Sunday, December 13, 2009


"Jeffrey Irish, a 48-year-old American, is the unlikely village chief [soncho] of Tsuchikure, a remote farming hamlet in Japan's southern Kyushu island. The tall, even-tempered Californian got the position because he satisfies the post's main requirements: He hears and sees well.

In Tsuchikure, where the average age is 77 (if you don't count him and his family), that makes Mr. Irish one of only three residents qualified for the job. He spends his days keeping track of the physical and mental decline of the 24 elderly longtime residents of this wilting Japanese village.

Tsuchikure -- a community of modest single-family houses on a hillside about the size of a football field -- is in many ways emblematic of Japan in the 21st century: an advanced economy that must cope with the depopulation of everything outside the urban centers.

It is one of thousands of withering Japanese villages."

Jeff is a contributing editor of the Kyoto Journal.

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