《Hokkaido: the migrants’ choice – from Niseko》

From the town of Niseko in the Shiribeshi sub-prefecture, where many migrants gather, we introduce stories surrounding the ‘choices’ of people who decided to relocate.

Special feature

《Hokkaido: the migrants’ choice – from Niseko》 ③ Coronavirus triggers search for new pastures

  2021 has begun, and who could have predicted the start of this year? We meet two females who, triggered by the spread of the Covid-19 virus infections, relocated to Niseko in October to become ‘local vitalization cooperators’.

Until six months ago, Watanebe Aki (30) was involved in the support of those with disabilities in Calgary, Canada. It was a fulfilling year abroad. However, things started to change quickly in February. The coronavirus pandemic caused lockdown, preventing her from returning home. Eventually, on March 25, she managed to fly to Osaka, where her family home is located. As a qualified care worker, Watanabe received many job offers, but as coronavirus infections spread in Japan, too, she was in two minds about working in a densely populated city. She began to question the urban lifestyle. After graduating university, Watanabe worked at a care facility for 6 years before travelling to Auckland, New Zealand in 2018 to study abroad and experience life overseas. There, she was surprised by the awareness of her classmates. A friend became a vegan and stopped eating animal food products after learning about the needless killing of animals during a lecture when she was 20. Watanabe felt uncomfortable with Japan’s daily routine of mass production and mass consumption. She stopped buying drinks in plastic bottles and began carrying her own water bottle. The way migrants are accepted in the Niseko region, where many foreigners live, is similar to that of New Zealanda and Canada.
Watanabe joined the ‘local vitalization cooperators’, which requires her to propose what she wants to do. She wanted to link Niseko’s agriculture and commercial sectors with the welfare and care sectors in which she had experience, but to begin with she spends her days creating and expanding contacts with those in the farming industry.

Watanabe stocking shelves at the ‘Niseko View Plaza’ roadside station
Shigeno (center) promoting the senbei (crackers) with other ‘local vitalization cooperators’, December 6, 2020

 The role of Shigeno Yuki (34) is to create a lively atmosphere in the ‘Niseko Central Warehouse’ in front of Niseko Station. Originally from Fukushika City, she began working for a major pharmaceutical wholesaler in 2009, after graduating from a university in the metropolitan area. Her job was to aggregate the energy used each month at hundreds of sales offices throughout Japan. Her days were spent struggling with figures in front of a computer. “When I thought about how this would just keep on going, I would cry while riding the commuter train.” She felt her spirit being sucked away by the company, but was frightened of quitting. “University entrance exams and job hunting went smoothly, I was scared of straying off the rails.” Shigeno took the plunge in August 2012, when she passed the Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteer exam. She was dispatched to a small town in El Salvador in Central America. Her mission was to spread environmental education, and she found working with cheerful people in a tropical country fun. After her two-year term, Shigeno retuned to Tokyo, and worked in magazine production. However, irregular employment meant that almost every year she found herself having to change where she worked and lived. “I didn’t like being bound to an organization, but the movement involved in irregular employment was also tiring.” Shigeno is now involved in the business of selling original senbei (crackers) made from potatoes produced in the town, making use of her photography skills to promote the products and potatoes on websites and news releases. The search to find where she belongs continues.

Location

Niseko Central Warehouse

Special feature

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