We'll need to employ rangers, mahouts and bear trackers. We'll need zoologists, veterinarians and keepers. We'll need multilingual guides, hotel staff, cooks and a beefed-up transportation system. And whatever your skill is, we'll surely need you too.

But most importantly, we'll need the mother of all arks to bring the animals over on. I have confidence in the Japanese, because of their long history as shipbuilders, that they will be able to construct a luxurious animal cruise ship to bring these animals safely to Japan.

What happens if the Maldives don't want to lease our islands? Don't despair. The South Pacific islands are sinking too.



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