As Japan’s low birthrate and resistance to immigration have contributed to a steady decline in the population, rural areas have experienced the most drastic shrinkages. With fewer customers, local businesses and services have shut down, forcing residents who remain to go farther for a pint of milk.
An exodus of working-age people from rural areas like Shimane, which has the second lowest population of Japan’s 47 prefectures, has left few people to drive buses, taxis or delivery trucks that could support residents who have given up their cars.
In Kawamoto, a town of 3,333 people, of whom 45 percent are older than 65 (and nine are over 100), there are only three taxis and the buses run just once every two hours. Many residents “feel like they have to be independent and protect their own lifestyles,” said the mayor, Minoru Miyake.
Noboru Moriwaki, 90, said he had no imminent plans to give up driving.
He and his wife, Yukiko, 86, live up a curvy hill on the outskirts of Kawamoto. A few times a week, Mr. Moriwaki, a retired school principal with a corona of wispy white hair and a forehead festooned with liver spots, drives his 2002 stick-shift Toyota Corolla to the grocery store, bank or library. Once a month, he takes Mrs. Moriwaki to the hospital.
“If you can’t drive,” said Mr. Moriwaki, “you can’t get on with your life.” A history buff and avid gardener, Mr. Moriwaki said the cognitive tests that accompany driver’s license renewal were “easy.”