Achieving Sustainable Community Development in Mokake Commuity

Faculty of LettersMinori Yamada



Born in Kochi Prefecture
9th president of Okayama University Community Development Study Group
Hobbies: Watching VTubers on YouTube and playing Switch

 In this edition of SDG Persons, we interviewed Ms. Minori Yamada, the 9th president of the Okayama University Community Development Study Group, an official club of Okayama University!
 Okayama University Community Development Study Group ,it is called "Machiken" because it is Okayama University Machizukuri Kenkyukai in Japanese. Machiken was established in 2013 as an organization for students to think and practice community development in the mid-mountainous areas of Okayama Prefecture. Currently, the group is active in Mokake community of Setouchi City, where the population is declining, with the goal of revitalizing the community, and engages daily in activities that only students can perform, such as providing learning support and hosting community events.

Win-win relationship to revitalize the community

――First of all, please tell us briefly about your activities.

 General meetings are held once a week every Sunday morning at the Kyoyama Community Center. We discuss preparations for the next project to be held in Mokake and review the previous project. As I am now a sophomore and president of the club, our club is planned and managed mainly by sophomores. A total of 38 members, ranging from first-year students to fourth-year students, are involved in community development in Mokake.

――What is the project contents for FY2022?

 In the spring, we planned to deepen friendship with new students since they had just joined us, and to let the people in Mokake get to know the new members. In the summer, a summer festival and fireworks display, which have not been held for two years due to COVID-19, are scheduled to be held in Mokake, so we are preparing a summer-like children's project to be put out on that occasion. And in the fall, there is an Autumn Festival in Mokake, we are planning to create a project that involves middle and high school students for the first time this year. There is an elementary school in Mokake, but no middle or high school, and it is in a different area rather far away from the school, so this is our first attempt to expand the conversation to that area. So we have to start by greeting junior high schools and high schools by saying, "We're the community development study group working in Mokake!", so it's quite scary to be honest (haha). But the project targeting middle and high school students is the centerpiece of this year's project, we would like to take on this challenge. After the Fall Festival, the community will hold a New Year's Day event called Dondomatsuri, so we are planning to rent a booth at an elementary school gymnasium and organize a children's event.

――What is the purpose of your activities?

 We, university students, will provide young power to the community and create a community that can only be made possible by us. And we are learning and experiencing things that we cannot learn in our normal student life through actual activities in the community. I believe that the purpose of our activities is to continue to revitalize the community while enhancing each other in a mutually beneficial win-win relationship.

――What was reason for joining Machiken, Ms.Yamada?

 I had people close to me who were involved with the community and children: my mother was PTA president at a local elementary school for 10 years, and a friend from elementary school went to undergraduate school to learn about community revitalization. So I thought I would do something like that, too, and when I entered the school I received a flyer from Machiken. I decided to join because I really enjoyed participating in the online trial session.

――Why did you decide to become the president of Machiken?

 I'm the type of person who likes to meddle in a lot of things, and I've been rather in charge of the conversation so far, but I have never been the head of anything before. I thought that once I finished college, I would be less likely to be in a position of my own volition, so I decided to give it a try because it was a good opportunity and everyone had given me their approval.

All of the club that have been accumulated over the past 10 years will be utilized

――What is the appeal of Machiken?

 I think the best thing about Machiken is that it is a club. As our advisor, Mr. Mimura, told us a long time ago, for example, if you visit a community or go to see a case study in class, you go once and that's the end of it, and if you get credit, that's the end of it, right? But with a club, although there is a turnover of members, there is a continuous relationship with the community. Also, unlike companies and governments, we are not bound to achieve certain results, and I think the good thing about Machiken is that we have an environment where we can discuss what we want to do and what we need to do together and do it.
 We are in our 9th term students and our juniors are in their 10th term students, and we still have all the documents of Machiken up to now. What surprised me when I joined Machiken was that the meeting procedures were well organized and all the minutes and slides were kept. The second term students have created a Google Drive sharing system where everyone leaves all their documents and other information, so it is very helpful to be able to look for documents and see what they used to do and how they solved this problem.

――You are supported by what your alumni and alumnae have built up so far.

 Yes, that's right. This year, in planning with middle and high school students for the Fall Festival, I wanted someone's opinion, including confirmation that we are really making a plan that meets their needs and that we are not just going off on our own. So I looked at the old documents and found that there was one generation in the past that had organized a fall festival. So there is a LINE group called "Mimura Machizukuri Kenkyukai" (Mimura Community Development Study Group) that unites alumni and alumnae, so I was able to contact and communicate with the seniors of that generation from there. Everyone always tells me that if you have any difficulties or stuck in the activities of Machiken, you can feel free to come to them for advice, and I am very grateful that everyone will definitely answer my questions not only about Machiken but also about my career path.

――Now that COVID-19 is under control, it would be great if you could get together with alumni and alumnae and have a social gathering.

 I'd love to! There is a spacious old house named "Mokake Akebono-no-ie" where we are based in Mokake, which the seniors of Machiken in the early days cleaned up an abandoned house that was no longer usable and replaced the flooring to make it usable. There was a pizza oven in the back of the house that was built by a different generation of seniors, and they built it themselves by picking up blueprints from the Internet and sourcing bricks. The tips on how to build a fire and how to bake have been passed down from generation to generation, and the pizza oven is still perfectly usable, but we have refrained from events that involve eating or drinking as a measure against infection.
 However, I would like to hold a party someday where people from Mokake and past members of Machiken can get together at Akebono-no-ie, eat pizza baked in the pizza oven, and talk about how much has changed here.

Ongoing relationship with the people of Mokake who warmly welcome us

――Thank you very much. Now please tell us about the charms of MoKake.

 I think it is the warmth of people. I found some old documents from when Machiken was first established, and I saw that they have accepted us since the very beginning of the project. I think the most attractive thing is that they are tolerant of students going to the community to work, they pay a lot of attention to us, and they are warm and accepting of those who come from outside.

――Do you have any memorable activities?

 Last year, every Wednesday after school, I went to "Mokake Terakoya," an after-school learning support activity for elementary school students in Mokake. There, we watch the children do their homework and play with them when they are done. Since I was there every week, the children learned my name and face very quickly, and it was so cute that they started calling out to me right away, "Let's play, teacher!" But there were times when the children would listen to the adult teachers, but when I gave them a warning, they would laugh and not listen properly. I also had the most trouble when I didn't know why they were crying. When the children argued with each other and sulked and cried, all I could do was say, "Don't cry anymore...." Every week on the bus ride home I would reflect on how I should have handled the situation today.
 But I've had parents tell me that it helps them because all the children can finish their homework and go home, and I've had parents tell me that it helps them, and It's hard work, but I was happy that the children saw me as a teacher and that I was able to interact with them a lot.

――Is there anything you keep in mind when conducting activities of  Machiken?

 I would like to respond as much as possible to the suggestions I receive from local residents. Especially in our generation, COVID-19 has finally settled down and many things are starting to move again, so they are asking us questions like, "We used to do this, but what about Yamada's generation?" or "We are thinking of doing something new, what do you think?"  I think the fact that we continue to go from the outside gives meaning to our existence, because people in the community continue to call on us, outsiders, in this way. Therefore, I would like to take on board their suggestions as much as possible. However, that said, we are a student club, so if we did everything we were told to do, we would be flat broke. I think we should not forget to do what we think is fun. I've always been told by my seniors that we need to do activities that the members can enjoy. To that end, I would like to discuss whether we can continue to do what we have been told and whether we can make it a part of club activities while keeping it enjoyable for everyone.

Energy from within and outside the community essential for community development

――I assume that you have faced various local issues in the field, such as the declining birthrate, aging population, depopulation, etc. What did you feel?

 There is nothing that can be done by the local people alone to solve the problem anymore. The number of students in Mokake is decreasing year by year, and this year the elementary school has about 27 students, and if the number of students drops below 20, the elementary school will disappear and merge with another school. The middle school is not located in Mokake, so if you wanted to go to the nearest middle school from the community, it would take about an hour by bicycle. Since it is impossible to ride a bicycle to school, parents have to drive their children to school. If that were the case, it would be more convenient to move closer to the middle school, so the child-rearing generation is also moving out of Mokake. The remaining elderly people are working in local industries such as muscatel and oysters, but they are short on labor, so they have recently been accepting foreign workers. None of the problems are complete within Mokake alone. So they are definitely supposed to look outside the region, and the locals already know that they have to look. The situation is such that the energy remaining in the community alone is not enough to move forward, so it is very meaningful for us outsiders to participate, and I believe that there are things that can be seen and done only by young people from outside.
 So I think it is important for outsiders to get involved, but that doesn't mean it will work if we are the only ones who are excited about it. Cooperation and detailed communication with local people is also important, as is the energy of local people to accept outsiders. For example, if the locals have given up because there is nothing more they can do, they will just be annoyed when outsiders come in. However, the people in Mokake are very proud of their community and love their Mokake. In addition to that, there is the energy to do something about Mokake, which is why I think our power from the outside will work to make it meaningful. I think it is important that the energy within the community and the energy that comes from the outside work well together to move forward.

――What do you want to do with Mokake in the future?

 There are many people in the community who want to "make MoKake better" and "give children a variety of experiences," but I cannot deny the feeling that such energy is converging only among those with whom we have always been involved. So I hope that people who are not directly involved with us will learn more about what we are doing in MoKake and that we will be able to generate energy from the entire community to make changes in their own community.

――What do you want to do with Machiken in the future?

  I think the best thing is for everyone to continue to have fun together. Well, it's just the status quo, haha. But as president, I think it's really amazing that this organization has lasted 10 years. It takes an hour to get to Mokake by train and bus, moreover the transportation costs are high; until last year, the round trip cost 2,000 yen per person. This year it has become easier to get there because it has changed to a city bus and it is cheaper, but still 2~3 people have been going to Terakoya all the time every week for many years now. We also publish a newsletter four times a year, which is printed by Setouchi City and distributed to all households in Mokake.  I think it's amazing that something not only interesting like this has been going on for so long while making progress! So, although there are many challenges ahead, I would like to continue to create an atmosphere where everyone wants to come and enjoy our activities so that they do not become only a lot of hard work.

――Finally, do you have a message for students?

 Recently, when I am planning or worrying about a project, I think to myself, "I want to do something that values the university student spirit," or "I want to do something that we can do only because we are the university students. I and the other members of Machiken are trying to use our short four years for community development, and we are working to make the most of this time to show our university student nature. There are many things that only university students can do in addition to community development, and many things that only university students can do. If you can find such things and help others with something unique to you, I believe that the time you spent for that purpose will be very valuable.

――Thank you, Ms. Yamada!

Search by
Free Word


Search by
Search by
Search by
Search by