Shining light on depopulation problem

by Saori Kan, Daily Yomiuri, Feb 29, 2008

Sado Island, Japan -- The recent trend toward the mergers of villages and towns, known as "Heisei no Daigappei," has drastically reduced the number of municipalities in the nation, from 3,231 to 1,821 as of March 2006.

<< Wave (Nami) by Syoin Kajii, a priest from the Shingon sect of esoteric Buddhism

Hundreds of small towns and villages have become parts of big cities. In many regions, however, villagers' lives seem to have undergone no major changes, as seen in the thousands of "genkai shuraku"--rural communities that have reached the limits of manageability due to depopulation and where people aged 65 or older make up more than half the population.

For Syoin Kajii, 31, a photographer and Buddhist monk on Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture, such depopulated communities are the main theme of his photography.

About 260 of his photos depicting such communities are now on display at Genkai Shuraku: Marginal Village, an exhibition at the Foil Gallery in Tokyo.

Portraits of elderly fishermen and farmers at work are on display, along with photos of their traditional houses, pet cats and dogs and scenes of the surrounding nature, including flowers, trees and mountains.

"I want to show the beauty of the villages and the lives of their inhabitants, not by showing unoccupied houses and signs of decay...or whatever," Kajii told The Daily Yomiuri.

When he was a student at the Shingon sect's Koyasan University in Wakayama Prefecture, he traveled around the world, visiting Britain and Papua New Guinea and following the Mekong River upstream by canoe and bicycle in Cambodia.

But his interests finally brought him back to Japan.

Since 2000, when he became the resident monk as his grandfather's successor at a seaside temple on the northern part of Sado Island, he has been focusing on the lives of such depopulated communities across the nation, while photographing the waves of his beloved sea nearby.

In 2005, Kajii won the Photographic Society of Japan's most prestigious award for new photographers with his first photo book, titled Nami (wave), which features many closeups of the expressive breakers.

Raised in the city of Niigata, Kajii had been uninterested in the depopulation problem of rural communities. "But when I visited my temple's danka [Buddhist parishioners], I was shocked to find that more than 70 percent of the local residents were elderly," he said. "Much of the younger generation had moved to big cities. It made me concerned about how the locals were living."

Starting by visiting nearby communities on the island, he has since visited dozens of rural communities, where he photographed people's lives and natural scenery while talking to people who could remember how the villagers used to live a long time ago.

Kajii, who belonged to a mountaineering club when he was a high school student, usually decides where to go by consulting topographical maps, he says. "I often pick villages in mountainous areas."

However, he doesn't arrange interviews with local people when he goes to such marginal communities. "I just went to the villages and listened to the stories of locals who I happened to meet or people whom I was introduced to."

When he visited the Oshuku district, with just 67 households in a valley in Ashikawamura (now Fuefuki City), central Yamanashi Prefecture, he met a 93-year-old retired farmer and his wife, 87, who had lost their four children in 1966 due to a landslide after a typhoon hit the area.

In Shosanbetsumura, northern Hokkaido, Kajii met an 87-year-old retired farmer who described how he and his family had had a tough time wresting a living from the land after moving there from Toyama Prefecture in 1946.

"Listening to such stories [in many rural communities], I understood there was exodus during the high economic growth period and this contributed to the collapse of their mutually supportive communities," Kajii said.

"Even for people living in big cities, genkai shuraku isn't just somebody else's problem," Kajii added. "For example, if people in mountainous areas abandoned their communities, the forests would be left to go wild, affecting the water control in big cities downstream.

"I hope my exhibition will be an opportunity for people to learn more about rural lives and think [about the depopulation problem] as something more familiar to themselves."

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: