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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
Rural Japan Revisited: Autonomy and Heteronomy in the Peripheries



October 31, 2017
Austrian Federal Economic Chamber
Wiedner Hauptstr. 63
1040 Wien

November 1 & November 2, 2017
University Campus Court 2
Lecture Hall C1
Spitalgasse 2
1090 Vienna


Registration Info

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VSJF Annual Conference 2017

Rural Japan Revisited: Autonomy and Heteronomy in the Peripheries

Rural Japan Revisited: Autonomy and Heteronomy in the Peripheries

October 31 - November 2, 2017

The annual conference 2017 of the VSJF (German Association for Social Science Research on Japan) will be held from 31 October – 2 November, 2017 in Vienna. It is hosted by the University of Vienna and the Austrian Economic Chambers. Prof. Dr. Wolfram Manzenreiter and Dr. Ralph Lützeler from the Department of East Asian Studies – Japanese Studies at Vienna University will organize this conference in cooperation with the DIJ Tokyo (German Institute for Japanese Studies).

This conference will focus on the challenges Japanese peripheries and their communities are facing under the threats of depopulation, political power concentration and economic globalization. The three day program will start with two panels on economic strategies of revitalisation and sustainability to stimulate a dialogue exchange between scholars from Japan or Japanese Studies and business representatives that are providing services and goods for regional economies in Austria and internationally. On the second and third day, the topic will be addressed from a more academic perspective. We have planned panels on regional politics, rural community change, rural in-migration, alternative forms of agriculture, and rural well-being.

By putting Japan’s experience with rural development onto the agenda of social analysis, we intend to initiate a significant perspective shift within social scientific research on Japan in general and within the debate on regional Japan in particular. We call upon “revisiting rural Japan” now for two major reasons: First, rural Japan, which has been the main object of empirical research on Japanese society during the formation period of modern Japanese studies, has come to be rather neglected by social scientists since the 1980s. Second, contemporary debates on the conditions of rural Japan are usually prioritizing an urban reading of the countryside and ignoring local interpretations of problems, needs, interests and resources.

Specifically, the conference is devoted to highlight the tensions between autonomy and heteronomy in rural areas. Japan’s regions are dependent on central fiscal spending to a degree that the scope of decision-making at the local level has been rendered as “30 percent political autonomy”. In addition, many salient problems in the peripheries have been caused by decisions and processes initiated at national and global centers, such as the liberalization of trade in agrarian goods or pollution of soil and irrigation by industrial pollution from neighboring areas or even abroad. While heteronomy characterizes regional politics to a large degree, there is ample evidence to argue that autonomy is an important prerequisite for rural areas to realize their full potentials and to live up to the increasing amount of expectations they are confronted with, including the preservation of landscapes, cultural traditions, environmental protection and contributions to improving Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate.


Day 1

12:30 P.M.

13:30 P.M.
Welcome Adresses

13:45 P.M.
Introduction into the Conference Topic

Ralph Lützeler
University of Vienna

Wolfram Manzenreiter
University of Vienna

2:00 P.M. - 3:00 P.M.
The Power of Regions: Strategies of Revitalisation and Sustainability, Part 1 (Expert Panel 1-1)

Daniel Kremers
German Institute of Japanese Studies

Susanne Brucksch
German Institute of Japanese Studies

Community Power for Energy Sector Transformations in Japan: Innovation Shaped by Institutional Constraints

Thomas Feldhoff
Ruhr University, Bochum

Japan is facing the endeavour to shape a new energy policy path. Top-down central state policies for low-carbon communities of the “nuclear age” are challenged by bottom-up local community and citizen initiatives looking for a non-nuclear future, new governance arrangements and a recalibration of traditional state-society-relations. Community ownership of renewable energy projects is discussed as an example of asset-based community development in Japan to also encourage new avenues for rejuvenation in shrinking regions by linking community resilience to improvements in self-reliance and local decision-making. While the credibility and legitimacy of institutional standard practices to cope with the energy transition challenge is rapidly eroding, however, the resistance of vested interests in Japan’s political economy still is a barrier to substantial policy change. A national mechanism for coordination and conflict management that brings together top-down and bottom-up approaches, based on a consistent long-term energy policy framework and support for community power initiatives, is a key desideratum. Moreover, a fundamental reform of central-local government relationships in the fiscal and financial policy fields would be a prerequisite to successfully strengthening local autonomy.

Strategies of Revitalisation: Regional Matching-Hubs for Manufacturing, Medical Device Companies and Hospitals for Enhancing Future Industries

Susanne Brucksch
German Institute of Japanese Studies

Despite the demographic shift and being one of the largest markets for medical devices, there has been a drop in innovation activities over the past two decades and, nowadays, most appliances are imported to Japan. A substantial shift has taken place rather recently under the distinctive leadership of Prime Minister Abe by integrating biomedical engineering into the scheme of the Japan Revitalisation Strategy (Abenomics) to reinforce “industrial competitiveness in the areas of pharmaceuticals and medical devices” (METI 2016). Among others, the strategy aims at “renkei” ni yoru “jitsuyōka” (market cultivation through partnerships) between medical centers, academia and manufacturing companies. Particularly, regional authorities and municipalities promote R&D activities by offering subsidies to small and medium-size enterprises (SME) and organizing matching-hubs for ikō renkei (med-tech partnership) activities such as in Tōkyō, Yokohama, Kōbe, Fukushima and many other prefectures. Their defined goal hereby is to contribute to the revitalization of their very region with varying degrees of success.

Technology in Mountain Farming: Utilising Drones to Strengthening Local Agricultural Business

Furutani Tomoyuki
Keiō University

Precision agriculture by using robotics, AI, drones and big data is one of the crucial topics in Japan. As the number of farmers will further decrease in the next several decades, it becomes more important to increase productivity in agriculture. In this study, I will introduce examples of precision agriculture: Drones with multi-spectrum sensors and near-infrared camera are employed for monitoring crops, sake rice and beer hops.

3:00 P.M. - 3:45 P.M.
Networking and Coffee Break

3:45 P.M. - 4:30 P.M.
The Power of Regions: Strategies of Revitalisation and Sustainability, Part 2 (Expert Panel 1-2)

Franz Waldenberger
German Institute of Japanese Studies

Imagining the Future of Rural Areas: Revitalization Strategies between Conservativism and Pluralism

Cornelia Reiher
Free University, Berlin

Rural areas in Japan have faced outmigration, deindustrialization and obsolescence for decades. Accordingly, a wide variety of stakeholders have initiated programs to develop or to revitalize local economies and agriculture. However, many local initiatives were eventually adopted by the central government and transformed into top-down support schemes lacking initial political agendas and narrowing down their scope. I argue that these national programs constrain local actors’ imagination of possible alternative futures because of the funding schemes they promise and that they dismiss alternative concepts that strive for more plurality and local autonomy. Drawing on local initiatives by entrepreneurs, civil society organizations, individuals, and local governments to attract young urbanites to visit and move to rural areas in Kyūshū (Fukuoka and Ōita prefectures), I analyze the interlinkages between different actors and the central government and their often conflicting imaginations of the future of rural areas, agriculture, and revitalization strategies.

Has the Island Lure Reached Japan? Remote Islands between Tourism Boom, New Residents and Fatal Depopulation

Carolin Funck
Hiroshima University

Most of Japan’s smaller islands face severe problems of depopulation and aging. However, in recent years some of them have managed to turn the tide and attract not only tourists but also new residents. A range of factors has created this new current, among them “new” forms of tourism like ecotourism and art tourism, active promotion by municipalities, a change in the conception of rural life, and the new media that allow even residents of remote islands to connect and sell their products and services around Japan. Municipal merger has played an important role, because islands that kept their administrative autonomy have a better chance to develop unique policies. On the other hand, SNS and new media have given tourists and residents a new kind of very heterogenic power. This paper will analyze how islands try to ride the new vogue while at the same time create distinct images and policies to become “the” chosen island by tourists and potential migrants.

4:30 P.M. - 4:45 P.M.
Input Statement: Internet of Trees

Ingomar Lochschmidt
Austrian Embassy / AußenwirtschaftsCenter Tokyo

4:45 P.M. - 5:30 P.M.
Panel Discussion: Innovation for Japanese Agriculture and Forestry – Opportunities and Potentials

7:00 P.M. - 9:00 P.M.
Reception by the Japanese Ambassador in Austria

Residence of the Japanese Ambassador, 1190 Vienna

Day 2

8:30 A.M. - 9:30 A.M.
Regional Policy Approaches (Re)considered (Panel 2)

Wolfram Manzenreiter
University of Vienna

Rural Shrinking in Japan and Germany: Similarities, Dissimilarities and Lessons to Learn

Volker Elis
University of Cologne

Internationally comparative research on rural shrinking is still in its infancy, which is a surprising fact, as demographic and economic decline is beginning to affect the non-urban regions of an ever increasing number of developed states. This paper starts with the findings of the first comprehensive treatise comparing the current situation in shrinking municipalities in two different countries (WIRTH et al. 2006) to suggest what decision-makers and actors in Germany and Japan can learn from each other with regard to policies and coping strategies tackling the effect of an aging and decreasing population and economic structural change. The paper argues that the phenomenon of rural shrinking is comparable between countries on an international scale regardless of cultural differences and differences in the spatial and administrative structure.

The first part of this paper consists of an introduction into the principal regional policy approaches on the national level to cope with the effects of demographic change including neoliberal austerity policy, the demand-orientated Keynesian approach, endogenous development measures, and alternative concepts focusing on deceleration and well-being beyond the dominant growth paradigm. In the second part the question is discussed why some strategies are successfully applied on the regional and local level in one country while they failed or were not even considered in the other. The presentation ends with some thoughts on how the prevalent discourses have an impact on the choice of regional development tools in the two countries.

System Dynamics Analysis on Rural Areas Policy

Ueno Shinya
Kumamoto University

The purpose of this study is to clarify the structural mechanism of complex problems of rural areas by system dynamics analysis. Many kinds of measures have been implemented as policies, such as depopulation policy, job opportunity creation, maintaining of medical and welfare services, and keeping community function by community building activities. Simultaneously, the phenomenon of under-population in rural areas has been promoted by supporting excess concentration of population and industrial activities in metropolitan areas. Problems of mountainous areas are ill-structured; generally policies to counteract a problem may cause another type of problem. In this analysis the complex structure of problems is represented as a causal loop diagram. It shows a system with all its constituent components and their interactions with stocks, flows, feedback loops and time delays. It becomes possible to ascertain a system’s behavior over a certain time period with this simulation. The result indicates the effectiveness of policies for prevention purposes and countermeasure policies separately.

9:30 A.M. - 10:00 A.M.
Coffee Break

10:00 A.M. - 11:30 A.M.
Rural Communities Readjusting (Panel 3)

Ingrid Getreuer-Kargl
University of Vienna

Shrinking Communities and the Question of the Commons

Johannes Harumi Wilhelm
Keiō University, Tokyo

The commons, a term derived from the English legal term for common land, denote shared resources held in common by members of a given group or, simply, stakeholders. The term became popular since Garret Hardin‘s influential paper on The Tragedy of the Commons (1968) that triggered a long and productive discourse on human ecology and governance issues. In the case of common use-rights – such as coastal fisheries resources and grassland pastures – the stakeholders share a set of rights and responsibilities under a specific regime. The presentation focuses on communities in which the regimes governing the commons experienced change due to gradual socioeconomic reasons or sudden external triggers such as natural disasters. It is argued that a decreased number of stakeholders may, on one hand, improve the situation of common use-rights systems concerning resource pressure, yet, on the other hand, may also lead to the breakdown of the commons depending on external factors affecting the setting and framework of the system or an accelerated level of depopulation causing the breakdown of a community itself. Therefore, the commons can also be seen as an indicator for a ‚community’s state of health‘ meaning a proper set of rules, rights, and responsibilities maintained by the community members.

Rural Social Capital Research Studies on Land Improvement Projects

Ōsuga Toshiki
Japanese Institute of Irrigation and Drainage, Tokyo

In Japan, land improvement projects are conducted to develop the farmland and irrigation facilities to enhance the agricultural productivity with the agreement of rural communities. In this paper, I quantitatively evaluated the influence of land improvement projects upon rural SC (social capital) by principal components analysis based on a questionaries’ survey taken in 2006 and 2016. As the rural SC is known to be consisting of two types, collaboration type and mutual aid type (Tanoi 2007), a comparative analysis of the two SC types is conducted focusing o n the types of land improvement projects (i.e. irrigation, land consolidation, etc.) and whether land improvement projects are conducted or not.

Akiya in Regional Japan: The Complex Social Relations of Empty Houses

William W. Kelly
Yale University, New Haven

One of the collateral problems of Japan’s demographic decline and economic stasis is that of akiya 空家, “empty houses” that have been abandoned, often following an elder’s death with inheritors who have moved away. There are official estimates of more than 8 million at present (about 1 in 8 houses), estimated to reach 1 in 3 houses by 2033. They pose a fire danger and attract pests in a nucleated rural settlement and can collapse onto the closely-adjacent houses. People generally take the term at face value – an empty and abandoned house, but in fact property laws, zoning practices, and inheritance laws in Japan render akiya quite socially alive as well as physically present in rural Japan. At least that is the anthropological perspective I pursue in this paper. Akiya are material sites of highly contested, intertwined social relations among families, neighbors, and local authorities. Using fieldwork evidence from Yamagata Prefecture, I want to show the ways that akiya reconfigure complex settlement relations and discomfort municipal policies and politics.

11:30 A.M. - 1:00 P.M.
Lunch Break

1:00 P.M. - 2:30 P.M.
Against the Current: Migration to Rural Areas (Panel 4)

Ralph Lützeler
University of Vienna

Peripheral Areas in Contemporary Japan and Migration to Them

Ishikawa Yoshitaka
Kyōto University

In relation to the beginning of Japan’s total population decline, the problem of regional disparity has been attracting a great deal of attention in the country. Net in-migration to the Tōkyō Metropolitan Area is still continuing. Meanwhile, many peripheral prefectures have been suffering serious problems related to depopulation, largely due to an aging population and net out-migration of young adults over the course of many years. The population projection of the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research forecasts an ever-deteriorating situation in peripheral Japan. Within this context, we need to examine the possible contribution of retirement or welfare migration of persons in their late 50s and older to peripheral areas. This is because persons of these age groups have actually left the major metropolitan areas for peripheral areas. Recent policies of the national or local governments developed to handle such migration are also discussed.

I-Turn Migration as a Means to Rural Revitalization? The Case of Ama

Ludgera Lewerich
Heinrich-Heine-University, Düsseldorf

Over the decades many attempts have been made to revitalize Japan’s aging and shrinking rural regions. In recent years, urban-to-rural migration, coined I-turn (for people newly moving to the countryside) and U-turn (for people returning to their birthplace), has been portrayed by media and government as a possible solution to boost rural economy and demography. Ama, a small town on a remote island in Shimane Prefecture, has gained much attention as an apparently successful example of rural revitalization through I-turn migration. In my paper I will outline Ama’s revitalization project and, drawing on empirical data gathered there in 2016, examine the I-turners’ point of view on urban-to-rural migration. I will elaborate on what draws young people to a remote island and discuss whether revitalization through I-turn might be possible and sustainable. Thus, I will shed light both on the current state of rural revitalization and current lifestyle patterns of young people in Japan.

Entrepreneurs and the Pursuit of Existential Meaning in Rural Japan

John W. Traphagan
University of Texas in Austin

This paper explores the emergence of a fairly recent phenomenon in northern rural Japan – the return migration of residents for the purpose of starting small businesses. I discuss the cases of individuals who, after spending several years working in corporate Japan and living in a major city, decided to leave their employment to start businesses in a small town in Tōhoku. My findings suggest that a key motivating factor in starting these businesses is not a desire to gain wealth. Instead, it is to find fulfillment and existential meaning in life. In this sense, the risk associated with entrepreneurial activity among my informants centers not on financial risk, but on personal risk associated with taking chances with one’s future and social relationships in order to move and start a business, particularly in an area that is rapidly depopulating.

2:30 P.M. - 3:30 P.M.
Coffee Break & Poster Presentation

3:30 P.M. - 6:00 P.M.
Section Meetings

University Campus, Court 2

7:00 P.M. - 9:00 P.M.
Reception by the Mayor of the City of Vienna

City Hall, 1010 Vienna

including Presentation of the VSJF-Award 2017

Day 3

8:30 A.M. - 9:45 A.M.
Early Morning Screening: 65+ Being Old in Rural Japan

Documentary, A 2014, 35 min., jp. with English subtitles

Discussion with Producers:
Isabelle Prochaska
University of Vienna

Pia Kieninger
University of Life Sciences, Vienna

Japan has the highest proportion of elderly worldwide – every fourth person is aged 65+. Based on an ethnographic study on „Active Aging in depopulated communities“ conducted by researchers from the University of Vienna, this reportage focuses on the daily life and challenges in three aged villages in the Japanese Alps. The story centers on two single-living seniors: There is 84-year-old Shimako with her husky voice, who grows vegetables and whose passion is gateball. She meets her neighbors for tea chats and joins the village choir and gymnastics course. And there is 93-year-old Gen’ichi, the oldest villager with a driving license, who composes short poems on daily events. He appreciates being free in old age, deciding for himself when to get up and when to work. In between the portraits, the narrator gives general information about life in rural villages, local supply, mobility, welfare, and communal activities.

8:30 A.M. - 9:45 A.M. Parallel event
VSJF General Meeting (Mitgliederversammlung)

9:45 A.M. - 10:00 A.M.
Coffee Break

10:00 A.M. - 11:30 A.M.
Institutional Change in Japan’s Peripheries: Rural Areas between Decentralization, Deregulation, and Dependency (Panel 5)

Sonja Ganseforth
German Institute of Japanese Studies

Process or Perish? Family Farms, Agricultural Cooperatives, and the “6th Industry”

Hanno Jentzsch
German Institute of Japanese Studies

This paper analyzes the “6th industry” – i.e. business models that link agricultural production with processing and/or marketing and tourism – as a focal point of gradual institutional change in the country’s agricultural support and protection regime. The Abe administration heavily promotes the so-called “6th industry” as a means to revive Japan’s struggling rural peripheries. Already long before this policy trend gained momentum, the cooperative organization JA – a key player in Japan’s postwar agricultural sector – has been involved in linking production, processing and marketing of agricultural products. However, the current promotion of the 6th industry stands in the context of a gradual deregulation and corporatization of the agricultural sector. It entails contract farming between family farms and retail, the incorporation of family farms, and the direct access of general corporations to farmland – all of which challenges the position of the cooperatives. JA is thus struggling to enforce “cooperative” interpretations of the “6th industry” in order to retain its stake in the changing farm sector.

Who Governs Community Farming for Agricultural Efficiency and Residential Welfare? A Critical Application of Governance Theory

Iba Haruhiko
Kyōto University

Sakamoto Kiyohiko
Kyōto University

As functions of self-governance bodies in organizing local faming have waned, community actions to sustain regional agriculture, such as maintenance of irrigation facilities, have become desperately challenging in rural Japan. This is especially the case in areas where land consolidation into large-scale leading farm entities has advanced, since many small-scale landholders lease out lands and are detached from farming per se. The question revolving around how to re-build community governance for farming (CGF) has become vitally important. By critically employing insights from corporate governance theory and community governance theory, we conceptualize CGF both as concerning economic efficiency and as pertaining to trust and ethics in relationships between leading farming entities and other community members, including farm households who lease out lands. Following case studies based on the CGF concept, our paper concludes with remaining challenges in CGF and relevance of broader politico-economic changes surrounding rural areas.

Picking Persimmons before the Monkey Does: Volunteer Tourism and Crop Protection in Rural Japan

John Knight
Queen’s University, Belfast

This paper describes the phenomenon of persimmon-picking by tourists in rural Japan. In a period of widespread monkey crop-raiding, some Japanese villages attempt to tackle the problem by appealing to urbanites to come and help harvest persimmon fruit from village trees, with the promise that they can keep part of what they harvest and have a holiday in the countryside in what amounts to a form of volunteer tourism. Bright orange persimmons are highly appealing to monkeys in late autumn, and in recent decades have become available in large quantities as villages depopulate and fewer people are around to harvest the fruit. This is the background to outreach schemes in which city families come to the village to assist in bringing the fruit crop in. This paper describes these persimmon-picking initiatives, examines their impact on the crop-raiding problem, evaluates their prospects for boosting tourism, and compares them with other initiatives in Japan that connect tourism with the wildlife problem.

11:30 A.M. - 12:00 P.M.
Coffee Break

12:00 P.M. - 1:30 P.M.
Social Relations and Well-being in Rural Japan (Panel 6)

Barbara Holthus
University of Vienna

The Family, New Actors, and Social Relations in Contemporary Rural Japan

Tolga Öszen
Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Turkey

In recent years, the contributions of regional actors such as older people and rural women in rural communities have been discussed. Most of those discussions focus on geographical borders while discussing the community’s present and future. Based on this understanding, whether someone is a member of the village is another evaluation point for community issues. Besides, most discussions regarding the sustainability of rural communities focus on agricultural production, which is conducted by local residents. However, because the present-day Japanese rural community is a mobilized society, the above-mentioned essential points mentioned before no longer completely reflect an actors’ social relations and contributions. Moreover, the current framework does not cover all actors who may tangibly and effectively contribute to the rural community, such as second and third generation kin living in urban areas (tashutsushi) or newcomers to the community. Therefore, we first focus on reconsidering terms such as family, social relations, and kinship by changing the current framework from an understanding based on “physical border” to a relation-based mobilized family / community understanding. Second, after reorganizing the framework, we introduce actors such as tashutsushi, newcomers from urban areas (termed the “I-turn” population), foreign population such as spouses, and agricultural trainees, who have not been considered previously as actors in the community’s future from the viewpoint of social relations and production capability.

The Precarious Balance between Old Residents and New Settlers in Japan’s Rural Community: Inclusion or Novel Development?

Akitsu Motoki
Kyōto University

Otsuki Kei
Kyōto University

One of the most crucial challenges facing Japan’s rural areas is depopulation and aging. Central and local government policies have struggled to attract to depopulated rural areas not only new settlers with an urban origin, but also U-turners who out-migrated in their youth. While the narrative of urban-to-rural migration has a long history in the modernization era in Japan, the current trend in which settlers pursue new lifestyles based on environmental consciousness and healthy living only started in the middle of the 1980s. The image of rural livelihoods held by many rural in-migrants, which is influenced by various idyllic media representations, is substantially different from that of older residents. This divergence in perception can manifest in some cases into open conflict, or can simmer for a long time under a superficial veneer of mutual understanding. In this paper, we introduce and analyze how this precarious balance is achieved with reference to a case study in Ayabe City, Kyōto Prefecture. The conclusions we present are important for predicting whether new settlers can readily be integrated into the existing rural context or produce novel and separate forms of social development.

Kyoko’s Assemblage: Escaping ‘futsū no nihonjin’ in Hokkaidō

Paul Hansen
Hokkaidō University, Sapporo

Drawing on the history and ethnographic present of the Tokachi region of Hokkaidō and its combination of wild and domestic space, this presentation addresses the history of Hokkaidō as a ‘frontier’. It argues that rural Tokachi is a space wherein exile and escape have long been prominent themes, and further, that such marginalized rural spaces continue to attract individualistic individuals seeking a way out of Japanese social expectations but not necessarily a departure from their Japanese identity. The area is historically a place of self-making for Japanese subjects and this paper details an “assemblage“ of individual / individuated relations contingent and ever-circulating amongst newcomers to a small town in northern Tokachi. To understand their escape from Honshū, it suggests that typical social construction indices (gender, age, class and so on) are often of less use in understanding relations and motivations than harder to place and trace conditions such as charisma, luck or affect.

1:30 P.M. - 2:00 P.M.
Concluding Remarks