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Japan's 'rocket island' grapples with demographic change

'Graying' Tanegashima is a microcosm of the national economy

An old woman walks by a mosaic rocket at an elementary school with only 16 students in Tanegashima.  (Kyodo)   © Kyodo

NISHINOOMOTE, Tanegashima, Japan -- When a Mos Burger hamburger store opened in this port city in April, it ended a 20-year period in which there was no fast-food outlet on the island of 28,000 residents and marked a potential new beginning for its troubled economy.

Tanegashima is not just any subtropical island with pristine sandy beaches. About the size of Guam and located some 1,000 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, it is at the cutting edge of space technology -- home to Japan's main rocket launch pad, the Tanegashima Space Center. The island also has a proud history: It was the first in Japan to accept Westerners, in the 16th century, when it acquired gun technology and introduced it to the rest of the country.

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