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Empty golf links highlight charm and despair of remote rural Japan

Missing putts, missing people and splendid scenery are par for the course

The final hole on Ojikajima Island's rare, five-hole course (Photo by Andrew Thomson)

Playing golf in Japan is expensive unless you venture to the farthest reaches of the country. It is here you will find a few extraordinary golf courses that are very cheap to play and barely known, even to the Japanese. You will also see at first hand the acute problems plaguing Japan these days -- a rapidly aging population and the consequent shortage of labor that makes it difficult to support existing industries and nearly impossible to create new businesses.

For adventurous golfers with an appetite for fresh fish and wagyu beef, start in the far southwest, with a visit to the upper Goto Islands. These remote and underdeveloped islands, off the coast of Nagasaki city in Kyushu, are known historically for their population of "hidden Christians," the subject of Shusaku Endo's novel "Silence," on which director Martin Scorcese based his recent movie of the same name.

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