Yusuhara - the most advanced remote town in Kochi

Kumono Ueno Hotel (Hotel above clouds) in the afternoon sunshine

Yusuhara Town Hallin the afternoon sunshine
It was nearly two hours' drive from Kochi city. When I approached the hotel where I was expected to meet the people of Yusuhara, I could not believe my eyes. In the midst of mountains, I found a modern wooden house with highly sophisticated shape. This "Hotel above clouds" was designed by an internationally well known architect Kuma Kengo. He also designed Yusuhara Town Hall. The square shaped town hall with its wooden constructions impresses viewers the environmental friendliness of Yusuhara.

Yusuhara is a north-west municipality in Kochi prefecture. Yusuhara was indeed a big surprise for me, because I had expected a quiet and backward town, but discovered a modern and sympathetic townscape and an energetic and imaginative team of the town office.

Nakagoshi-san served as mayor for 10 years and retired voluntarily at the end of last year. Now, he calls himself as "farmer, navvy and forest keeper", a title stated on his business card. The following information is according to the explanation of Nakagoshi-san as far as I understood it.

91% of the total 237 km2 area of Yusuhara are mountains and the agricultural land is very limited. An average farmer can cultivate mere 0.4ha. Its population is 4,625 - population density is 19.6 per square km - according to the 2005 census and gradually decreasing and aging. The major industries are forestry and construction in the public sector. In such circumstances it is not a surprise that tax income covers only 12% of the necessary expenditure. Nevertheless, Yusuhara has a small but very lively and modern town center with impressive public buildings and a very sound budgetary structure - every year Yusuhara municipality runs a surplus in the accounts.

In fact Yusuhara is famous as a municipality with very innovative local policy and exemplary budget administration. It is not an overstatement that this miracle was realized by Nagakoshi-san and his team. The three main policy areas of the town office are environment, health and education. Two buildings designed by Kuma Kengo of course embody environmental friendliness, but they also represent other considerations such as regional development using local forest resources, provision of learning possibilities in the nature and enhancement of health through networking of people. Anyhow, in order to achieve such ambitious goals in addition to budgetary soundness, good idea, continuous efforts and cooperation of local inhabitants are needed.

For example, the impressive town hall is full of ideas. Its roof is equipped with solar cells and they produce 40% of the total energy needed for the building. The rest of the energy cost is covered by the rent of two tenants. Therefore, the construction of a new town hall contributed to the reduction of maintenance const. In the area of wind energy, Yusuhara is known as a town of wind mills. All streetlights are lit by the wind energy. By now, some 30% of the energy consumption of Yusuhar is covered by its local clean energy resources. Yusuhara further plans to construct small scale hydro power stations and aims at achieving zero CO2 emission.

Road cleaning by local residents (August 2005)
Source: Kochi Shimbun
The reduction of administrative expenditure is pursued to the ultimate extent possible. The number of governmental employees has been reduced successively and by far resulted in the lowest Laspeyres index in Kochi prefecture. The reduction of public employees was made possible partly because inhabitants were ready to do part of the administrative works such as cleaning of roads, maintenance of public halls and construction of agricultural drainage. For example, inhabitants in Yusuhara are urged to participate in the execution of administrative projects such as road cleaning. Cleaning of public roads is usually entrusted to private companies in Japan. However, in Yusuhara contracts are not given to companies but to neighborhood organizations, so that money is disbursed to the local community and at the same time the public expenditure is cut down. Such tradition of teamwork between administration and inhabitants has made Yusuhara a municipality with very sound budget.

I must underline that Yusuhara respects old and traditional things either. Visible evidence near the town hall is Yusuhara-za, an old wooden theatre. It was built in 1948, only three years after the end of the devastating WWII, during the boom period of Yusuhara's forestry, as a big volume of timber was needed to reconstruct the destroyed houses. It was also the time when entertainment was not provided sufficiently. Therefore, some rich people of the forestry donated their private money and built a theatre in the style of Taisho Period (1912-1926). The theater was about to be torn down several years ago, because people could not continue to keep it due to the lack of resources. The town administration invested some 1 million dollars and reconstructed the building in the present place.

The fassade of Yusuhara-za and children playing in its front

The interior of Yusuhara-za seen from the stage
This year, Yusuhara tries to sell it to tourists as the place where Sakamoto Ryoma, together with six other like minded lower ranking samurais, left Tosa Domain and the rule of the feudal lord of Tosa, to win freedom to act as an independent person. This was a historic event, because Ryoma as a free person independent from any feudal domain could realize the alliance of two influential domains Choshu and Satsuma and this led to the defeat of Shogun government.

The ground floor of the local museum was remodeled to accommodate displays related to Sakamoto Ryoma in relation to the TV drama series. Apart from such recent developments, Ta group of statutes were recently erected on top of a hill.

These samurais were residents in Yusuhara except for Sakamoto Ryoma. They tried to change the political system of Japan in the mid 19th century, but lost their lives before they could see the change.
he public expenditure for construction has been being cut recently everywhere in Japan and this will hit many inhabitants of Yusuhara who live on public construction. Environment sector will not suffice to give everybody employment. Even Yusuhara cannot stop young people going out to bigger cities. These are only a few of a long list of very difficult tasks of this small municipality Yusuhara. The new mayor of Yusuhara must tackle such difficult issues. He is however lucky, because he has very good budgetary conditions and a highly spirited team in the municipality government. I wish him to show us a model for the entire nation to learn from it!