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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

The Future of Local Communities in Japan - Risks and Opportunities in the Face of Multiple Challenges

Japan’s rural and semi-urban peripheries confront numerous challenges. Demographic shifts and depopulation, structural change due to globalization and technical development, and not least the task of climate protection including the increased use of renewable energy sources all have particularly grave implications in the non-metropolitan regions. In response, the socio-economic challenges are receiving a high political priority under the current Abe administration, as evidenced by the various economic and political initiatives bundled under the slogan “regional revitalization” (chihō sōsei, 地方創生).

The projects undertaken under this major research theme analyze how local actors at the municipal level (shichōson, 市町村) outside the metropolitan regions cope with the risks and opportunities arising from the multiple challenges mentioned above, and what results they are achieving. Moreover, through grounded, comparative research across several communities, the projects take into account local differences in initial conditions and problem constellations.

Individual projects apply the leading research question to different topical areas (see below) combining three interrelated levels of analysis.

Institutions: A complex institutional framework governs the relations between the central and the local level of administration as well as between local actors. Over the past twenty years, a number of macro-institutional shifts occurred that partly intensified the structural problems in regional Japan, while also opening up new spaces for local agency. How, by whom and to what extent these opportunities are being seized is conditioned by specific local structures, norms and social practices. To this end, institutional-level analysis provides key insight into the dynamics that shape the risks and opportunities in local communities.

Actors: Specific local conditions, interest constellations and actor configurations evoke different strategies and approaches in addressing the challenges mentioned above. Accordingly, the level and the effectiveness of local political and economic initiatives as well as the role and the influence of various interest groups and civic engagement can be expected to vary across localities. As a result, comparative analysis of the different kinds of actors and their contexts can highlight the similarities and differences across various communities.

Discourses: Idealized and stereotypical notions of rurality, community and social life shape the self-conception of local actors and serve as references in the legitimization of political action and the mobilization of special interests. They are constructed, handed down and modified through narratives. The implied interpretative frames vary across localities and social groups and are constantly competing for universal acceptance. Discourse-level analysis thus offers insights into the dynamic processes of social, political, and ideological narrative constructions of Japan’s local communities.

Besides a review of academic literature and analyses of media discourses, socio-economic indicators, legal frameworks and political processes, the individual projects all include qualitative case studies based on detailed, on-the-ground field research.

Moreover, with its focus on the local level, the major research theme aims for a more fine-grained understanding of the socio-economic and political transformation processes occurring in Japan’s regions. This approach offers several advantages:

  • Case studies at the local level allow for a more detailed analysis of the relevant local stakeholders, their micro-strategies, and interactions.
  • This helps us to better account for the complexity resulting from the simultaneity and interdependence of the various challenges.
  • Initial conditions, severity of issues, sought-for solutions and future prospects all vary considerably across local communities. Such variety is often overlooked when analyzing Japan’s challenges at the aggregate national level.
  • The variety of local conditions allows for comparative and multivariate analyses. Both are essential for enhancing our understanding of the importance played by the specifics of local conditions and for finding out to what extent outcomes can be generalized.


Susanne Brucksch
(Social Science, Innovation Studies, Science & Technology Studies)
Principal Researcher

Isaac Gagné
(Managing Editor of Contemporary Japan, Cultural Anthropology)

Sonja Ganseforth Sonja Ganseforth
(Social Science, Human Geography)

Barbara Geilhorn Barbara Geilhorn
(Japanese Cultural Studies, Theater and Performance Studies)

Barbara Holthus Barbara Holthus
Deputy Director

Hanno Jentzsch Hanno Jentzsch
(Social Science)

Daniel Kremers Daniel Kremers
(Japanese Studies, Political Science)
Principal Researcher

Franz Waldenberger Franz Waldenberger
(Economics and Business)

Related Research Projects or Programs

Aging in Japan: Domestic Healthcare Technologies in Place

Energy Transition and Energy Democracy in Japan – Local Strategies vs. National Policies

Fishing communities between growth and demise

Harvesting State Support – Endogenous Institutional Change and the Role of the “Local” in Japan’s Agricultural Support and Protection Regime

Japan’s “blue economies”? Japanese firms in the restructuring of the global seafood trade

Listening to the Community: Grassroots Mental Healthcare in Local Communities

Local Issues Take Stage – Culture and Community Revitalization

Mapping Local Climate Action (LCA) / Kartierung des lokalen Klimaschutzes in Japan

Parental well-being in the rural periphery of Germany and Japan: Choices, challenges, and considerations

Risks and Opportunities in Japan - Challenges in the Face of an Increasingly Uncertain Future

Technical Innovation and Research Collaboration / Clusters: Biomedical Engineering in Japan

The Changing Political Economy of “Rural Revitalization”

The meaning of local community for happiness and selfhood

The Risks and Opportunities of the ‘Solo-Society’. (Re)Locating Intimacy – Spatial Perspectives on Personal Relationships in Contemporary Japan

What is the "local"? - Rethinking the politics of subnational spaces in Japan


May 12, 2017
Symposia and Conferences
Demographischer Wandel als kommunalpolitische Herausforderung – Lösungsstrategien japanischer und deutscher Gemeinden

November 12, 2015
Risks and Opportunities in Japan: Local Communities Confronting Demographic Change and Climate Change

October 9, 2015
Nachhaltige Entwicklung und Stakeholder Engagement auf kommunaler Ebene in Deutschland und Japan

October 5, 2015
Symposia and Conferences
Klimapolitik als Chance für die Regionalentwicklung: Erneuerbare Energien in Japan und Deutschland

September 24, 2015
DIJ Social Science Study Group
Harmony with Nature? Satoyama Satoumi and Its Impact on Local Communities in Japan