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Tokyo • A growing number of local governments across Japan are subsidizing commuting on high-speed Shinkansen trains for university students in a bid to prevent them from moving to big cities to pursue their studies.
Students and parents have welcomed the financial assistance, because living at home is cheaper than living alone and gives their family peace of mind. Local governments hope more students will find jobs in their local region after they graduate, which will help stop the population decline in some areas.
Several local governments along the Hokuriku Shinkansen line, which officially began operations on an extended section in March 2015, have started offering commuting subsidies. Toyama city, which has worked to prevent an outflow of people to Kanazawa in neighboring Ishikawa Prefecture, introduced a subsidy for students who commute from Toyama Station to universities, junior colleges and vocational schools outside the prefecture.
The Toyama city government offers subsidies of 20,000 yen ($170) per month, which covers about 40 percent of the monthly student commuter pass cost of 49,300 yen for the about 20-minute ride between Toyama and Kanazawa.
Sixty-three students used the subsidy last fiscal year, and 102 are using it this fiscal year. Many students said they decided to commute because of the financial support.
However, the system's budget for fiscal 2016 is about 28 million yen. If the number of users increases further, the city's financial burden will also grow. Six of the 13 subsidy users who graduated last fiscal year found employment in Toyama.
"We'll find out later whether young people end up staying in the city," a Toyama city official said.
In fiscal 2016, 16 students received a monthly subsidy of 10,000 yen from the city of Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture. The city initially planned to run the subsidy system for two years starting last fiscal year, but it is considering continuing it next fiscal year. Takaoka officials visit high schools in the prefecture and universities in Kanazawa to publicize the system.
The city of Itoigawa, Niigata Prefecture, subsidizes half the cost of students' commuter passes. It encourages students who use the system to participate in local volunteer activities and the fire brigade. The city aims to deepen the students' ties to Itoigawa in the hope it will encourage them to live there.
Shizuoka city has struggled to prevent its young people from moving to the Tokyo metropolitan area, and this year it introduced a loan system to help students who commute to the capital on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line. The city loans one-third of a student's commuting costs (up to a maximum of 30,000 yen per month), but the student does not have to repay the money if they live and work in Shizuoka after they graduate.
This year, 164 students are using the system; the city expects 300 to use it next fiscal year.
Mirai Ishioka, a senior student at Sophia University in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, spends about two hours commuting from her home in Shizuoka city. Ishioka will work in Shizuoka after she graduates.
"Receiving 30,000 yen each month helps a lot, and my parents are happy about it, too," said Ishioka, 21. "The loan system wasn't the only reason I decided to find a job in Shizuoka, but it nudged me in this direction."
Yutaka Okada, a senior researcher at Mizuho Research Institute, Ltd., believes the subsidies and loans could bring the desired effect.
"It'll be important to combine this system with the creation of attractive jobs," said Okada, an expert in regional policies. "If local areas can provide jobs for students after they graduate, this system could encourage young people to live there permanently."