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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

The Values of Sustainability and the Sustainability of Values in Contemporary Japan

 October 2022 - ongoing

Japanese society is frequently described as facing numerous major challenges including an aging and shrinking population, increasing socioeconomic stratification, and difficulties in adjusting to globalization and internal ethnic diversification. To meet these challenges, public policy and media discourses are promoting the importance of sustainable development, community revitalization, and community resilience in the face of such changes, emphasizing what could be called “values of sustainability.” These values include: caring for the environment, supporting local communities, respecting traditions, and safeguarding the nation and world for future generations. Within civil society, there is a diversity of social institutions that advocate beliefs and practices that promote certain forms of sustainability, including Buddhist, Shinto, and Christian religious groups and so-called “new religions,” as well as secular “social education” organizations such as the RINRI Institute of Ethics, The Practical Ethics Association, and the Moralogy Foundation. These groups’ teachings and practices often resonate with mainstream public discourses and “values of sustainability,” but from the perspective of religious cosmologies and “traditional” moral philosophies. At the same time, the widespread circulation of these values among various institutions in Japan also mark one of the ways that diverse social institutions cultivate and promote shared moral values and social ethics in everyday life, highlighting what could be termed the “sustainability of values” in contemporary Japanese society.

This project uses longitudinal fieldwork and interviews with members and leaders of religious and secular “social education” organizations to investigate how the discourses and practices of sustainability are related to broader concepts of moral norms and values in contemporary Japanese society. This project also aims to interrogate the relationship between religious organizations and ideologies vis-à-vis mainstream social ethics in Japan, with a focus on the loci, contours, and dynamics of moral authority from the postwar period to today.