Ja­pan’s el­derly re­verse gas sta­tion clo­sures

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

In Shimukappu, a vil­lage on Ja­pan’s north­ern is­land of Hokkaido and home to a pop­u­lar ski­ing re­sort, res­i­dents are to re­open the sole gas sta­tion in the area, which closed four years ago as sales de­clined. It’s a sim­i­lar story else­where in Ja­pan, where oil de­mand has dropped by nearly a third since 2000 as the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion dwin­dles and new car sales are also down by around a third since 1990. With that wan­ing de­mand, the num­ber of gas sta­tions, which also sup­ply win­ter heat­ing fu­els, has roughly halved from a 1995 peak to 31,000 na­tion­wide.

That has left many mainly el­derly peo­ple in re­mote areas a long way from the near­est pump sta­tion to fill up. About 15 per­cent of vil­lages, towns and cities in the world’s third­largest econ­omy have three or fewer gas stands, and the trade min­istry has urged lo­cal gov­ern­ments to do more to keep these es­sen­tial life­lines open. While most shut­tered gas sta­tions are aban­doned and chained, some have had a make-over and are now shops, cafes, and laun­derettes.

Amid a na­tional trend of a de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tion, which is ac­cel­er­at­ing in re­moter parts of Ja­pan, lo­cal gov­ern­ments have in­creas­ingly taken an ac­tive role in buy­ing closed fa­cil­i­ties and of­fer­ing sub­si­dies to keep them op­er­a­tional.

But in some ru­ral vil­lages, el­derly peo­ple power is lead­ing the res­cue ef­fort as younger gen­er­a­tions move to the cities in search of work. “The near­est gaso­line stands in the next town are around 30 km (19 miles) away,” said Mit­suhiko Hi­rakawa, head of Shimukappu city of­fice’s To­mamu area that hosts the ski re­sort. “The lack of gas stands is very in­con­ve­nient.”

A lo­cal sur­vey showed res­i­dents ranked the lack of a fill­ing sta­tion as their sec­ond-big­gest source of dis­sat­is­fac­tion, prompt­ing the lo­cal govern­ment to step in and buy the shut­tered stand, which is due to re­open next month, Hi­rakawa said. The in­dus­try min­istry says lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in at least a dozen other vil­lages have taken over aban­doned fuel sta­tions, closed due to fall­ing sales, a lack of peo­ple to run them, and the cost of re­plac­ing age­ing un­der­ground fuel tanks. — Reuters

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