Otaki Town is located in the southern inland area of Chiba Prefecture and has a population of about 8,700 and there is no sea.
Otaki Town had prospered as a castle town for a long time, but it seems to be facing the same problem that all rural areas face: a declining birthrate and aging population.
In such a town, the Oikawa Elementary School, which was closed in 2013, was rented by Ryohin Keikaku, which is well known as MUJI, and we visited the school to see how they try and solve local issues.
Only Two Towns left in Isumi-County
When I was in elementary school, I was in the basketball club.
Iwawada Elementary School (closed in 2007), which I attended, was a small school with about 20 students in one grade, so everyone grew up with the same members for nine years from the nursery school to the sixth grade without changing classes.
Of course, it is not possible to choose club activities, and all girls must participate in the basketball club from 4th grade.
In the spring, we participated in competitions as a track and field athlete, in the summer as a swimmer, in the fall as a member of the brass band in competitions, and there was a basketball team that endured rigorous practices throughout the year.
That’s why we often visited the neighboring towns for various competitions and contests.
At that time, there were five towns in Isumi-County : Ohara-Town, Misaki-Town, and Isumi-Town, in addition to Onjuku-Town and Otaki-Town.
However, in 2005, Ohara, Misaki and Isumi towns merged and became “Isumi City”, so since then, the Isumi-County has been two towns, Onjuku and Otaki. This is the reason why the only two towns are not adjacent on the map, but are still in the same county.
It takes about 30 minutes by car between two towns.
Utilize the closed Elementary School
I was surprised to hear that this elementary school was closed.
Normally, you would expect to see rotten wood and antique furniture and fixtures, but this school was built with reinforced concrete structure and the interior was absolutely beautiful! The only issues that the facility manager mentioned were leaks that were not caused by aging and the layout of the rooms.
It’s only been about 20 years since it was completed.
It is a pity in many ways that it was used as an elementary school, which is the original purpose, only for about 10 years after the building was built.
Since 2017, Ryohin Keikaku/MUJI has been using this facility for co-working space, a confectionary sharing studio, and rental of multi-purpose halls and meeting rooms. They also hold a Marche once a month to create a place where people in the community can connect with each other.
In addition to managing the building, the facility manager was also involved in cleaning up the nearby station on weekends, visiting local farmers and hunters to help them with their work, and so on, building relationships and looking for new projects and discover.
It was wonderful to see her taking on tough challenges for the community alone in this spacious elementary school built on top of a mountain.
The following article will introduce you to some of the restaurants in Otaki that were introduced by her.