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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Current collaborating partners

Wolfram Manzenreiter, University of Vienna

Ralph Lützeler, Universität Hamburg

Regional diversity of well-being in Japan

Project duration: June 2010 - ongoing

In international comparison, Japan’s level of subjective evaluation of life satisfaction ranks consistently low, in contrast to much higher ranking of objective markers such as education, health, and economic well-being. This research project focuses on the question of sub-national differences in well-being within Japan, with a special emphasis on issues of gender and region.

While existing research tells of women being much more satisfied than men in Japan, mothers of young children report significantly lower life satisfaction than fathers. How does this connect to the issue of rising opportunity costs for women opting for motherhood, issues of work-life balance in Japan, as well as the persistent gender gap in employment or public representation? As the country’s low fertility rate is considered a major demographic problem by policy makers, it is imperative to better understand the lives of Japanese, what brings or suppresses happiness and life satisfaction. And how do social policies, and - in the case of parents - family policies, fare in this relationship? In this part of the research project, gender is therefore also interlinked with a focus on so-called parental well-being. This focus originated from a former DIJ research project comparing parental well-being in Germany and Japan, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) from 2014 to 2017 and conducted in cooperation with Benesse Educational Research & Development Institute (BERD), using a postal survey of 2000 Japanese parents and conducted at the DIJ in 2012 (PI: Barbara Holthus). The German data originated from a Ravensburger Foundation survey in 2009 (PI: Hans Bertram (formerly Humboldt University of Berlin)).

Further investigation in the study on well-being in Japan is also warranted to focus on the substantial regional variation in living conditions throughout Japan, especially the stark contrast between urban and rural living, and thus ties to the DIJ's research focus on the future of local communities in Japan. Adding a sociological lens onto happiness helps to focus on the individual as well as his or her embeddedness in a broader social context. Research until now remains divided on how location matters to the well-being of people in general. Some scholars report on data showing that people living in urban areas are happier than those in rural areas, others argue exactly the opposite. Faced with severe population decline, rural areas try hard to both attract new people into their regions as well as retain the people living in their communities to stay and stop further outmigration. Thus it is an important policy imperative to understand the people in local communities, to understand their needs and wants. As part of this, to understand the well-being of the parents of young children as well as people in general living in rural communities, is an important first step. Data for this part of the project comes both from qualitative interview data as well as quantitative survey data.

Qualitative interviews with residents in both a small rural settlement as well as in a neighboring small town in Kumamoto prefecture, Kyushu, conducted since 2018, have highlighted the importance of embeddedness into the community, age, gender, and employment within or outside the locality. Opinions on one's local community range from extremely positive to severely negative: from providing safety and a care network of extended family members to seeing community as bothersome, demanding of one’s extremely limited spare time, and literally crushing one’s freedom of control of one’s own time.

In regard to parental well-being, structural deficiencies in addition to challenges particular to families come into play as push factors when it comes to the weighing the pros and cons for making the decision by families about where to raise their children. At the same time, there are also incentives for raising children in the countryside, like the quietness, the lack of traffic congestion, clean air, and the relatively inexpensive housing costs in rural areas.