KAMIYAMA, Tokushima Prefecture--In this tiny town in a mountainous area, employees from Dunksoft Co., a Tokyo-based web design developer, work in an 80-year-old house they have been renting since last September.
When they get tired of working and need a break, they walk to a river 40 meters away with their computers in hand.
They dip their feet in the cool water and listen to the chirping of birds and the wind.
“We are more productive in work requiring creativity here than back in Tokyo, ” said Takumi Yamashita, a 34-year-old employee.
This once sleepy town of 6,300 people is now buzzing with a new breed of people: information technology engineers from Tokyo and other professionals who work in the abandoned houses here.
Kamiyama, an 80-minute drive from Tokushima Airport on Shikoku island, is the nation’s No. 1 producer of citrus sudachi. But other than citrus, and the Shozanji temple, which is on a list of 88 sacred sites on Shikoku island for pilgrims, there was little else here to attract new residents.
People aged 65 or older account for about 40 percent of the residents, and the town was facing a depopulation crisis.
But Kamiyama fought back with its “Work in Residence” effort in recent years.
The program, launched by Green Valley, a nonprofit private group, is designed to revitalize the town by offering abandoned houses to IT engineers and other workers as satellite offices.
The project solicits people with professional expertise and skills that have been absent in Kamiyama, rather than using subsidies to try to attract young couples with children as new residents.
The group’s efforts are paying off. Six Tokyo-based IT companies have set up satellite offices in Kamiyama since 2010.
Dunksoft, which has 20 employees, dispatches a project team of several employees to Kamiyama who stay for about a week in the town, and all its employees have worked here at one time or another.
Kamiyama is well equipped to attract professionals in the IT industry, with fiber optic cables installed in each household and a monthly fee of only 2,625 yen ($33).
The data transmission speed is five to 10 times faster than in large cities because there are not many users in the town, which lessens demand on the network.
Shinya Ominami, who heads Green Valley, said that being situated in a remote area is not necessarily a drawback for business people.
“Even if they work in an empty house in the countryside, they can accomplish cutting-edge business,” he said.
Ominami also said that the town’s longtime tradition of offering its hospitality to visitors proved to be an asset in leaving positive impressions on newcomers.
Under the revitalization program, the town extends invitations to people it will need to evolve into the well-rounded community it aspires to be.
A baker came in response to the group’s call for someone who can make hearth-baked bread. A Web engineer and a videographer were also invited.
Soon the town found itself with applications from confectioners and other professionals not on its list of professionals it was looking for.
Among the applicants were workers from Sansan Inc., a company that provides management of business cards through cloud computing. Sansan came in October 2010 as the first IT company, followed by Dunksoft, which spread the reputation of Kamiyama in the Tokyo IT sector.
The Work in Residence program attracted about 70 people, including married couples in their 20s and 30s, between 2008 and 2011.
In fiscal 2011, the number of people who moved in exceeded the number of those who moved out for the first time since such data became available in fiscal 1970.
Yasuyuki Higuchi, president of Microsoft Japan Co., which is looking to cultivate the Kamiyama market for its remote conferencing system, visited the town and came away impressed.
“The town has a potential for offering a new work style,” Higuchi said.
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