Japanese rural innovators share expertise, solutions at University of Nebraska-Lincoln panel discussion

Story, aggregated content, video by Zach Hammack, NewsNetNebraska

Even though they’re worlds apart, Nebraska and Japan share common problems in rural, agricultural communities.

Solutions to these problems of rural depopulation and shifting economic needs were discussed at a panel Friday afternoon featuring five Japanese entrepreneurs and community leaders.

Panelist Atsuhisa Emori talks to audience members after the panel “A Thriving Rural Future in Japan & the United States” on Friday, Oct. 27.

The five panelists presented their own solutions with the help of translators before fielding questions from a crowd of around thirty people at the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center.

Panelist Junichi Tamura shared the work his organization Next Commons Lab does in connecting urban entrepreneurs with agricultural communities.

“What we aim to do is not only allow the entrepreneurs to succeed, but we also aim to create collaborations with those local communities and help those communities succeed too,” said Tamura, who serves as the chief director Next Commons Lab.

Friday’s panel, entitled “A Thriving Rural Future in Japan & the United States,” is the first of two pubic forums in the U.S. funded by the Japan Society in Tokyo.

The project aims “to revitalize small towns and rural areas in the U.S.-Japan context.”

Panelist Atsuhisa Emori said this revitalization comes from connecting the urban consumer to the rural producer.

Emori, who serves as the general manager of the Nippon Taberu Journal League, helps produce journals that chronicle rural Japanese communities.

“We are actually creating jobs in rural communities through this,” Emori said.

Just as in the U.S., Emori said Japan is struggling to retain younger people in agricultural careers.

In 1970, for example, there were around 10 million farmers in Japan.

Today, that number hovers around 2 million.

“Only farmers realize that this trend is happening,” said Emori. “…I think urban areas have an unstoppable magnetic power, and that really hasn’t ceased to exist yet.”

That’s why the work that Emori and the other innovators featured at Friday’s panel is key to regional revitalization, he said.

Embracing youth

Challenges facing rural communities in the U.S. and Japan centers around retaining young people.

The work of professor Ryoko Sato does just that.

Sato, a faculty member of law and letters at Ehime University in Japan, works with college and high school students to draw them closer to Japanese farmers.

Students under Sato visit rural producers and record their stories, creating their own brochures with copy and photos.

“Then we’ll give those back to the producer, who can use it as marketing material,” Sato said.

Embarking on these projects can be challenge, however, since schools and universities do not fund them.

But Sato said she hopes to find solutions to these problems through dialogues like Friday’s panel.

Creating a dialogue

Following the presentations, the five panelists fielded questions from the crowd.

Tamura said he hopes more panels like this can serve as learning opportunity for both cultures.

“I’m hoping more Japanese entrepreneurs comes to the U.S. and vice-versa,” Tamura said. “By doing that…we can co-solve problems.”

Senior Stephen Kotopka said he learned a lot from Friday’s discussion.

“We kind of delved into so many different layers of the issues of rural communities,” Kotopka said. “And we saw a lot of the similarities between rural communities in Japan…and specifically Nebraska.”


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