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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
What is the “local”? – Rethinking the politics of subnational spaces in Japan
© Routledge

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

 September 2017 - September 2022

This project aims to enhance the discussion of the “local” as unit of analysis – a discussion that is vital to avoid under-complex approaches to multilayered socio-economic and political phenomena. Social scientists are frequently concerned with the “local”, including issues such as subnational elections, local governance, the formation of local identities and communities, or local economic “clusters”. However, subnational administrative divisions are limited in demarcating the “local” as a unit of analysis and the associated socio-economic and political phenomena. Refining our conception of what constitutes a subnational “locality” – its spatial, social, formal and informal boundaries – produces new questions, reveals different stakeholders, and uncovers the impact of social constellations that otherwise remain invisible.

Contemporary Japan is a particularly interesting case in this respect. In the mid-2000s, political reforms toward decentralization resulted in a massive wave of municipal mergers, creating municipalities that are very large in international comparison and heterogeneous both socio-economically and geographically. Below the municipal level, former towns and villages have retained certain self-governing capacities and local identities; and even smaller social units (natural villages, neighborhoods, temple districts) exert important social and political functions. Moreover, the “local” in Japan can also describe territories cutting across municipalities, such as electoral districts, geographical units (e.g. basins, valleys, plains), cooperative districts, or economic “clusters”. Distinguishing between these different units of analysis holds a concrete political relevance. In the wake of ongoing socio-economic decline especially in the more rural areas of Japan, “regional revitalization” is an omnipresent and highly charged political buzzword. Yet, the boundaries of the “regions” at the receiving end of revitalization efforts are highly elusive, not least because the issues at hand vary widely even within municipalities. A kaleidoscopic array of national policies meets (or does not meet) countless sub-local and trans-local constellations and initiatives.

The project entails the organization of an international symposium at the DIJ (October 2018), which brought together researchers from various disciplines (sociology, anthropology, political science, geography), who link different conceptions of the “local” to concrete political problems. Rethinking Locality in Japan, an edited volume based on the contributions and discussions at this symposium (edited by Sonja Ganseforth and Hanno Jentzsch) was published in the Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies Series in July 2021.

Table of Contents

Part 1: (Re)lating Localities as Lived Spaces in Japan

1. Locality in Shōnai: Scale, Containers, Fields, and Horizons
William W. Kelly

2. Localized yet Deterritorialized Lives in Rural Japan: Fragmented Localities, Mobility, and Neoliberalism
Susanne Klien

3. Rur-bane Relations: Assemblage and Cosmopolitics in Central Hokkaido
Paul Hansen

4. The Meaning of Place for Selfhood and Well-being in Rural Japan
Wolfram Manzenreiter & Barbara Holthus

Part 2: Local Social Worlds at Risk

5. Localizing the Nuclear: Risk Normalization and Sense of Place after Fukushima
Tarek Katramiz

6. Mapping the Local Economy of Care: Social Welfare and Volunteerism in Local Communities
Isaac Gagné

7. San’ya – The Making and Unmaking of a Welfare Quarter
Hanno Jentzsch

Part 3: Localities under Contestation

8. Defending the Local: Resident Activism against Municipal Mergers in Postwar Rural Japan
Sven Kramer

9. Local Governance of Public Transport Services: Maintaining Identity and Independence after the Heisei Mergers
Timo Thelen & Hitoshi Oguma

10. Territorialized yet Fluid Locality: Reform, Consolidation, and the More-than-Human in Japanese Fishery Cooperatives
Sonja Ganseforth

11. The Reinterpretation of Locality and Place in the Wine Industry of Yamanashi Prefecture
Aaron Kingsbury

Part 4: Local–National Dynamics

12. Furusato Nōzei Tax: Local Place in National Tax Policy and the Dynamics of Locality
Anthony Rausch & Junichiro Koji

13. Uprooting the Political Landscape: How Municipal Mergers Untethered the Local from National Politics
Kyohei Yamada

14. Competing Conceptions of Local Democracy in Japan
Ken Victor Leonard Hijino

Part 5: Coda

15. Earth is our Locale: Decentering and Decelerating the Human in the Anthropocene
Peter Matanle


September 18, 2019
DIJ Social Science Study Group
Shrinking but Happy? Investigating the Interplay of Social and Individual-Level Predictors of Well-Being in Rural Japanese Communities

October 18, 2018
Symposia and Conferences
What is the ‘local’?
Rethinking the politics of subnational spaces in Japan


Sonja Ganseforth Sonja Ganseforth (until September 2022)
Social Sciences, Human Geography
Head of research group 'Future of Local Communities'

Hanno Jentzsch Hanno Jentzsch (until March 2020)
Social Science