Yahiko Village is one of Niigata Prefecture’s leading tourist destinations and is said to be the birthplace of Echigo culture. Yahiko Shrine, which is mentioned in the Manyoshu, as well as Mt. Yahiko and Yahiko Park, where you can see beautiful autumn leaves, are famous. It is also known as a hot spring town. The only village-run Yahiko Velodrome in Japan, which is adjacent to Yahiko Shrine, hosts events such as ”Prince Tomohito World Championship Memorial Tournament”.
In recent years, ”Omotenashi Hiroba” has become popular among young people. In addition, ”Panda Yaki”, a panda version of Taiyaki, a popular local snack, won the Grand Prix at the 2010 Nippon National Products Exhibition. It has now become one of Yahiko’s specialties. Speaking of specialties, the large torii gate is also mentioned. To commemorate the opening of the Joetsu Shinkansen, they wanted a symbolic structure, so this torii gate, 30.16 meters high, was built in 1982, modeled on the Ichino Torii gate of Yahiko Shrine. Many tourists are now taking photos of the Otorii and uploading them on SNS.
On the other hand, due to its proximity to Tsubame City and Sanjo City, which are famous for their hardware and Western tableware, industry also flourished. Agriculture focuses on rice and edamame.
Easy access is another characteristic of Yahiko Village, with the neighboring cities of Tsubame, Niigata, and Nagaoka within commuting distance.
I got off at Tsubame-Sanjo Station on the Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo and took a taxi to Yahiko Village Office. It was about 20 minutes from the station.
The current population is approximately 7,600. Although it is the largest village in the prefecture, it has been decreasing at a pace of 100 people every year since its peak in 2010 at 8,582 people.
”We recognize that it is a serious situation that Yahiko Village’s population is decreasing by 100 people every year on a municipal scale.For that reason, we are currently focusing on creating an attractive village that will be chosen as a migration destination,” Mayor Honma Yoshiyuk says.
As part of this, the theme is residential land development. Utilization of small-scale vacant land and renovation of dilapidated village housing and vacant houses. Additionally, a satellite office will be built to promote the area as a business location.
“Young people who want to do business in Yahiko Village are coming from outside the village, so we want to implement measures that will benefit these young people,” says Mayor Honma.
Emphasis will also be placed on digitalization.
Mayor Homma says, “We will promote digitalization within the government office and the assembly.Currently, we are moving toward a paperless system.We are currently in the planning stage, but we are also developing information dissemination using video, such as live streaming of assembly meetings. “We also want to improve the network environment and create a system that allows us to quickly share disaster information with the villagers. We need to organize the village system digitally.”
Snow removal is a major task for the government of Niigata, a snowy country. Starting in December of this year, Yahiko Village will begin operating “snow removal position management system”. By equipping snow plows with smartphones and acquiring location information, it is possible to visualize the work status in real time, such as which area the snow plow is currently working in. Villagers can monitor snow removal status anytime and anywhere using their computers or smartphones.
It is also possible to automatically create a daily report from work results and output it in a predetermined format.
“Most of the calls we receive at the town hall in winter are inquiries about snow removal, so the introduction of a snow removal location management system will lead to improved services for villagers. In the future, we hope to introduce live cameras to visualize the situation more realistically ” (Mayor Honma).
Furthermore, a demonstration experiment of self-driving buses will begin in December as the first attempt in Niigata Prefecture. Collaboration with BOLDLY, a SoftBank affiliate, with the aim of resolving labor shortages and expanding transportation options. Two eight-seater EV buses will be introduced and run to carry villagers. Although the bus is self-driving, there will be a staff member in the driver’s seat to help restore the bus in the event of a problem, support people with disabilities, and respond to suspicious persons. Bus operation and monitoring will be carried out at the satellite office.
Originally, there was a circulation bus called “Yahiko-go” running in Yahiko Village, but there had been requests from villagers in areas where Yahiko-go does not run for a bus to run. Through this initiative, we will consider expanding public transportation services throughout the village.
Mayor Honma says, “We will revitalize the village with the three pillars of industry, agriculture, and tourism.In order to increase the population, we plan to promote housing development, childcare support, and digitalization from a medium- to long-term perspective”.