From a video game-playing social recluse to neighborhood president at the age of 17, a former truant has found what he wants to do. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

From a video game-playing social recluse to neighborhood president at the age of 17, a former truant has found what he wants to do.

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Karaminato, Kagoshima City. In this town overlooking Sakurajima, a 17-year-old high school student has become the town council president. The town has changed, and expectations are high for his “future,” which he says “has changed my life as well.

I’ll do it!

It was two years ago that Haruhi Kaneko ran for president of the Yamanote Neighborhood Association in Karaminato 2-chome, Kagoshima City. He was in his third year of high school. As a high school student running for neighborhood association president, did you develop a passion for neighborhood associations through your community activities?

No, not at all. (Laughs). I didn’t know what kind of job a neighborhood association president might have. I didn’t know what kind of work a neighborhood association president did, and I didn’t know my neighbors particularly well, so when I ran for office, there were very few people I knew in the town whose faces came to mind. There aren’t many people walking down the street around here.

So why did you decide to run?

Momentum, I guess (laughs). If no one else raises their hand, I’ll do it! (laughs). I was originally asked to help with a community project that my father was involved in, which is how I came to know about neighborhood associations.

Yohei’s father is an associate professor at Kagoshima University, where he conducts research on towns and community development and participates in community revitalization projects with his students. One of his activities was to create videos of neighborhood association meetings. He filmed and edited the meeting for those who were unable to attend due to work commitments or other reasons, and shared the information with those who were not able to attend. Yangfei was interested in video editing, so he was invited to be the video photographer and editor.

He says that when he and his father became involved in the project, he learned about the neighborhood association and saw that there was no one to be the neighborhood association president, which led him to run for the position.

In junior high school, he was out of school for two years.

Yohki was out of school for two years from the first year of junior high school.

Even now, if I’m asked to do five subjects, I’m so bad at studying that I can’t handle it,” he said.

Despite his poor academic performance, the pressure of having a father who is a teacher at a university, and the pressure of not being able to do what he thought he had to do, led him to stop going to school. He did not go to school and spent his days playing video games. Eventually he got tired of it and started going to school in the spring of his junior year, but he only went two or three times a week when he felt like it.

I think my parents were worried, but after I told them why I didn’t want to go, they didn’t say anything.

He laughs, saying that his parents were very understanding of their son’s decision not to go to school. But I wonder if they weren’t worried about him falling behind in his studies.

I was beyond anxious and didn’t care anymore. I felt like I really wasn’t cut out for studying, so I had no motivation to work hard and catch up.”

After graduating from junior high school, he went to a correspondence high school. He says he was able to serve as neighborhood president because of the flexibility of his time.

Going door to door to investigate “what I am good at

The first thing Yohki did after becoming the neighborhood association president was to visit each of the houses that were members of the association and ask them what they could do and what they were good at.

I wanted to see if I could get as many people as possible to do work in the town to the extent that they could do it themselves.

As a result, he learned that there were people with various “specialties,” such as a woodworker, a German speaker, and a person who had worked in the education field.

I thought it would be great if we could become a town where we could help each other. I thought it would be great if we could become a town where we could help each other.

For example, if a branch has grown too long and needs to be cut, would you ask someone who is good at that to do it for you?

For example, if you have a request to cut down a branch that has grown long, would you ask someone who is good at that? I have not realized it yet, but I would like to understand what each resident is good at and make use of that knowledge in the community.

Although the COVID-19 crisis did not allow for all the activities he had hoped for, he did “utilize human resources,” such as asking people who like to talk to share the history of the community, or asking people who used to work in sales to visit the homes of people they had never met before to recruit them to join the neighborhood association. In fact, there have been cases where this has led to membership in neighborhood associations. Another effort is to visualize the work involved.

One of the members said, “The reason why there are no new members for the position of neighborhood association chairperson is because it sounds like a lot of work. But if we can visualize what kind of work is involved, then maybe there will be people who think they can do it, too.

Visualize the work and divide it up. By doing so, we can make it a sustainable activity. A compilation of this method won the 2022 Manifesto Award for Excellence in the “Good Idea Award” category.

He also runs a community development company. Traveling around every day

The activities he started in Karaminato, Kagoshima City, have attracted attention, and he has been invited to participate in community-building projects and to give lectures in other prefectures. While there are calls for the revitalization of local activities in various regions, there is still much more that can be done. He has taken over a relative’s company and has begun offering ideas and advice on community and regional development.

Currently, he is in his third year as a neighborhood association president. Although the rotation is actually on a yearly basis, he says he is allowed to serve because “I feel like there is so much more I can do.

When I became neighborhood association president, the only members were 50 households. When I became neighborhood association president, there were 50 households. One-third of them were One third of them were over 75 years old. One-third of the households were 75 years old or older. That said, Karaminato is not a depopulated area in the mountains. It is located in the center of Kagoshima City, Kagoshima University is nearby, and you can walk to the station if you try hard. There are condominiums and apartments, and the younger generation is moving in. The number of subscribing households is gradually increasing. I think neighborhood associations are important to build a town where we can help each other. But the school’s contact LINE But if things continue as they are, we will end up with a generational divide. I think we need to change the system in order to have the younger generation take over the neighborhood association.

It seems like every day is all about the chonaikai. What are you looking forward to now?

I have more opportunities to go to various places, and I enjoy sightseeing. I want to keep going out more and more.”

He says he never thought he would be able to do this when he was living as a petit hermit.

I ran for town council president on a whim, but if I hadn’t raised my hand then, I wouldn’t be living like this. It changed my life. It has given me confidence, and I think that even if I get anxious or have trouble in the future, I will be able to handle it.

I want to continue working for the neighborhood association as long as I can. The people who live here are changing rapidly, and society is now five years away, and Ten years from now, I am not sure what will happen. The people who live in neighborhood associations are changing rapidly, and society is changing to such an extent that we do not know what it will be like in five or ten years’ time. I think that chonaikai are closely connected to society and must always continue to change. I want to make it an organization that is needed in these times, and I am excited to be able to do that kind of work.

I feel that my world has expanded as a result of taking charge of the community. A town where the younger generation can feel that way is a happy place. I can’t help but wish that more towns like this would appear one after another throughout Japan.

It’s fun to learn about things you didn’t know,” says Yohei. Being a town chairperson, I have met many people and listened to their stories, which has broadened my world.
  • Interview and text by Izumi Nakagawa

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