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With hot springs and yoga, Matsue creates a teleworkers' paradise

Three-day trials to give big-city dwellers a taste of less stressful life

A traditional inn at Matsue's Tamatsukuri hot springs: The city hopes its charms will convince more people to settle here. (Photo from Matsue Travel Association's Facebook page)

MATSUE, Japan -- Blessed with hot springs and beautiful scenery, the bucolic city of Matsue wants to provide a retreat for stressed-out telecommuters from the big city -- with the hope of convincing them to permanently settle and work here.

Nestled in Shimane Prefecture in western Japan, Matsue plans to launch a three-night program in September for residents of major metropolitan areas like Tokyo, allowing them to work remotely during the day and enjoy Matsue's food scene and other offerings when they are off the clock.

Participants will stay at hotels near the Tamatsukuri hot springs or on Daikon Island, which is known for its peony fields. Yoga and breathing classes will be offered throughout the day, according to local consultancy Work@, which is planning the itinerary. Workers will be able to sightsee freely on the last day.

The program is a joint effort with the city of Matsue, as well as a local unit of mobile carrier NTT Docomo, Shimane University, and other partners.

What sets this program apart is that participants will have their stress levels measured before, during and after their stay. Heart rate, sleep quality and amylase activity in saliva -- higher concentrations of the enzyme point to stress -- will be gauged with a smartwatch-style device.

Each time stress levels are measured, participants will fill out questionnaires regarding mood and productivity, among other factors. This information will be analyzed with help from Shimane University and quantified to show how stress levels have changed.

Last year, 40 people who work in Tokyo and Nagoya were invited to guesthouses on Daikon Island as part of a pilot project. The group reportedly experienced lower stress levels as shown in part by saliva amylase levels.

Yoga and breathing techniques will be included in the full version of the program. If participants "continue with [the exercises] after returning to the city, the relaxation effects should last," a Work@ representative said.

The organizers will arrange networking events with representatives from Matsue-area businesses and tourism industry players at the request of participating companies, providing opportunities for business matchmaking.

The program also allows for events with local university students to let companies drum up interest among potential future employees. Participation fees will be worked out going forward.

Shimane, Japan's second-least-populous prefecture, has been hit hard by the country's aging trend. Matsue's population has fallen from about 210,000 in 2005 to 201,000 this past May. But with remote work gaining momentum amid the coronavirus pandemic, areas out in the countryside have attracted interest as telecommuting bases.

"We hope that having people come to Matsue for telework will lead to companies establishing satellite offices" and spur both urbanites and workers with rural roots to move in permanently, said a representative from a city office who works to encourage businesses to relocate here.

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