Panel Discussion Oct. 27


In partnership with Japan Society, based in New York City, N.Y., and Japan NPO Center, based in Toyko, the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska hosted five Japanese entrepreneurs and community leaders for a panel discussion entitled, “A Thriving Rural Future in Japan and the United States,” Oct. 27.

Rural communities in Japan and the United States face similar challenges such as recruitment and retention of young people, decline of primary and local industries, sustainability of natural resources. Similarly, entrepreneurial leaders in both countries are thinking and acting boldly to identify and build on resources to develop creative, strategic solutions.

Panelists and guests explored alternative models, best practices and strategies for creating resilient and vibrant rural communities of the future.

This was one of two public forums hosted in the U.S. during a two-year funded project received by Japan Society and Japan NPO Center, located in Tokyo. The project entitled “Resilient and Vibrant Rural Communities in Japan and the U.S.” is supported by The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas), R&R Consulting, ANA HOLDINGS, INC. and United Airlines. Through RFI, the University of Nebraska is the only higher education institution from the United States involved.

Overall, the project seeks to build leadership capacity and consolidate lessons and learning from efforts to revitalize small towns and rural areas in the U.S.-Japan context. Specific topical areas of exploration include:

Guest Bios


After the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, Emori moved to Tokyo in 1996 and worked as an editor for different publishers: Recruit, ASCII, and Media Factory. He was also the editor-in-chief at Kadokawa, one of Japan’s leading publishing companies, and planned and edited more than 150 books on travel, food, photography and general topics. He saw the decline in regional areas and decided to leave the company in April 2015 to apply his skills as an editor to revitalize these areas. He joined Nippon Taberu Journal League and is in charge of expanding the domestic and international network of Taberu Journal, a subscription-based informational magazine that features local food. Along with the magazine, subscribers receive fresh local food featured in the magazine. Divisions between producers and consumers and urban and rural areas are common challenges in Asia. Emori is in the process of launching a platform to enable Taiwanese, Korean and Japanese members to come together to tackle the challenge. He also works on cultivating abandoned farm land, preserving agricultural and forest lands (satoyama), and is an active hunter and works to preserve hunting culture. He grows his own vegetables on a three-acre field. His mission is to spread the richness and joy of being involved with agriculture.

Nippon Taberu Journal League consists of editors from 38 regions in Japan that produce their own “Taberu Journal.” Each Journal connects consumers with producers through articles and locally produced food (such as seafood and vegetables), and creates a community that works to solve challenges in the region and in society. The League is not a franchise and each League member manages its Journal independently. The League offers Taberu Journal’s trademark, web system and business model. The content, design, price and how often it publishes are decided by the editors and can be customized. Due to its flexibility, League members include not only publishers and content producers, but also local corporations, local government, food producers and newcomers who move to the region. Journals reflect the region and diversity of the editorial staff, and are expanding to all over Japan and to other parts of Asia.

While in university, Hayashi did research on how to use community as means to solve social issues and visited regional communities throughout Japan. While spending time with town employees in Tsuwano, Shimane Prefecture, he decided to create a system to encourage young people to return to regional areas to prevent their decline. With Takashi Sasaki, he launched a program that enlists young people as aide-de-camps to the head of local governments for a fixed period. At the same time, he worked for Ashoka Japan’s office as a secretariat and program assistant. In February 2012, he launched FoundingBase with Sasaki and became the Co-President. He is a graduate of Keio University, Faculty of Policy Management.

FoundingBase: The goal of FoundingBase is to revitalize Japan as a whole by energizing regional areas. Its primary work brings small groups of young people to regional areas to collaborate with the local government and residents to create new and attractive value. FoundingBase currently works with six local governments, including the village of Tsuwano. FoundingBase also works on projects that nurtures young people, encouraging them to lead a creative life and contribute to the society. It works with a high school on a branding project and runs an afterschool program. Additionally, it works collaboratively with farmers and merchants, connecting local farmers to buyers in Tokyo by coordinating food production, developing new food products, and connecting them to a distribution system.

After working for a trading company, Sato started to work for a publishing company specializing in natural food. She became an independent editor and writer focusing on community revitalization and the urban/rural connection. Since 2009, she has been teaching at Ehime University on social cooperation, tourism and community revitalization. She introduced personalized learning and challenge-based learning to her work. She is the author of four books: How to Become a Farmer (Pelican Publishing); The Challenge of Farmer’s Market in the U.S. – The Flavor of the Region Helps Build the Community (Iwanami Shoten); How to Empower Regions – Let’s Practice Community Design (Shokokousha); and The Challenge of University Education Engaging with the Local Community (Pelican Publishing). She graduated from the Department of Humanities, Yamagata University and the Department of Engineering, Chiba University. She also completed the first term of the Doctorate course at the Graduate School of Natural Science, Chiba University.

Research Center for Regional Community Innovation: Ehime University instituted the “Social Cooperation Promotion Mechanism” with the goal of contributing to society. As part of this effort, in 2004 it launched the Research Center for Regional Community Innovation, one of the seven Centers and the sole humanities-related Center. Faculty members from the Department of Laws and Letters and Education play a central role in deepening collaboration with the local community in an effort to develop local industry and improve education, culture, and social life in the local region. By actively engaging in research and education in the local region, it contributes to the revitalization and development of the local area. Central to its work, the Center looks at local traditional food and how it can be repurposed developed into new products, supports local organizations working on community revitalization, collaborates with the local government on investigation and research, and organizes seminars and lectures, and publishes reports and papers.

Sekihara was a designer of commercial facilities until 1995. In 1996, he returned to Niigata and became the head of the Woodwork Cooperative, where he continues to serve as a consultant. Using local conifers, he developed furniture with high added-value and created a system in which local NPOs specializing in forestry certify the authenticity of local wooden products. In 2000, the organization received the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Award. Later he founded the Kamiechigo Yamazato Fan Club to revive the hilly and mountainous areas in the greater Joetsu area. Under Sekihara’s leadership, Kamiechigo, a comprehensive Regional Management Organization (RMO), became a model for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ program that provides local governments with financial support to hire local support staff. The role of these staffers is to monitor the well-being of residents. Sekihara is also a Regional Empowerment Creation Advisor with Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, a Member of the RMO Study Group, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, and a Trustee of the Kodo Cultural Foundation.

Kamiechigo Yamazato Fan Club, established in 2002, has 350 members, eight full-time staff and 13 board members. The total annual budget is 40M yen (about $365,000). The Club is a Comprehensive Regional Management Organization (RMO) working in the hilly and mountainous area around the town of Joetsu in Niigata. In 2013, the organization was commended by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and received a special prize as part of the Regional Revitalization Gran Prix in 2014. In 2014, it established “Riso Gijyuku,” a school to educate young people who want to be active in regional revitalization through. Kamiechigo’s target area has a population of 2,000 people in 25 hamlets. The communities have existed for more than 1,000 years and has a strong folklore tradition. Due to rapid depopulation and ageing, some of the hamlets are on the verge of extinction, and by 2050, the population is estimated to drop by 400. As a comprehensive RMO, Kamiechigo sees these communities as semi-independent micro-regions (kuni) and explores ways for the local government and urbanites to collaborate with them. The organization’s goals are: 1) maintain the well-being of residents; 2) maintain, conserve and pass down traditional folklore; 3) keep ageing populations healthy; 4) provide small scale public transportation; 5) provide education about the region to school children; 6) protect nature and preserve farm land and forests; 7) create local industry using local resources; 8) undertake public projects; 9) Engage urbanites and create exchange programs for periodic visits; 10) serve as an intermediary; 11) undertake administrative tasks and serve as a connector; and 12) nurture young people interested in working in the region.

Prior to helping launch Next Commons Lab, Tamura worked for a company where he was in charge of making newly-launched projects profitable and expanding them. He later was a management consultant at a real estate company. To help launch Next Commons Lab (NCL), he moved to Tono, Iwate in 2016. Tono has a population of about 30,000 and NCL serves as a platform to engage local government, local companies and entrepreneurs to create new industries and to tackle common challenges in regional areas. He currently works on several projects including the development of a local craft beer, spreading the fermentation food culture, developing low cost mobile houses and making use of vacant housing. He is also in charge of creating the NCL network by introducing NCL to new regions, launching new businesses, and designing a system to connect different regions.

Next Commons Lab (NCL) is an active platform and an emerging community that works with multiple sectors to create new businesses using local resources. NCL identifies and visualizes local resources, creates multi-sector partnerships, invites and nurtures entrepreneurs, and creates a local hub. The goal is to create NCL in different locations in Japan and implement programs that fit the local area, while also strengthening the network so that human resources, information, information and material resources, and insight can be freely shared. NCL does not focus solving local issues but is interested in reinventing the social structure, which NCL refers to as the “operating system” of the society. NCL does not want to revert to a traditional insular village society and is not interested in exploring the future of an urbanized capitalist economy. The mission is to explore ways to reinvent communities, and to explore what an “updated community” can be.