Much of Japan's population dreams of running off to the sub-tropical heat of Okinawa or the snowy wilds of Hokkaido, according to an Internet survey.
The two island prefectures came on top of a poll on the website of the Aspara Club, a members-only service provided by The Asahi Shimbun. Visitors were asked to choose three prefectures in which they would like to live, other than their own.
There were 2,581 respondents, and 1,012 chose Okinawa in their top three. Hokkaido, Japan’s largest and most northerly prefecture, attracted 753 picks, while Kyoto and Tokyo came in third and fourth with 479 votes and 310 votes, respectively. The mountainous prefecture of Nagano earned 296 picks, earning it fifth place.
A 68-year-old man from Ibaraki Prefecture said Okinawa attracted him because of its relaxed pace of life. "I can take it slow there. The emerald sea appeals to me," he said.
And many respondents said they also liked the people of Okinawa. A 68-year-old man from Osaka said: "I remember that the people's friendliness was comforting, not like city folk." A 49-year-old woman from Kanagawa said of the Okinawans: "They seem to get along with each other perfectly."
Hokkaido’s fans tended to emphasize its natural environment and great food. A 66-year-old woman from Tokyo said: "I think it has the best nature, seafood and farm produce in Japan."
Even reservations about the Hokkaido's harsh winters could not hold some respondents back. A 56-year-old woman from Chiba said: "I didn't take the winters into consideration. I just long for Hokkaido."
The majestic peaks of the Japan Alps attracted many to Nagano Prefecture. A 50-year-old woman from Ibaraki said: "I yearn to live where I can see the outlines of the mountain ridges because I do things like climbing, skiing and hiking in the mountains year-round."
Kazuo Kasami, assistant secretary-general of the Hometown Return Support Center, a nonprofit organization that encourages people to migrate to rural areas or return from large cities to their hometowns, said the popularity of places like Okinawa and Hokkaido might be partly due to the large numbers of people going there on holidays.
"Tourist destinations like Okinawa and Hokkaido probably ranked highly because people received strong impressions when they traveled there," he said.
Kasami said: "Since you can work anywhere now if there's an information infrastructure and islanders have been putting firsthand information about their lifestyles on blogs and such, the reluctance to move to islands and villages has disappeared."
A significant number of middle-aged respondents to the survey appeared to be attracted by island living. One 42-year-old male respondent to the survey said that he wanted to "live on an isolated island and do some fishing." A 57-year-old man from Tokyo had his heart set on Okinawa’s smaller islands: "Kumejima or Ishigakijima would be better than the main islands. The beautiful ocean and decent urban conveniences appeal to me."
But research by Koji Sakamoto, professor at Hosei University Graduate School of Regional Policy Design, also underlines the harsh reality of life in Okinawa and Hokkaido for many residents. In a ranking of the “well-being” of residents based on 40 indicators, Okinawa ranked 41st and Hokkaido 43rd of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
Although Okinawan residents had high life expectancies and low stress levels, the rate of unmarried and unemployed people was high. There was plenty of time for recreation, hobbies and entertainment in Hokkaido, but the prefecture's fertility rates and employment rates were low.
Sakamoto warned: "You're not guaranteed to be happy if you try living in these places. It can be very tough."
The high ranking of the relatively urban prefectures of Tokyo and Kanagawa, which ranked 6th, in the Internet survey underlined that not all people yearn for the quiet life.
A 39-year-old man from Chiba said Tokyo had "convenient transportation and lots of things like theaters and amusement facilities" while a 57-year-old man from Aichi Prefecture commented: "Kanagawa has the ocean, mountains and a good climate. Plus, it's close to Tokyo."
"While there is a strengthening desire to return to nature and culture, there is also a great need for urban attractions, so the two are mixing," Sakamoto commented.
The Internet survey asked respondents whether the risk of earthquakes or nuclear accidents played a role in their travel decisions. Just over 10 percent said it did.
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