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At first glance, Kamiyama looks like any other rural town in Japan: shuttered stores on the main street, a gas station unencumbered by customers, hunched-over old ladies tending rice fields.
But on closer inspection, this mountain village on Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands, also has many highly unusual attributes, such as wood-fired pizza, tech start-ups and young people.
As rural Japan battles the twin afflictions of a population that is getting smaller almost as quickly as it’s getting older, Kamiyama is one of a handful of towns that is bucking the trend. It’s practicing “creative depopulation” — trying to make sure it gets younger and more innovative, even as it shrinks, by attracting youthful newcomers who are weary of big-city life to work in new rural industries.
There’s a French bistro run by a former Apple employee, a handmade shoe atelier, an organic coffee roaster, long-haired guys in “no nukes” T-shirts and a bunch of techie types opting out of the rat race. Think of it as Japan’s answer to Portland, Ore.
“For me, it’s simple. I can have my work and my hobbies coexisting here,” says Kiyoharu Hirose, the director of a Web design company who moved here with his family a year ago from Osaka, Japan’s second-largest city. His sons are in fourth and sixth grade, and his wife works as a florist. […]