November 05, 2021

Nishiawakura receives Excellence Award for village’s forestry and revitalization efforts

Hideki Aoki
Nishiawakura village

Nishiawakura Mayor Hideki Aoki appeared via video message to accept the Excellence Award at the Sustainable Japan Awards 2021, held by The Japan Times on Sept. 29. Aoki expressed gratitude that his small village of just over 1,400 people deep in the mountains of northern Okayama Prefecture was recognized for its leading initiatives in the fields of sustainable forestry and community revitalization.

“Local areas face ongoing depopulation, which is diminishing the value and diversity of local resources,” Aoki said, suggesting that the wisdom of local people is key to unlocking the value of ordinary things in places like Nishiawakura.

Rural areas today face a range of existential challenges — foremost how to maintain stable populations and how to build sustainable industries in sync with nature.

“Our small village lacks many things. How can we overcome those limitations and achieve our catchphrase of ‘Enjoy living’? Today, we are welcoming young people with a range of ideas as we move into the future,” Aoki said.

In recent years, Nishiawakura has attracted a large number of migrants, who now make up close to 15% of the population. This influx has led to a range of new businesses and social initiatives in the community.

Nishiawakura, which is more than 95% forested, has also set itself apart with the establishment in 2009 of its “100-year vision” for a sustainable forest. Forestry practices in Japan during the 20th century caused many forests to lose their biodiversity and value. This forward-thinking initiative has spawned numerous new forestry-related businesses focused on sustainability. “Our 100-year forest vision is slowly restoring the forest, and a new village is being born,” Aoki said.

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