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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Happiness in Japan: Continuities and Discontinuities

Research focus June 2008 - October 2015

The new research focus was introduced in 2008 after three new research fellows had joined the DIJ. While quite different in orientation, it relates in several respects to the previous research focus on demographic change. With “happiness” and “life-satisfaction”, the DIJ puts at the centre of its research agenda a field of inquiry that has not only gained much attention in Japan – both in the media and in academia – but which is also of increasing importance internationally. The new research focus of “happiness” ties in with some of the issues already dealt with in the DIJ’s research focus of demographic change in Japan. This holds in particular for ageing, fertility decline and the emergence of a new underclass in the wake of socio-economic change. The high life expectancy enjoyed by the Japanese is testimony to a highly successful society. Yet the bliss of longevity brings in its wake structural changes for which both individuals and institutions are badly prepared. Reflecting the impending problems are catchwords such as “care hell”, which came into currency around the turn of the century. Despite Japan’s considerable economic success and high degree of material comfort, Japanese society as a whole is not happy, and much suggests that demographic developments are at the bottom of this discontent. Why it should be that gains in life expectancy go hand in hand with low fertility (due to hesitant reproductive behaviour) is a highly complex question. However, it can hardly be doubted that the change in reproductive behaviour, leading as it does in the long run to population decline, is an indication of collective uncertainty, if not dissatisfaction. A society of extremely low fertility has problems not just with the sustainability of its social security systems; it is also a society that fails to provide the middle generation with optimal conditions for satisfying a fundamental human desire, thus jeopardizing its own continuance. And it is this generation that experiences the transformation of what was for its predecessors an all-encompassing middle-class society into one consisting of winners and losers.

This is the backdrop against which the DIJ’s new research focus investigates life-satisfaction, the conditions of individual and collective happiness, as well as current discourses about it. For the past couple of decades, the problem of how to measure happiness has occupied a number of disciplines, with psychology and economics in the vanguard. A crucial question is whether and how concepts of happiness can be compared across nations and cultures. Once again Japan is of particular interest here. In terms of standard of living, Japan is on a par with the most advanced countries. It is the first non-Christian, non-white country to have accomplished this. Is Japan happier, therefore, than other countries outside the Western world? The DIJ's new research focus is designed to help answer this question, a far-reaching question that calls for the involvement of social structural analysis and welfare research as much as political analysis, media studies and cultural anthropology.

Completed Projects

“A Happy Person”: A Japanese-German Comparison of Factors of Life Satisfaction

Comparatively Happy – Objective Precarity and Subjective Exclusion in Germany and Japan

Entrepreneurship and Employment in Demographically Ageing Societies

Happily Different? On Happiness and Norm Deviation in Japan

Happiness and Unhappiness in Bioethical Questions: Decision Making for Organ Donation and Organ Transplantation in Germany and in Japan

Happiness in Japan before and after 3/11: An economic approach

How to make voters happy? The promise of happiness by Japan’s political parties between continuities and discontinuities

Imaging the Lost Generation: Representations of Japan’s “Unequal Society” in Popular Culture Media

Life Course Changes in Contemporary Japanese Society: A Study of Single Working Women in Tokyo

Marital Happiness and Discord: Discourses in Japanese Women’s Magazines

Parental Well-Being - Germany and Japan in Comparison

Political Participation and Happiness in Japan

Political Participation and Happiness in Japanese Community Groups

Political participation and happiness: The public-private divide and its implication for gender equality

Religious organizations and the politics of happiness

Socio-political discourse on happiness in Imperial Japan: Towards a historical contextualization of the Japanese concept of happiness

Temporary Employment in Japan and the Economics of Happiness

The Appropriation of Traditions in Contemporary Rural Japan: Pursuit of Happiness?


May 27, 2015
DIJ Business & Economics Study Group
What is the Problem with Economic Stagnation?

July 30, 2014
DIJ Forum
Improving The People’s Lot? Well-Being Between Promise And Reality

July 29 - July 30, 2014
Improving the people’s lot? Different conceptions of well-being between promises and reality

June 10, 2014
DIJ Business & Economics Study Group
The Physical and Social Determinants of Mortality in the 3.11 Tsunami

May 21, 2014
DIJ Business & Economics Study Group
A Report on Life and Health in Japan after the Great East Japan Earthquake

April 24 - April 26, 2014
Symposia and Conferences
Deciphering the Social DNA of Happiness: Life Course Perspectives from Japan

December 5, 2013
DIJ Forum
Public Happiness in Japan

October 23 - October 25, 2013
Well-being in Ageing Societies: Perspectives from China, Germany and Japan

October 17, 2013
DIJ Forum
The Rise of Ikumen (child caring fathers) in Contemporary Japan

May 23 - May 25, 2013
Symposia and Conferences
Civil Society, Political Participation and Happiness

March 18 - March 19, 2013
Social Inequality in Japan: A Reassessment

December 13, 2012
DIJ Forum
Welfare States and the Redistribution of Happiness

June 25, 2012
DIJ Forum
Happiness: The View from Economics

April 5 - November 30, 0001
DIJ Forum
Happiness in Japan before and after the Great East Japan Earthquake

November 21 - November 22, 2011
Symposia and Conferences
Happiness – Does Culture Matter?

November 2, 2011
DIJ Forum
The Role of Giving and Volunteering for Post-Disaster Reconstruction

October 13 - November 30, 0001
DIJ Forum
What is a Happy Family? German and Japanese Case Studies

October 22 - October 23, 2010
Symposia and Conferences
Life Courses in Flux

October 5, 2010
“Comparatively Happy” – Objective Precarity and Subjective Exclusion in Germany and Japan: Presentation and discussion of survey results

March 3, 2010
DIJ History & Humanities Study Group
Happy New Japan: The Ideology and Aesthetics of Happiness in Takarazuka Revue

December 17, 2009
DIJ Forum
Happy Workplace for Innovation in Japanese Companies

November 19, 2009
DIJ Forum
Sōka Gakkai and the Politics of Happiness

November 19, 2009
Symposia and Conferences
Religious Organizations and the Politics of Happiness

November 4, 2009
DIJ Forum
Wellbeing in feminism and gender policies in Germany and Japan

September 17, 2009
DIJ Forum
Modernization and Life Satisfaction in Japan in a Comparative Perspective - A Theoretical and Empirical Approach

June 25, 2009
DIJ Forum
Towards an Economics of Happiness: From GNP to GNH

May 19, 2009
"Comparatively Happy" – Objective precarity and perception of social exclusion in Germany and Japan: Discussion of the German and Japanese Questionnaire

May 14, 2009
DIJ Forum
Sex and the City: The Search for Kitto, Motto, Zutto Happiness in Manhattan and Tokyo


Miki Aoyama-Olschina (until April 2016)
Philosophy, Japanese Studies

Florian Coulmas Florian Coulmas (until October 2016)
Director (2004 - 2014), Director

Phoebe Stella Holdgrün Phoebe Stella Holdgrün (until October 2017)
Deputy Director, Japanese Studies, Political Science

Carola Hommerich Carola Hommerich (until August 2015)

Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt (until September 2013)
Literature and Media

Axel Klein Axel Klein (until November 2015)
Japanese Studies, Political Science

Susanne Klien Susanne Klien (until August 2013)
Modern Japanese Studies, Cultural Anthropology

Tobias Söldner Tobias Söldner (until February 2019)
Personality and Cross-Cultural Psychology

Hiromi Tanaka (until March 2011)

Tim Tiefenbach Tim Tiefenbach (until December 2016)
Economics and Ethics

Chris Winkler (until August 2015)
Japanese Studies, Political Science