Finding future social entrepreneurs from within Japan. Actively recruiting and cultivating next generation Changemakers. -Ashoka Japan

REPORT 03

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The savior of a deserted farming village

imageWatching Japan's bubble economy collapse in 1995, experienced business consultant Hisashi Sonehara thought hard about the future of the aging population trapped within Japan's urban-centric economy and decided to act. He relocated to a rural village in Yamanashi Prefecture, where he single-handedly rejuvenated abandoned farmland and started a forestry business.

Within a few years, he became successful. His background of growing up in a rural farming village had certainly helped him, but there was more to it than that.

Abandoned farmland, disused plantations and beautiful wild landscape: the overlooked rural treasure

imageFarming villages all over Japan are suffering from declining populations, as younger generations leave to find work in urban areas. The aged farmers left behind cannot carry on alone, and as a result there are now 400,000 hectares of abandoned farmland in Japan. That's an area twice the size of Tokyo, which is the world's largest metropolitan area.

The countryside's future didn't look bright, but Hisashi’s entrepreneurial antennae sensed that there was treasure to be had. These lands are not wasted; they are still assets. Why not use them to create something new? His Yamanashi village has a winning combination of resources: farmland, plantations, long daylight hours, clean water, and abundance of natural beauty. He set out to build a 21st century green industry and has not looked back.

Connections are key

imageHisashi’s extraordinary success in his first attempt is the result of his unique combination of agricultural knowledge and business acumen. Knowing that he can't transform Japan's rural economy alone, he’s been running educational programs all over Japan to raise more entrepreneurs like him. Already some 200 new business startups have come about due to his courses.

Corporations are also interested in his ideas, and the “Corporate Farm” program is proving to be very popular. Changemaker and Ashoka fellow Hisashi Sonehara's blueprint for the future would generate a million jobs and create an industry worth ten trillion Japanese Yen in the next decade. This is not just a dream: it's a realistic action plan.

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