Sustainable Tourism in Japan - innovation & inspiration

Joge- Hiroshima’s Beautiful Japanese Ghost-town

The true concept of sustainability in tourism can be observed at destinations where local people are happy to live, you can see the preservation of heritage in action, and natural resources are being well taken care of. The tricky part, however, is to also find a way to maintain streams of income in order to be a viable, sustainable tourism destination. In Japan we are seeing so many examples of destinations which are too popular and overtourism is a real problem. On the other end of the scale, however, a total absence of visitors is also a serious problem. I had the chance to visit a quaint and interesting village in the Hiroshima countryside, called Joge, which has so much potential for success as a sustainable tourism destination, but is struggling due to a lack of visitors.

Joge (pronounced Jou-gei) town is a well-preserved Edo-era village in the rural countryside of Hiroshima. The streets are lined with traditional Japanese houses accentuated by criss-crossed wall decorations, interesting retro signs and antique features unrivaled at similar rural destinations.

In its current state, as a picturesque town, it’s a pleasant place to walk around and has great visual appeal for photographers, instagrammers and those looking for an interesting and easy weekend drive location. Only the Joge station shop, a few Japanese Inns, a couple of noodle shops and a museum were open when we visited on a sunny Sunday in November.

As a tourism destination, Joge has the potential for appeal, but unless changes are made, it will disappear. Rural ghost-town problems like this are sadly not unique. Rural towns across Japan are now struggling with depopulation, and like Joge, could be revived if a few appealing goods and services were added to not only enhance tourism but also to draw in new residents and businesses.

The town is easily walkable in 1-2 hours, you can take in the streets of Joge much as they were 100’s of years ago thanks to the efforts of the passionate townspeople who have been tirelessly preserving the unique and beautiful crisscrossed plaster designs of the building exteriors. There was a display in the front window of the town’s museum, showing photos and details of a plastering workshop. As an avid home plasterer myself, I eagerly asked if it was open to the public as a regular event. The staff were flabbergasted, but pleased, that anyone might actually be interested. As there is no online information for the town, they took our address promising to send us a postcard about any future events happening in the town. Of course, once we get the postcard, gethiroshima can help promote their events, but there should be more interaction between the town and online community. Without someone in residence sharing information outside of the town via a blog, the web or social media in our media-savvy times, a destination like this is unlikely to build any type of stable visitor demand or steady income.

As the towns sole attraction, the museum could also be improved. It does not have any English information but has very friendly staff and some mildly interesting displays about famous residents and there are two full sets of Samurai armor. Unfortunately, the ‘no photography’ signs around the museum are not doing the town any favors, as even keen visitors are forbidden from helping with free online promotion.

A search for information about Joge brought me to the Setouchi finder travel site which promotes a doll museum and other attractions which did not seem open at the time we visited. We did have a peek through shuttered shop windows and saw an interesting bakery and antique Kimono shop which seemed to be only recently shuttered. We also saw the outside of the old theatre, but couldn’t see inside, which is unfortunate as I discovered photos later of its interesting and beautiful interior.
It wasn’t a wasted first visit as wandering the streets and taking pictures of the old shop signs and intricate detail of the buildings was enough for me for a couple of hours. The problem is, however, that if visitors just come to see the beautiful facade of the Joge ghost-town, there is absolutely no benefit for the local community. Without goods and services for visitors to spend their money on, there is no way for tourism to benefit this local community so desperately in need of support.

One small way visitors can help, if you also find that nothing is open when you visit, is to stop in for a meal at one of the noodle shops and buy some unique local souvenirs at the Joge train station shop. The ginger topping for rice is delicious in hot ginger tea, the 70 yen soap made at the local elderly resident home is a bargain, unique, and paper folded wallets are great for keeping business cards organized. There are also delicious looking ‘Castella’ cakes similar to the signature spongecake of Nagasaki available. Even if you only spend a few coins, the money spent on these items stays in this local community.

I was glad we made the drive out to Joge, but driving away I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that we couldn’t see or do more. The town seems to be disappearing and my mind was filled with ways they could revive it.

Comparing Joge to the zero-waste town of Kamikatsu, there is a distinct advantage in how the Shikoku village of Kamikatsu has been able to attract entrepreneurs to return to start new businesses, namely two excellent Craft Breweries, which appeal to resident, visitors and a wider domestic audience due to online sales. Kamikatsu also has an active NPO and town office collaborating on sustainable planning and management- creating jobs and sorting 80% of its waste. The Zero-Waste Academy NPO is run by a passionate group of people creating and who also create jobs for elderly retired residents as well as run tours of the waste sorting facilities for over 3,000 visitors each year.
If Joge could attract entrepreneurs, it would breathe life into this town. We saw some vacant shop buildings along the main street that were for sale, causing me to envision opening a little coffee shop that also sold local goods alongside unique products utilizing local resources such as mushroom-veggie burgers (this area is famous for its quality mushrooms), wine, sake and craft beer from the region as well as Sera fruit and local bakery goods. An ‘event’ workspace in the shop could also be utilized as a plaster-wall training area where daily sessions could be booked in advance.

I also had visions of an enthusiastic entrepreneur who opened up a local shop being entrusted with the keys to old shops and buildings, to allow for short walking tours to be booked by visitors who were keen to learn more about the town’s heritage and willing to pay for a behind-the-scenes peek inside.

In terms of assets, the town has a lot going for it: is well-preserved, relatively easy to access, has at least some eateries and places to stay as well as brimming with historical and cultural appeal. Interestingly, I noticed that there was an electric car and charging spot in town, which has the potential to be expanded into a ‘zero-emission tour’ to take visitors around the town who can’t or prefer not to walk due to disability, circumstance or even bad weather. Electric Vehicles (EV’s) are a perfect means to provide quiet transport that is nicer for the visitor as well as residents. Adding a few electric assist rental bicycles, or Segways, would add further appeal without concerns over noise or air pollution. I can imagine a few rental bicycles and Segways fitting in front of the museum or station quite easily. If funding were available, investing in solar panels for the town (perhaps on the museum or station roof) to charge an EV, bicycles, mini-buses or Segways with clean and renewable energy, it would create stronger appeal.

There is certainly a lot of potential in Joge for anyone interested in starting a new business and moving out to the countryside. If anyone is thinking of resettling a family in the beautiful countryside, one distinct advantage that Joge has, over many rural towns, is its public school open to students from elementary through high-school.

To get there, it is most easily accessed by car as it is located just off the main road next to Joge train station. Joge is not far from a lot of other interesting rural destinations, so it is worth the long drive if combined with a stop in nearby Sera, Onomichi, Shobara or other charming areas. I’d recommend a stop in the nearby Oheso (Belly-button) bakery for amazing loaves of bread, pizzas, drinks and desserts in a refurbished traditional Japanese country house. It is run by an international couple- menu in English, Japanese and Spanish. The town itself can be covered in less than 2-hours of a leisurely stroll.

The train station staff let us park in front of the station for free. Apparently, there is a train and bus service as well although it is infrequent, time-consuming and rather expensive at 4,000 yen for a round-trip bus ticket from Hiroshima city.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^日本語^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

美しく残る田舎町「上下」
人々が暮らしを営みつつ、遺産となる物が保護されそして天然資源が十分管理されてる場所が本来の持続可能観光地の形です。しかし持続可能な観光地として難しいのは十分な収入を得ることです。すでに日本では人気のあまり「過剰観光」状態が多くの場所で実際問題になっています。反対にまったく訪れる者がいないのも問題です。最近広島の田舎にある「上下」という面白い町を訪れる機会がありました。持続可能観光地として可能性が高く秘めているにもかかわらず訪問客が少ないためあがいています。

今も江戸当時の姿が保存されている上下町は田園風景が残る広島県の地方にあります。道の両側に伝統的の建物が並び、他では見られない白壁や懐かしい看板、また古風な特徴が保存されています。

今のままでのんびり散策するには気持ち良い場所です。特に写真を撮りたい人やインスタグラマにとって絵のような景色が多く、週末ちょっと足を延ばす行先としても面白いです。ある十一月の日曜日に訪れたさい上下駅の売店、旅館、ラーメン屋と博物館しか開いていませんでした。

観光目的地として上下町は魅力を持っていますが変化を起こさないとそれが消える可能性が高いです。残念ながらこのような過疎地域が珍しくはないです。日本全土に人口減少に苦しんでいる地方が多くあります。上下町でもちょっとした工夫で魅力ある商品とサービスを提供することで観光を推進するだけではなく町に人とビジネスを呼び込む力にもなります。

上下町全体を1,2時間で歩くことができます。街の大半は町民の絶え間ない動力によって美しい、億得な格子状の白壁がほぼ何百年前のまま見ることができます。白壁作りのワークショップを紹介する展示が町の博物館の窓に飾られていました。自分で壁塗りをする者として、定期的なイベントとして開かれているかを尋ねました。喜び半分、実際に誰かが興味を持つことにスタッフが非常に驚いていました。オンラインの情報がないため名前と住所を残して、町のイベントや情報についてハガキが届くことを待つしかありません。届き次第「ゲット広島」で紹介することができますが、町とオンライン社会を結ぶより活発なやり取りが必要です。町内からブログやネット、SNSで情報提供をする人がいなければ、現代のネット社会では安定的な観光客数や収入を得られるのが難しいでしょう。

唯一の呼び物である博物館は改善の余地があります。スタッフは親切で、展示内容は町の著名人についての紹介や2体分の鎧兜がある程度面白みがありますが英語で紹介する情報は全くありませんでした。さらに「撮影禁止」と書かれているためせっかくタダにできるSNS拡散はままなりません。

上下町について検索してみると旅行サイトのSetouchi finderにたどり着きました。ここで人形博物館やほかのところを紹介していますが残念ながらどれも開いていませんでした。窓越しに覗いたところおもろそうなパン屋さんやアンティーク着物を扱う店がありましたがどちらも閉店していたようです。古い劇所も見ましたがやはり中を見ることができず後で見つけた写真は非常におも白い、美しい内装を映していました。

初めての訪問として2時間ほどのんびり歩いて古い看板や建物の複雑なデザインなどの写真に撮るのに十分でした。しかしゴーストタウンの上下町の表だけを見に行くと地域にとって全くの利点がありません。お金を落としていく商品やサービスがない限り観光はこの町が必要としている助けにはなりません。

訪れた際何も開いていないとしてもめん処で食事をする、駅の売店でお見あげを買うなどして少しの貢献になります。ショウガふりかけ、老人ホームで作っている手作り石鹸、紙財布などおすすめです。長崎の有名なカステラに似たも販売しています。少ししか買わなくてもそのお金は地域に残ります。

上下町まで行って見てよかったものの、体験や見物できることがもっとあればよかったです。目の前から町がまるで消えていくように感じました。それを防ぐ手立ては次々と頭を横切りながら離れました。

四国にあるゼロウィーストの上勝町と比較するといかに上勝町に起業家を呼び込みことに成功したのが見えてきます。クラフトビールの醸造所2件が地元と観光客だけではなく、国内のオンライン販売も手掛けています。町には積極的にゼロウェイストや持続可能開発運営などに取り組むNPOと行政があり、新しい雇用や8割のゴミ分別に大いに関わっています。NPOの運営に関わる人々の熱意によって高齢者のための職や年間3千人を超えるゴミ仕分け施設へのツーア運営も担っています。

もし上下町には起業家を呼び込むことができれば町は息を吹き返すに違いない。大通りに売りに出ている店舗をみて、カフェスペースとしての可能性を感じました。地元の製品や食材を使ったメニュ(シイタケが特産品)ウィン、日本酒やクラフトビールに加えて世羅町の特産果物やパン製品を販売することは可能でしょう。さらにイベントのワークスペースを設けて、事前予約制でしっくい壁の体験教室を開くこともできます。

新たに店舗を開いた者にはほかの建物の案内人を担ってもらいます。観光客に予約制を用いて、有料で歴史ある建物や場所をガイドし、上下町の伝統や歴史を知りたいと思う人に伝えていきます。

町として歴史や文化の魅力を感じるところが満載です。アクセスや町の保存状況がよくかつ宿泊や食事処が最低限あります。町内に電気自動車の充電所があり、障碍者、高齢者や歩くのに支障がある人に「排気ゼロ」を売りにしたツーアを提供できます。EV自動車は住民と観光客ともに静かでやさしい選択になります。電動アシスト自転車やセグウェイを博物館や駅前に置くことでさらに環境にやさしい観光につながります。予算が許せば駅や博物館にソーラーパネルを設置して,EV用の電気を自家発電できます。

地方へのアイターンや起業をしたい人には上下町が可能性を秘めています。家族連れで田舎暮らしを考えてる人にとって地域の学校(小学校から高校まで)がそろっています。

上下町へ行くのに車でのアクセスが国道からすぐ、駅のところに入ります。同じ地域に世羅町、尾道市、庄原市などがあり、途中休憩に困りません。おすすめの寄り道として「おへそカフェ」があります。古民家を利用したパン屋さんで、おいしいパン、ピザ、飲み物やデザートを提供します。多国籍なカップルが運営するカフェには3か国語(日本語、英語、スペイン語)でメニューが用意されています。町全体を2時間ほどかけて回ることができます。

無料で駅前に車を止めることができました。電車やバスで行くことも可能ですが回数が少なく、時間かかるがかかることなどあまり使い勝手が良いとは言えません。広島からのバスは往復で¥4000で、多少高く感じます。

– Translation by Andrea Kitahara –

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