|Yasuzuka is a town in Niigata prefecture, and is located south-west of Niigata City. The problems of depopulation of Yasuzuka is typical of most small towns in Japan. Its 1955 population of 11,000 decreased to 4,300 in 1997. The reasons associated with this depopulation was its mountainous region, a very severe winter that dropped one to four meters of snowfall, aging population, migration to cities, and young men and women marrying later in their lives.
The Town's main aim was to revitalize the image of the town by bringing together its heavy snowfall (which was considered a liability) and its own people. It attempted to do this by designating the whole town as a park. The Town's plans envisaged the development of a 'snow culture' by preservation of its sceneries based on snow, and using snow as a way of life.
The development plan of the town was designed around the theme of snow as a way of life, designating zones for sports, culture, parks, etc. For example, a zone called 'Ogi no Sato' was designated as a camping site in a natural forest setting. A small dam was built to collect snow and a ski-field was created. Under the Project Snow Culture, several activities were initiated:
- In 1991, an ordinance was passed to establish a snow landscape with emphasis on man and nature, for a beautiful and appropriate 'snow culture' that had minimal effect or damage on the environment.
- A research institute for snow culture was established (called the 'Snowman Institute'), Its function was to research on the way of life in a snow region. Innovative lifestyles that incorporated tradition and new lifestyles was targeted - linking these studies to the development of the town itself.
- Development of the town was based on a humanistic vision, emphasizing elegant, affordable lifestyles, that also highlighted snow adventures, and international linkages based on 'snow diplomacy.'
- Projects also focussed on synergetic industrial development based on tourism - extended commercial activities based on frequent visitors/tourists. Ski-fields, hot springs, cultures centres were set up as a result.
Of particular significance was the establishment of the Snowman Institute which coordinated many of these activities. The institute was an initiative of the town government and NGOs/NPOs and its management was overseen by schools, chambers of commerce, culture and sports associations. Active participation from children, women, youth, elderly and other community groups was sought in managing the community center, established as a part of the institute.
Yasuzuka also exports snow to other parts of the country by express delivery. A recent snow sculpture festival in Tokyo saw the delivery of 450 truckloads of snow from Yasuzuka! A snowfield established in the Town attracted investments of more than US$100 million, and about 100,000 visitors a year.
The lesson learnt from Yasuzuka Town was that it defined its problems not in physical terms (snow, depopulation etc.) but in terms of loosing pride of its residents and of the town as a whole. Thus, establishing pride of the town among its residents became the key goal.
The conversion of a liability into an asset by developing a culture around snow is unique. This has led to self-sustaining development for a small town, and also attracted investment in its snow projects, which in turn has brought in tourists. Also commendable is its research into snow-based lifestyles, through its Snowman Institute. The results from the institute's research was widely disseminated nationally and internationally.