IDJ English – Regional Revitalization Special

Unique strategy required for regional revitalization: JICA as a “role model”


ODA cooperation in line with Japan’s national policy

The spread of COVID-19 worldwide has seriously impacted Japan’s development cooperation. All of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) have returned to Japan. Development actors have been forced to carry out projects remotely or implement domestic projects. However, tough times bring new opportunities. We are now in the ideal position to consider how we can make use of our knowledge of development cooperation here in Japan. An important initiative could be regional revitalization. Issues in Japan’s rural areas often parallel those in developing countries. Japanese development consultants are trying to create new businesses in Japan’s rural areas.

In recent years, JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) has also shown its willingness to help build a cohesive Japanese society in Japan. The Development Cooperation Charter adopted in 2015 sought to strengthen relationships with Japan’s local governments. In fact, JICA and Japanese local governments have already begun to assist developing countries through training programs and grassroots cooperation project. Mr. Hiroyuki Abe, who is responsible for domestic projects at JICA, commented that “JICA’s first priority is the development of developing countries. However, if we can contribute to the development of developing countries in cooperation with Japan’s local governments, they can use the experience and know-how to revitalize their regions. With that viewpoint, we are strengthening cooperation with Japan’s local governments. ”

Since the implementation of the revised Immigration Control Act in April 2019, such cooperation has been diversified by the Japanese government, including the acceptance of foreign human resources. In fact, the comprehensive measures revised at the Ministerial Meeting on the Acceptance and Coexistence of Foreign Human Resources in July 2020 created, for the first time, expectations for JICA to contribute to regional revitalization by recruiting international human resources (e.g., the JOCV) and implementing activities with International Cooperation Promotion Officers.


Dispatching JOCV trainees to Japan’s rural areas

Human resources are key to JICA’s regional revitalization efforts. Currently, eight JICA staff members are seconded to local governments and are engaged in community development. According to Mr. Masato Tokuda, who is in charge of personnel affairs at JICA, “this partnership allows JICA staff to utilize their strengths (e.g., their ability to resolve social issues) to contribute to resolving local problems. It is also a good opportunity for JICA staff to develop their careers.” In return, JICA has accepted 11 local government employees to offer them knowledge and experience to promote regional revitalization.

In addition to the aforementioned JOCV recruitment, “special pre-dispatch training” is being implemented. From the end of August, trainees have since been organized into corps of two to five people and dispatched sequentially. Each dispatch destination is in a) the site of the regional revitalization project of the local governments who are working to create new Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), and b) a region where JICA cooperates (e.g., Ama-cho, Shimane Prefecture). Mr. Shunsuke Sakudo, Deputy Secretary General of the Secretariat of the JOCV, said that in “the conventional pre-dispatch training, there was a part of community practice that carried out community contribution activities around the training center. We will consider creating a new system that will enable trainees to carry out regional revitalization activities in their hometowns.” This too will help JOCV members develop their careers.


The utilization of systematized knowledge in developing countries

Several cases have certainly produced results. However, I would like to make some suggestions for further contributions to regional revitalization.

First of all, JICA should have its own regional revitalization strategy. At present, efforts for regional revitalization are implemented based on policies formulated by related ministries and agencies. JICA needs a more unique strategy that anticipates how to apply its knowledge to the development of developing countries rather than producing results in isolation. For example, personnel exchanges with Japan’s local governments could be promoted more actively. JICA staff should be seconded for initiatives concerning citizens’ ageing population and health. Not only should the knowledge gained from local governments be summarized in a report for JICA, it must be systematized and accumulated internally. The declining birth rates and aging populations are becoming particularly serious in Asian middle-income countries. If JICA staff are dispatched to Japanese regions that promote advanced aging measures, they may gain useful knowledge to reference information when tackling the same problems in developing countries.

Moreover, JICA’s strategy should involve local companies and civil society in regional revitalization. Local companies’ understanding of JICA could be strengthened through mutual collaboration, and JICA’s schemes for small and medium-sized enterprises could be adapted to those who are interested in overseas business. To address the ageing population, JICA should support the domestic and overseas expansion of Japanese medical and nursing care organizations. Civil society includes people young and elderly, people with disabilities, and foreign residents. By involving them, we can create a community where no one is left behind.

JICA’s primary mission remains the development of developing countries. However, I would like JICA to think about what JICA can do in Japan amid the COVID-19 crisis. The actions taken at present will set the tone for development actors who have been forced to suspend their activities in developing countries. Now is the time for JICA to become a role model for all actors involved in development. (Keitaro Fukushima)



Hone your “don’t say, don’t do” skills

Japan Overseas Cooperative Association (JOCA)

President Yoshinari Oya


Focusing on creating “bases”

The Japan Overseas Cooperative Association (JOCA) is an organization established by former Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV). For more than 40 years, we have been promoting international cooperation and exchange projects through various activities at home and abroad.

One of the JOCA’s activities is a regional revitalization project. We have recently sent several former JOCV to Wajima City, Ishikawa Prefecture and Akiota-cho, Hiroshima Prefecture. Akiota-cho was once a prosperous town for water transportation, but that form of logistics has dramatically changed. When considering how to revitalize this town, I came up with the idea of finding ​​human resources in the region to create a base where they could gather and interact.

However, there was no place for local people to gather on a daily basis. Therefore, this August, JOCA established “JOCA x 3” in the town. We invite everyone to come together to exchange opinions on the region’s issues to find solutions. We believe that where there is human activity, consumption will naturally occur, thus prompting regional revitalization. I want to get this project on track.


Give residents independence

Even if issues in developing countries differ from those in Japan’s countryside, strategies remain the same to understand problems, analyze them, and utilize the region’s resources to resolve problems. I believe that the spirit of harmonious coexistence, connection, and mutual cooperation that the JOCV felt at the forefront of development cooperation will be applied to revitalizing the rural areas of Japan, where interaction with people is important. The experience gained in Japan could be later used to revitalize rural areas in developing countries.

I would like current JOCV in developing countries and former JOCV involved in regional revitalization in Japan to hone their “don’t say, don’t do” skills. For example, the JOCV tend to do everything by themselves in an attempt to resolve local problems. In Japan, former JOCV face several situations where local residents ask for ideas and advice. However, the local residents are not the actors in the situation, which means the projects fail after JOCV leave. To avoid this, it is important to refrain from doing as much as possible and give the residents independence by offering advice from a step back.

There is a strong affinity between developing countries and Japan in terms of regional development. As the fields in which former JOCV can play an active role expand, I would be happy if JOCV consider Japan’s regional revitalization as a career option in the 100-year life era.

International Development Journal  2020 October edition























JICAの第一義的な使命は途上国の発展であることに変わりはない。しかし、コロナ禍を機に「日本で何ができるか」も改めて考えてもらいたい。熟慮の結果、繰り出された行動は途上国での活動中止を余儀なくされる開発関係者の次なる行動指針にもなるだろう。今こそ、ロールモデルとなって、開発関係者を導いてほしい。(福島 勁太郎)




(公社)青年海外協力協会(JOCA) 会長 雄谷 良成氏