Learning lessons from Japan for Scotland’s islands

Researchers studied approaches to tackling depopulation on four Japanese islands, including Sado Island.


An international collaborative study comparing approaches to island depopulation in Scotland and Japan has identified several important lessons which could shape future policy and funding initiatives in this country.

The research, led by SRUC, aimed to address the issues of population decline, accompanied by an ageing population structure, faced by many of the country’s island communities.

Japan is made up of five main islands and almost 7,000 smaller islands, 90 per cent of which are uninhabited, while Scotland has 790 offshore islands, of which only 93 are inhabited.

Japan has a long history of developing national policies and related funding packages focused on tackling demographic decline in both rural and island communities.

Despite the diversity of island communities in both countries, the report found many of these Japanese strategies could provide useful learning for future island depopulation policies in Scotland.

These include programmes to:

  • provide support for people settling in island communities
  • encourage those who regularly visit islands to contribute more to their sustainability and vibrancy, and to settle permanently
  • make empty buildings available for re-use
  • develop teleworking and ‘parallel work’ opportunities
  • launch education-focused programmes to encourage more young people to remain on islands for their education

The researchers proposed 15 areas of learning for future island depopulation policies in Scotland, including engaging with island communities in co-designing policy interventions; providing a flexible policy framework to enable locally tailored interventions; exploring the ‘positives’ of demographic ageing as well as retaining/re-attracting young people; and building on the changes in lifestyles associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lead author Dr Jane Atterton, from SRUC’s Rural Policy Centre, said: “The two countries and their islands are so different but there is a lot that can be learned here from the approaches taken in Japan at both national and local levels, including their concept of ‘relationship population’ and the ‘Community Cooperative Support’ initiative.

“Having researchers located in both countries meant the team was well placed to understand and appreciate the differences in language, culture and context that underpin these interventions.”

The exploratory study was conducted in partnership with Newcastle University, Akita International University and Tokyo University for Agriculture and Technology on behalf of the Scottish Government.

To read the report, visit the Scottish Government website.

Posted by SRUC on 26/09/2022

Tags: Rural Policy Centre
Categories: Research