Demographic crisis empties out Japan's countryside

A shopkeeper works at her seafood shop in Ayukawa, Ishinomaki city on April 25, 2014The tiny Japanese community of Mishima was desperate to reverse its shrinking population so officials came up with what they hoped would be a game-changing plan: free cows. “The programme has been going for more than 20 years, and so far there has only been one person who took us up on the cow, and that was two decades ago,” village official Shingo Hidaka told AFP, adding the cash had only a handful of takers. In an effort to lure newcomers, small communities across Japan are offering new arrivals everything from sacks of rice and school lunches to no-cost medical care and free entry at the local hot spring — a hugely popular pastime. As a result, Japan’s countryside is emptying out at an alarming rate, in a demographic shift that by government estimates will see the population drop to 86 million over the next four decades from about 127 million now.

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