By Anthony Faiola, Washington Post Foreign Service, March 3, 2005; Page A01
NISHIKI, Japan -- When Kami Hinokinai Junior High opened half a century ago in this picturesque northern village, Fukuyo Suzuki, then a young mother, remembers joining other parents on a warm May afternoon to plant pink azaleas in the schoolyard.
The azaleas are still here, though bare in the winter snow and, like the new occupants of the school, more fragile than they once were. In a nation grappling with a record low birthrate and the world's longest average lifespan, Suzuki, 77, is spending the daytime hours of her twilight years back in the halls of her son's old school.
The junior high, which ceased operation six years ago because of a shortage of children, now houses a community center for the elderly. Suzuki comes to pass her time sipping green tea and weaving straw baskets with other aging villagers.
"I never imagined this school would close and that I would be back here myself," said Suzuki, a farmer's widow who lives with her 52-year-old son. Like one out of four men in Nishiki, her son remains single and childless. "Now, I hear our elementary school is going to close, too," she said. "It's so sad for us. Children are vanishing from our lives."-----------------------------