That time when our team’s research with Japanese islanders resulted in the design of an innovative Japanese school, which opened in 2019

Project Context


Japanese youth migrate from rural communities to larger cities for better education and jobs.

Consequently, the predominate elderly population who stay behind on the smaller islands experience economic hardship, such as on the Ōsakikamijima island, where 70% of the island residents are over 65.


Our team proposed creating a higher education campus outside of the city on a rural island, with a learning environment that encourages students and educators to ask questions and explore nontraditional ideas, such as green technology.

They incorporated our findings and opened the Hiroshima Global Academy in 2019.


Assistant to the Japanese Minister of Education
Mayor of Hiroshima
Mayor of Ōsakikamijima
Ōsakikamijima locals

Project Type

Undergraduate Research


Language Barrier
Undefined Problem

Time Frame

21 days

My Role

Human-Centered Designer


24 Multidisciplinary Students
Ashoka & Ashoka Japan
College of the Atlantic

Project Breakdown


Problem Context

Across Japan, youth migrate to larger cities for better education and jobs, creating a widespread problem. Consequently, they generate economic hardship for the predominantly elderly population who stay behind on the smaller islands, such as the island Ōsakikamijima where 70% of the islanders are over 65.

Our international student team was invited to the island to research and propose a local social innovation. Media coverage from the local tv station and newspaper articles helped raise awareness about our research project for the locals, who warmly welcomed us.

Figure 1: The student team interviewed teens, young adults, community leaders, town elders, and business owners about the economic needs of their community.


Research Process

While aware of the role that Japanese history, tradition, and language play in the context of intercultural communication, our team interviewed community leaders, teens, elders, and business owners to research the problems facing the islander’s in the Seto Inland Sea to understand what their personal needs are within their community.

We conducted ethnographic research, which included observing and interviewing rural Japanese islanders, to understand the impact of 21st-century Japanese culture on their island community.


We used the research analysis method, affinity mapping, to synthesize findings from our team’s various interviews.
Many of the interview takeaways indicated cultural pressures creating limits on the youth population. For example, students are heavily pressured to migrate inland to higher-quality schools, which stokes the traditional “fear of failure.” This traditional fear hinders Japan’s school system’s learning environment since teachers shame students for asking them questions. Additionally, local business owners identified that this “fear of failure” slows down innovation in Japanese communities and businesses.

My Role

Specifically, I interviewed local permaculture farmers and environmental remediators on the island of Teshima to understand how a school on the island of Ōsakikamijima could help resolve both island’s economic conflicts. We used this information to craft the idea of a field study site on Teshima for the Ōsakikamijima campus so that students could learn about environmental remediation and permaculture techniques.

Figure 2: Student teams engaged with local business owners to understand how the context of the island has changed over time while peers translated and interpreted interviews.



We used our synthesized findings to design various solutions that addressed tensions discovered during the research process. As a result, our team proposed creating a rural higher education campus with a learning environment that encourages students and educators to ask questions and explore nontraditional ideas, such as green technology.

One of our education proposal ideas included attracting students to the rural island campus by creating a hybrid higher education and industry experience that pairs local island businesses with student teams to help stimulate the local economy while simultaneously providing an environment to overcome the “fear of failure.”

Figure 3: One of the ideas we proposed involved the creation of a community innovation center in which students would have the opportunity to collaborate with local business owners to learn about real-world industry problems while helping to create innovative solutions.



Our presentation depicted our research story and experiences interviewing the Ōsakikamijima Japanese islanders to help the Japanese government officials better understand the rural islanders’ needs. Our team presented our findings to Japanese government officials, such as the assistant to the Japanese Minister of Education, the Mayor of Hiroshima, and the Mayor of Ōsakikamijima.

We encouraged Hiroshima prefecture government officials to revitalize the local Ōsakikamijima economy by developing a school that attracts young minds by using 21st-century education best practices and teaching methods, drastically shifting away from the country’s conventional educational style.


Our research project contributed to the body of evidence used by the Hiroshima Prefecture to open the “Hiroshima Global Academy” in April 2019.
Our research findings reinforced support for a separate research team’s economic redevelopment proposal that suggested creating a nontraditional international higher education campus.

In Retrospect...

In retrospect, the student researchers’ team was the proof of concept for the school’s administration to show that it is feasible to have international students study in Ōsakikamijima Japan.  Additionally, this project supports the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal #4, “Quality Education.”

Figure 4: In 2016, we encouraged government officials to create a school on the rural island to revitalize the local community and economy. The Hiroshima Global Academy opened in 2019.