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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Dionyssios Askitis

Japanese Studies, Psychology
(PhD Students, May 6, 2019 - September 30, 2019)

Shrinking Communities – Capitals of Happiness?
Social Ties and Well-being in Declining Japanese Communities in View of the Moderating Force of Personality

According to objective data, rural communities in Japan are faced with accelerating structural and demographic decline in recent decades. While there is mixed evidence regarding the level of happiness of rural residents over those living in urban areas, the structural deficits don’t necessarily translate into low subjective well-being in rural communities, as evidenced in the small-town of Aso, Kumamoto.

Meanwhile, the major effects of social resources on well-being as well as their predominance in these types of communities has been repeatedly demonstrated. However, few studies have attempted to directly link findings on these two associations and investigate the role of social resources in the apparent persistence of rural happiness. Happiness research has long relied in part on epidemiological studies without differentiation of small-scale environments, vague rural-urban typologies and universal happiness concepts with little regard for regional and inter-individual variations in the conception, perception and measurement of happiness. One particular factor that has been largely overlooked in social science research is personality, specifically the factor extraversion which regulates much of social behavior and has been shown to predict well-being by itself and by interacting with other predictors.

The aim of this study is therefore to investigate the association between social ties and well-being in rural Japan and how this relationship manifests itself when considering interindividual differences such as the personality trait extraversion. It is hypothesized that social resources have a larger effect on happiness in areas with rural small-town characteristics as compared to rather peripheral or urban regions and that they more than compensate for structural disadvantages in those areas. Furthermore, it is expected that the personality factor extraversion will moderate this effect by regulating the need for and well-being drawn from social interaction with the community.

As the study area of the greater interdisciplinary Aso 2.0 project on regional well-being at the university of Vienna, the small-town of Aso in Kumamoto prefecture with its average rural Japanese economic and demographic structure serves as a case example of all the Japanese communities that experience similar challenges associated with their marginal status. By including instruments sensitive to inter-individual and ‘Japanese’ constructions of happiness and by contrasting proximal town wards of comparatively rural and urban characteristics with a high sample resolution this study addresses the measurement issues of traditional instruments and sampling. Thus, it is hoped that this project will contribute to the understanding of the complex relationship between structural decline, social ties and quality of life in contemporary rural Japan.