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One aspect of the role of ICTs in a mountain community : a case study of Kamiyama, Japan

Un aspect du rôle des TIC dans une localité de montagne : étude du cas de Kamiyama, Japon
Kenji Hashimoto


Cet article présente un des effets du développement des TIC à Kamiyama, ville japonaise située dans une zone de montagne caractérisée par une population vieillissante. Elle se situe dans le district de Myōzai (préfecture de Tokushima). Le développement du haut débit a contribué à attirer des activités du secteur des TIC, créant des emplois et permettant à des jeunes actifs de s’installer dans cette localité périphérique. Plusieurs facteurs clés ont contribué au succès de Kamiyama, dont l’existence de l’institution locale « Green Valley. Mais, parmi les obstacles à la revitalisation de cette localité périphérique on compte l’insuffisance de locaux existant.

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1One important topic of research in the Geography of Information is the question of how information communications technology (ICT), foremost the Internet, will reduce the digital divide between cities and peripheral areas. Particularly, since the beginning of the 21st century in developed countries that have made progress in constructing broadband networks, the ability to access a broadband connection and the regional differences surrounding its use have been recognized as a new digital divide (Labrianidis, and Kalogeressis, 2006, Arai and Naganuma, 2010). Therefore developed countries have recognized the expansion of broadband infrastructure to peripheral areas as an important policy issue and moved to establish national minimums for network connectivity. As broadband access has improved, since the middle of the last decade researchers have investigated the use of ICT in peripheral areas from a variety of angles, including quantitative analysis of ICT usage (Ramirez and Richardson, 2005), the establishment of SMEs and teleworking in farming villages (Hashimoto, 2012, Moriset, 2011, Strategia. 2011), and the expansion of emergency medical services systems (Jones, Carr and Dalal, 2011). In addition, scholars in Japan have evaluated and criticized the national government’s ‘Return to the Country’ policy (Sakuno, 2016, Koyanagi, 2016.), and considered the role of actors such as a local real estate business (Takeshita, 2006, Takahashi, 2017). However, there is little research that has considered the dissemination of migration information by local municipalities through ICT.

2On one hand, the reduction of the physical digital divide of broadband infrastructure has helped to close the regional gap in skills and ability to make use of the information environment, such as methods of communication and strategy for sharing information. Studies from this perspective have been conducted primarily in the field of tourism geography. Typical examples include the study of tourism development using ICT based on the case of the Valley of Maurienne (Feyt, and Collet,, 2008), the study of the linkage between ICT and tourism in the Carpathian Basin (Dávid and Szűcs, 2009), and the analysis of temporal, spatial and social characteristics of domestic tourism trips using the mobile phone data of 69,000 users in France (Vanhoof and Hendrickx, et al., 2017). This matter cannot be explained through a simple arrangement of center and periphery, but rather should be considered within the context of a comprehensive framework including the utilization of local resources and the development of human resources.

3In Japan, the productive-age population began shrinking after 2011 due to the falling birthrate and aging (Figure 1). On the other hand, the productive-age population continues to move from rural areas to metropolitan areas, and thus the disparity of labor power between the three major metropolitan areas (Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka) and other regions is expanding(Figure 2).

Figure 1. The estimates of the productive-age population in Japan 1965-2065

Figure 1. The estimates of the productive-age population in Japan 1965-2065

Source : MIC (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications), 2017.

Figure 2. The gap of labor power between the three major metropolitan areas and other regions 2000-2015

Figure 2. The gap of labor power between the three major metropolitan areas and other regions 2000-2015

Source : MIC, 2017.

4Therefore, small municipalities in peripheral areas that confront a serious decline of labor power are adopting domestic migration policies meant to encourage the inhabitants of metropolitan areas to relocate to rural areas through an appeal of both the rich natural and comfortable living environment. Japan’ national government also has established “Town, people, and work creation headquarters” in METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) in 2014 to support the effort of revitalization by rural municipalities. According to the research estimates by MIC (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications) in 2017, the number of migrants from urban to rural areas totaled 244,000 in 2015, although this represents a decline from 395,000 in 2000 and 280,000 in 2010. Accordingly, since 2015 the Japanese government has employed the slogan “Return to the Country” and sought to encourage urban inhabitants to take interest in country life and have an opportunity to create connections to rural areas (Sakuno, 2016).

  • 1 ‘U-Turn’ indicates Return to their native region, ‘I-Turn’ indicates Choose destinations outside of (...)

5According to the same research estimates by MIC in 2017, the ratio of domestic migrants who cited “the charm of the area or interest in country life” as a reason for migration is 27.4 %. Among the sub-group of so-called J-turn and I-turn migrants1, who choose destinations outside of their native region, this ratio runs more than forty percent (Figure 3). This indicates that the importance for rural municipalities of disseminating information about the climate and living environment in order to attract urban migrants to their own peripheral areas.

Figure 3. The ratio of domestic migrants who cited ‘the charm of the area or interest in country life’

Figure 3. The ratio of domestic migrants who cited ‘the charm of the area or interest in country life’

Source : Questionnaire survey by MIC, 2017 (N =1,000).

6In this paper, I would like to build on this awareness and examine the satellite office project in Kamiyama Town in Tokushima Prefecture, which is located in a peripheral area with an aging population, and has leveraged broadband to attract ICT industry from urban areas, create employment and encourage young workers to move to the town.

Summary of Kamiyama and the satellite office project

Geographic characteristics of Kamiyama

7Kamiyama is located in the mountains 30 kilometers west of the prefectural capital of Tokushima City (Figure 4). Tokushima Prefecture is located in southeastern Shikoku, one of four prefectures on the island. Shikoku is now connected to the main island of Honshu by several bridges, which have put Tokushima approximately two hours away by car from Osaka, the main urban center in western Japan.

Figure 4. Geographic location of Kamiyama town

Figure 4. Geographic location of Kamiyama town

8Kamiyama is a typical mountain village, with an area of 173.3 square kilometers, and surrounded by mountains between 900 and 1,200 meters in height. 83 % of the town’s area is forested, primarily with man-made cedar forests, but after the price of lumber collapsed due to the impact of import liberalization, forestry no longer functions as a major employment-generating industry2. Kamiyama’s population peaked in 1955 at 20,197 and has declined nearly every year since, with the population at 6,023 as of July 20143. In roughly 60 years, the population has declined by 70.2 %. Moreover, the ratio of over-65 population stood at 46 % in 2010, which means Kamiyama is a small mountain village facing both rapid depopulation and aging (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Demographic change in Kamiyama town

Figure 5. Demographic change in Kamiyama town

Source : the website of Kamiyama town :​, (last access date : August 12, 2014).

Construction of broadband in Kamiyama

9Despite being a small mountain village, Kamiyama gained a broadband connection in 2004. This broadband development by the national government significantly improved Internet access in Kamiyama, which had depended on an 8Mbps ADSL network. Two national policies played an important role in this change. One was the “National Broadband Vision” announced by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in 2001. This vision set a goal of connecting every municipality in the country to the online network by 2005, with major communications arteries planned as fiber optic links (Arai. et al., 2012). The other policy was the switch to digital television broadcasting planned for July 2011. To prepare for this transition, Tokushima Prefecture built a prefecture-wide network for cable television. The installation of broadband in Kamiyama was implemented in correspondence with these policies, and Kamiyama paid only one million dollars out of the total project costs of 10.7 million dollars, or 9.3 % of the total. In addition to the original policy goals, the implementation of broadband in this small mountain village also provided a high-speed Internet environment for end users. This physical infrastructure improvement was crucial for the attraction of satellite offices to Kamiyama.

Coordination role of Green Valley

10While the construction of a broadband connection was a crucial physical infrastructure investment, the task of coordinating the project was entrusted to the local NPO Green Valley. Green Valley is descended from the Kamiyama International Exchange Association, originally founded in 19924. The original goal of this association was to give children in the mountain village opportunities to interact with foreigners. Soon after, in 1997 the town began an Artist in Residence program that invites artists both from Japan and overseas to stay in Kamiyama and helps to support their activities. Not only did the presence of foreign artists provide opportunities for local children to interact with foreigners, but also added value to the place name of Kamiyama, helping to establish the town as a brand. This branding encouraged other professional groups besides artists to visit and stay in the town and also increased interest among outsiders to settle for the long-term.

11The Kamiyama International Exchange Association transitioned in 2004 into the NPO Green Valley. Moreover, in 2008 Kamiyama hosted two visits by professionals that would be crucial to the later success of the satellite office project. One was the web designer Yoshihiro Nishimura, who released the homepage of Green Valley, called “In Kamiyama,” during his stay. This site played a crucial role in the later PR activities for the satellite office project. The other group was the architect Kousuke Bandoh and his wife. The Bandohs are known for their renovation of old houses, and they visited Kamiyama each year until 2010 to renovate vacant homes, enabling their use as satellite offices (Photo 1, Photo 2).

Photo 1. The renovated vacant home for satellite office in Kamiyama town (2014)

Photo 1. The renovated vacant home for satellite office in Kamiyama town (2014)

Photo 2. The workspace of a satellite office (inside of the Photo 1)

Photo 2. The workspace of a satellite office (inside of the Photo 1)

Development of the satellite office project in Kamiyama

12The satellite office project in Kamiyama began in 2010, after the installation of broadband by the national government and Green Valley’s preparation of physical locations and coordination functions. As of March 2014, eight companies have located satellite offices in Kamiyama5. The establishment of satellite offices in Kamiyama can be classified into three major periods (Table 1).

Table 1. Development of the satellite office project in Kamiyama town

Table 1. Development of the satellite office project in Kamiyama town

Source : hearing investigation to each company.

Early period of satellite offices (2010-2011)

13In October 2010, the Tokyo-based company SunSun, which runs a cloud service for managing business cards, established a satellite office in a renovated house in Kamiyama. The business functions of the Kamiyama office were primarily sales activities to companies by telephone, but it was also utilized as a training location for software development staff hired in Tokyo, and as a “cottage office” for staff to enjoy a change of scenery. SunSun’s management saw the satellite office as having a number of merits, including 1) enabling employees to live nearby the office, 2) inducing a positive “change of air” for the Tokyo staff, 3) and enabling concentration away from distractions.

14One year after SunSun, in September 2011 the Tokyo web design company DUNCSOFT opened the third satellite office in Kamiyama (the official opening of the office was March 2012). DUNCSOFT’s business consists of web design and CRM (customer relationship management), and the company believed that a mountain area isolated from the city would make it possible to realize the free thought and independent work styles sought by many ICT companies. The company released a photo to the mass media of its engineers using wireless Internet to work freely in a mountain stream (Photo 3). When NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, picked up this photo, Kamiyama’s satellite office project gained national attention.

Photo 3. Two workers in a mountain stream using Wifi (2012)

Photo 3. Two workers in a mountain stream using Wifi (2012)

Photo by DUNKSOFT/Yojiro Kuroyanagi.

Expansion period of satellite offices (2012)

15On the heels of innovators SunSun and DUNCSOFT, five additional companies established satellite offices in 2012. The main offices of these five companies were located in the large metropolitan areas of Tokyo (2), Kanagawa (1), Chiba (1) and Osaka (1), and the work entailed specializations including call centers, video design, web design, and advertising creation. The companies that arrived during this period shared a strong motivation to have a backup center away from eastern Japan (Tokyo area) in addition to the merits listed by the innovator companies. This reflects the lessons of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011.

Period of promoting local employment (2013-)

16Since 2013 satellite offices have continued to increase, with design companies from Tokyo opening satellite offices in April and July of last year. Additionally, soon after opening its satellite office in July, the video design company PLATEASE established a new company in Kamiyama, called ENGAWA, which gained attention not only for becoming the first ICT company to be headquartered in Kamiyama, but also for employing many local people (out of 20 employees, six were from within Kamiyama, and 12 from Tokushima Prefecture). Moreover, the pioneer company SunSun held an employment fair in Tokushima City in January 2014.

17Increasing opportunities for local employment is an essential policy for Kamiyama as it deals with a high ratio of elderly population. This is because the problem of aging in Japanese mountain villages is not due to the increase in elderly people, but rather the flow of young (working-age) people to the cities. However, as Kamiyama emerged as a well-known location of satellite offices, young people around 30 years old began to move to the town. Down the road, it is hoped that these new residents will contribute to increasing the young population by marrying and having children, but many of them do not possess the necessary skills to succeed as independent entrepreneurs, and therefore there was a need to create employment within the town in order to attract them. Green Valley established the private professional training school Kamiyama-juku in 2010. This school provides a half-year of skill building and then helps graduates find work at companies within Tokushima Prefecture, including satellite offices in Kamiyama. Additional support has come from Tokushima Prefecture, which has committed to provide operators of satellite offices $ 3,000 in employment subsidies during the first three years, when they hire employees from within the prefecture. By December 2013, Kamiyama-juku had graduated five classes with a total of 66 students, of which 40 % have found work in Kamiyama and stayed. In total, 37 households with 71 people, including 17 children, migrated to Kamiyama between 2010 and 2012, and inward migration exceeded outward migration by 12 people in 2011 (Table 2).

Table 2. The changes in natural and social growth of population in Kamiyama town 2000-2013

Table 2. The changes in natural and social growth of population in Kamiyama town 2000-2013

Source : the website of Kamiyama town :​, (last access date : August 12, 2014).

Factors behind the success of the satellite office project in Kamiyama

18There is no question that the satellite offices in Kamiyama rely upon the broadband infrastructure constructed as part of national policy. However, while all villages and towns in Japan now have access to broadband, few municipalities have achieved a degree of success in using broadband to lure ICT industry and generate employment for young people, thereby contributing to solving aging and population decline. What were the keys to success in Kamiyama ? I believe there were four reasons.

19First, the ability of innovator (pioneer) companies to disseminate information. SunSun and DUNCSOFT, which established satellite offices in 2010, are well-known ICT venture companies, and their moves were noticed in the industry. Additionally, the mass media’s pick up of DUNCSOFT’s PR led to a boom of interest in Kamiyama.

20Second, the high production values of Green Valley. The director of Green Valley and producer of its activities, Shinya Ohminami, is originally from Kamiyama and graduated from Stanford University in the United States. While his experience at Stanford led him to new ideas such as the Artist in Residence and Satellite office projects, his local familiarity was an important factor in the success of purchasing or renting the old homes that became satellite offices.

21Third, the existence of a horizontal network among companies. The companies that established satellite offices in Kamiyama were almost all venture companies, many of which design video and images on computers. However, they do not directly compete with each other within their various markets. For that reason, the companies developed a culture of openly sharing of information, and the opportunity to improve abilities and knowhow together with other companies added to Kamiyama’s attractiveness. In December 2013, a café opened in the town, which is used as a space for trading information between companies and hosting parties.

22Fourth, quick access to home offices and markets in Tokyo and Osaka. It is only one hour by car from Kamiyama to Tokushima Airport, and the total travel time to Tokyo when using a plane is about 2.5 hours. Moreover, Osaka is only 2.5 hours away by car, so business managers are able to easily make the journey between the satellite office and their main office and clients.

Challenges facing the project in Kamiyama

23The satellite office project in Kamiyama uses broadband to create employment in a mountain village struggling with population decline and aging, and can be highly praised as a model for slowing these two population problems through the introduction of a young labor force. On the other hand, this project faces some challenges.

24The first problem is a limited supply of old houses suitable for use as satellite offices. There are approximately 550 vacant houses in Kamiyama, but most of those are abandoned, and the number of houses suitable for reuse as offices after some renovation is fewer than 10, (according to director Ohminami). Deciding what kind of companies should be introduced to these valuable resources is a major policy issue.

25The second problem is access cost to major cities. Certainly, 2.5 hours to Tokyo and Osaka is a short distance. However, according to interviews, many of the entrepreneurs imagined a lifestyle of making 1-2 trips per month to Tokyo and Osaka. However, in reality, some end up making the trip close to ten times per month, and the loss of time and money is larger than they expected. In the case of the venture industry where the entrepreneur is also a designer, the need to conduct business negotiations face to face with clients can become a burden.

26The final challenge is the utilization of forest resources. Kamiyama’s local resources are the forests that cover 83 % of the town, but ICT venture companies are not well suited to turning that resource into a product. Engaging successfully in processing and marketing wood products could help the economic benefit to reach local residents not involved in the ICT industry, but without this development there is a danger of a deepening gap between local residents and those who have moved from elsewhere to work in the satellite offices. Currently, an advertising design firm that has a satellite office in Kamiyama is working on the design and sale of kitchenware made from cedar, and their success or failure will be closely watched. These challenges suggest the limits of broadband-driven revitalization of peripheral regions.


27The information communication environment in rural areas including mountain villages has changed dramatically as a result of the nationwide broadband development project undertaken by the Japanese government in the early 2000s. This development has enabled not only an influx of tourists in peripheral areas, but also the attraction of satellite offices for which advanced communication networks and a rich natural environment are vital factors. In particular, design, software development and art-related businesses anticipate that such environments will help to boost creativity.

28On the other hand, such creative industries require having frequent face-to-face interactions with clients and partner companies. For this reason, the location of satellite offices in peripheral areas is restricted by the time, distance and expense required to move between satellite offices and metropolitan areas. This point suggests the limitations of using broadband to revitalize peripheral regions.

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1 ‘U-Turn’ indicates Return to their native region, ‘I-Turn’ indicates Choose destinations outside of their native region, and ‘J-Turn’ indicates Choose destinations nearby their native region.

2 Quoted from the website of Kamiyama town (last access date : August 12, 2014).

3 Quoted from the website of Tokushima prefecture (last access date : August 11, 2014).

4 Quoted from the website of Green Valley (in Kamiyama) (last access date : August 14, 2014).

5 Quoted from the website of Tokushima Satellite office promotion site (last access date : July 16, 2014).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. The estimates of the productive-age population in Japan 1965-2065
Crédits Source : MIC (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications), 2017.
Fichier image/png, 39k
Titre Figure 2. The gap of labor power between the three major metropolitan areas and other regions 2000-2015
Crédits Source : MIC, 2017.
Fichier image/png, 36k
Titre Figure 3. The ratio of domestic migrants who cited ‘the charm of the area or interest in country life’
Crédits Source : Questionnaire survey by MIC, 2017 (N =1,000).
Fichier image/png, 17k
Titre Figure 4. Geographic location of Kamiyama town
Fichier image/png, 53k
Titre Figure 5. Demographic change in Kamiyama town
Crédits Source : the website of Kamiyama town :​, (last access date : August 12, 2014).
Fichier image/jpeg, 99k
Titre Photo 1. The renovated vacant home for satellite office in Kamiyama town (2014)
Fichier image/jpeg, 477k
Titre Photo 2. The workspace of a satellite office (inside of the Photo 1)
Fichier image/jpeg, 26k
Titre Table 1. Development of the satellite office project in Kamiyama town
Crédits Source : hearing investigation to each company.
Fichier image/jpeg, 126k
Titre Photo 3. Two workers in a mountain stream using Wifi (2012)
Crédits Photo by DUNKSOFT/Yojiro Kuroyanagi.
Fichier image/png, 972k
Titre Table 2. The changes in natural and social growth of population in Kamiyama town 2000-2013
Crédits Source : the website of Kamiyama town :​, (last access date : August 12, 2014).
Fichier image/jpeg, 110k
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Kenji Hashimoto, « One aspect of the role of ICTs in a mountain community : a case study of Kamiyama, Japan »Netcom [En ligne], 33-3/4 | 2019, mis en ligne le 04 février 2020, consulté le 22 avril 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Kenji Hashimoto

Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences, Waseda University, 1-6-1, Nishiwaseda, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 169-8050, Japan. E-mail :

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