High school vocational students across Japan have been starting up projects in collaboration with local governments and businesses, getting involved in initiatives that bring value and give back to their communities.
Students have been involved in a range of ventures, such as devising a business model using deer and other wild game meat to make high-quality consumables, proposing local development plans to industry specialists, and assisting their communities through educating youngsters about online harm as "cybersecurity volunteers."
In 2018, students at Kochi Shogyo High School, a public school run by the municipal government, began designing bespoke food products and manufacturing them in cooperation with restaurants and other businesses in Kochi Prefecture.
Some 20 consumable varieties, including sausages and jerky made from boar and deer meat, have been developed so far. Last summer, some of them were added to the Tokyo Dome VIP suite menu.
All of the proceeds are given to a forest preservation organization, with donations totaling 1 million yen ($7,500) over the past five years.
Roughly 1.68 million yen in sales are expected in fiscal 2022 through March 31.
The Kochi prefectural government is stepping up wild bird and animal hunting to prevent overpopulation and crop damage. Working alongside local business and government, the students have turned a community problem into a profit-making enterprise.
In fiscal 2023, the school will supply products to a restaurant chain in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan, and develop products in collaboration with the Kitami city government in Hokkaido, the country's northernmost prefecture.
The students are also responsible for determining production costs to improve the business.
"The social contribution element of the activity appeals to me," said Yuki Kuge, 16, a first-year student at Kochi Shogyo High School. "My hope is that people will start to know more about game meat."
Tsubasa Sasaki, a teacher at the school who owns a hunting license, is hopeful the students' activities will help to resolve the issue of wild animals destroying crops in rural areas of the country.
Elsewhere, students in a social infrastructure engineering course at Iida OIDE Osahime High School, a public technical school in Iida, Nagano Prefecture, have been working with a local construction industry association and the surveying sector to build a promenade along the banks of the Matsukawa River, which runs through the community.
Once a bleak riverside landscape, it has been regenerated into a pedestrian walking area.
A project to make riverside improvements was started by the prefectural government in 2017, putting the students' ideas into action. Work commenced on the promenade the following year, with the help of local construction companies.
The students took charge of the promenade's aesthetic design, drawing up ideas for its construction, including suggesting the use of polka dots and other unique characteristics. They also took part in the brick laying process.
"I feel encouraged, because local people say hello to us while walking on the pathway we helped to build. I am more interested in the construction industry than I ever was before," said Misato Sakurai, an 18-year-old senior student. She plans to join the construction industry after graduation.
At Kyoto Subaru High School run by the prefectural government, some students in the information technology science course have been certified as cybersecurity volunteers by the prefectural police due to their IT skills.
Their responsibilities involve visiting local elementary schools to teach kids through role-play and quizzes how to use social media safely and responsibly.
The activity is popular with elementary school pupils, as they like to listen to the young instructors, who are closer to them in age, while it also helps the certified students "feel like they are needed by society," said Mieko Aoyama, a teacher at the school.
Regional contribution initiatives by vocational high schools, including those in fisheries and agriculture, are beginning to trend across the country.
Realizing their actions are positively contributing to society, the projects help students feel more motivated in their studies, while adults assisting them have been further encouraged that they will grow into people who will continue to support their local communities.
High school students can "naturally" improve their abilities if they recognize the joy of applying them in society, Taro Urasaki, a professor at Taisho University said, based on his familiarity with high school involvement in regional projects.
"Schools should nurture students' curiosity and encourage their social participation," he added.