The NYT has an article today about Hime, an island off the coast of Japan, which has carved out a socialist niche for itself:
If Marxism had ever produced a functional, prosperous society, it might have looked something like this tiny southern Japanese island…
The 2,519 mostly graying islanders subsist on fishing and shrimp farming, and every summer hold a Shinto religious festival featuring dancers dressed as foxes…
it invented its own version of work-sharing four decades before the current economic crisis popularized the term.
Under Hime’s system, village employees earn about a third less pay than public servants elsewhere in Japan, though they work the same hours. This has allowed the village to create more jobs: it now directly or indirectly employs a fifth of all working islanders. Most of the rest are engaged in fishing, also government-subsidized. In fact, village officials say, there are few fully private-sector jobs on the island.
Islanders admit to the socialist parallels, even while proclaiming themselves political conservatives who vote for the governing right-wing Liberal Democratic Party. Some jokingly take the analogy a step further, comparing themselves to a much more repressive family-run regime in Japan’s geopolitical neighborhood.
“Hime Island is North Korea, just a livable version,” Naokazu Koiwa said with a laugh. Mr. Koiwa, 32, repairs fishing boats…
Now, with the current crisis causing a national questioning of American-style laissez-faire economics, and business leaders and unions seeking alternatives to widespread job cuts, Hime’s work-sharing scheme is suddenly being held up as a new model. Islanders call it ironic that the current crisis has made traditional values appear progressive, even utopian.
Nor does the island’s penchant for equality stop at work-sharing. At an annual village ceremony to mark the coming of age of 20-year-old islanders, women are forbidden to wear traditional kimonos for fear the differences in quality could reveal their households’ economic status.
No utopia is perfect:
the island decided to choose mayors by consensus, finding someone on whom everyone could agree beforehand. Last year, Mr. Fujimoto won his seventh straight four-year term, once again by default in an uncontested election.
“My job is to prevent elections by keeping everyone equal, and thus happy,” said Mr. Fujimoto, 65, sitting in a modest office in the village hall. His only visible sign of authority was a buzzer on his desk that he pushed to summon an assistant.
Mr. Fujimoto said he would resign immediately if a serious rival appeared in an election. “That would be a sign the village has lost confidence in me,” he said…
The island and its mayor also have outside critics. Keizo Nagai, the ombudsman for Oita prefecture, which includes Hime, calls the island the least transparent local government in the prefecture. He criticized it for refusing to make information like detailed budget records available to non-islanders, which he attributed to a closed local culture rather than to a cover-up of wrongdoing.
“Hime Island acts like an independent kingdom,” Mr. Nagai said.
Many islanders say they accept the status quo simply because life here is comfortable. They say rocking the boat would only ostracize them on an island where everyone knows one another…
“Everyone is basically satisfied,” said Shusaku Akaishi, 29, who works at his family’s gas station. “This is a conservative place.”
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