Virtual Special Issue
Rural Japan Revisited
This virtual special issue is dedicated to contemporary studies exploring a Japan beyond the country’s metropolitan areas. Over the past decades, rural Japan nearly vanished from the Western research agenda, as urban Japan had come to dominate the attention of most social scientists studying contemporary Japan. Particularly the cityscape of Tokyo, the epitome of the Asian mega-city, has shaped the popular cultural imagination of Japan from abroad to an extent that the countryside, if seen at all, acquires all qualities of a museum or cultural repository of the past. Yet it should not be forgotten that millions of Japanese continue to live in quite different social spaces, such as hamlets, villages, or rural towns in mountainous and coastal areas. Even though urbanization, consumption and media usage have left their imprint on everyday life, social values and behavior rules in even the most remote part of the country, there is ample reason to take the urban-rural divide as a meaningful line of distinction between the two structurally different and inherently distinct spheres of city and countryside. This virtual special issue has been compiled as a reminder of the significance that life and living in regional Japan is having for an adequate understanding of contemporary Japan, the changing faces of the “rural imaginary” (Schnell 2005) and the plurality of lifeways in late-modern society.
Young organic farmers in Japan: Betting on lifestyle, locality, and livelihood
This analysis of Japanese organic farmers in their 30s and 40s gains insight from Lyng’s framework of ‘edgework’—a transgression of life/death boundaries by sports practitioners. Young farmers emerged in qualitative fieldwork as ‘occupational edge-workers,’ crisscrossing binaries such as urban/rural, mind/body, and economic/moral. They manage risks and navigate uncertainties of natural forces, traditional village practices, neoliberal pressures to be entrepreneurial in the market, and judgment of older, purer organic farmers. With goals of living in harmony with nature, intimate others, and community, they create lifestyles in marginal rural localities by which they can make selves that are alternative to the neoliberal narrative, yet act as entrepreneurial subjects that risk bringing their version of morality to the market, via delicious, organic food sold to self-creating consumers. Claiming normality and spurning ideas of organic as a movement, their alterity is partial and practical as they exploit the potentials of this risky border zone. Conducted in 2012 and 2014, this research contributes to investigating alternative lifestyles in Japan, exploring the changing nature of alternative food movements in the neoliberal era, and understanding active agency for self and the environment in the neoliberal situation of entrepreneurial subjectivities, edgy self-making, and historical traditions.
KEYWORDS: Japan, risk, organic agricultureDOI: 10.1080/18692729.2017.1256974 [external]
Abandoned land, corporate farming, and farmland banks: a local perspective on the process of deregulating and redistributing farmland in Japan
This paper analyzes the policy process toward farmland consolidation and deregulation in Japan. The current Abe administration has introduced so-called Farmland Banks to facilitate land transfers to expanding farms, including general corporations, which have long been banned from farmland access in Japan. The paper argues that farmland deregulation puts the ‘incumbent’ local stakeholders of farmland governance, such as local agricultural cooperatives, local administrations, and not least farmers themselves, at risk of losing access to state support and influence. At the same time, the responsibilities for coordinating farmland consolidation have been placed onto the same local stakeholders. The state of local farmland governance has long been critical to impeding coordinated consolidation, whereas deregulation facilitates ‘predatory’ corporate farmland use. In contrast, evidence from Hikawa Town in Shimane Prefecture shows how exceptionally strong local control over farmland enables consolidation—albeit in the ‘defensive’ interests of the local incumbents.
KEYWORDS: Farmland governance, local governance, Farmland Banks, JA, agricultural politics, deregulation, AbenomicsDOI: 10.1080/18692729.2017.1256977 [external]
Ecotour providers in the Kyushu region: the characteristics of Japanese ecotourism and its relationship with global warming
Ecotourism is a type of tourism that is popularly regarded as an environment- friendly activity. Thus, we tend to think that it has a positive relationship with climate change. However, in Western literature, many studies indicate that ecotourism is not environment-friendly in terms of climate change, and that it actually contributes to global warming substantially owing to the use of airplanes by tourists. In Japanese scholarship, there is no substantial research on this topic. This paper reports on a study in which three methods were used to evaluate the relationship between ecotourism and climate change in the Kyushu region of Japan: content analysis, a mail survey, and participant observation. The results indicate that it is a tenuous positive relationship but a varied negative relationship; that is, the impact depends on the type of ecotourism. The ecotour providers in Kyushu do not have explicit ideas on how ecotourism relates to global warming, and their actual contribution toward a low-carbon society is limited to activities such as consumption of locally produced foods, recycling lunch boxes, and using less fossil fuel during tours. Discussed is the existence of a positive but weak relationship and a variegated negative relationship in Japan together with the negative relationship emphasized in Western literature. The conclusions suggest that Japanese ecotourism’s emphasis on revitalization of local communities influenced the formation of a varied negative relationship to a certain degree.
Keywords: ecotourism, low-carbon society, revitalization, environmental education, KyushuDOI: 10.1515/cj-2012-0011 [external]
“Place making” in Kawakami: aspirations and migrant realities of Chinese “technical interns”
In this paper, I examine Chinese agricultural labor migrants’ experiences in rural Japan. The research is based on multi-sited ethnography, mainly in Kawakami, a village located in central Japan, from July to November 2012. I go beyond the labeling of Chinese migrants as passive victims of difficult work conditions and exploitation, which pervades much of the literature on international migration, and argue that Chinese peasant workers possess an agency to negotiate, navigate, and survive in the village. The strategy they take is to contest over local institutions to build up their own “places,” where they can find provisional security, a sense of relief, and mutual support. These “places” further facilitate the formation of the social networks among the workers, although this is officially repressed by the dominant society. A functioning social network plays a significant role to help workers adapt, overcome difficulties, and exercise their agency in a more effective way.
Keywords: seasonal labor migration, Chinese labor migrants, migrant realities, coping strategiesDOI: 10.1515/cj-2014-0012 [external]
Food safety and regulatory change since the ‘mad cow’ in Japan: Science, self-responsibility, and trust
The discovery of the first BSE case in Japan in 2001 triggered far-reaching changes in the regulatory framework of food safety. This article focuses on three major institutional developments since that first mad cow, namely the establishment of the Food Safety Commission (2003), the Shokuiku or Food Education program (2005), and the Consumer Affairs Agency (2009). Through a focus on the concept of self-responsibility, the politicized role of science, and the Japanese rhetoric of anzen anshin (safety–peace of mind), this study analyses the political efforts in reinstalling consumer trust. Regulatory changes gradually initiated a risk analysis approach into Japan’s food safety governance, combining consumer education and consumer protection essentials. Focusing on educating the consumer about new roles and responsibilities, the reforms shift the accountability for food risk to the individual, thereby strongly and increasingly relying on the ambiguous concept of anzen anshin. However, I argue that issues such as independence, accountability, and fragmentation in food safety monitoring must be continuously addressed instead of hiding them behind a rhetoric of anzen anshin and calling upon the consumer’s self-responsibility.
KEYWORDS: Food safety, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), risk, self-responsibility, scienceDOI: 10.1080/18692729.2017.1256987 [external]
Constructed heritage and co-produced meaning: the re-branding of wines from the Koshu grape
The last decade has seen large-scale cultural changes in the table grape and wine production industries of the Kōfu Basin in Yamanashi Prefecture. From the perspective of wineries, the recent rise in popularity of wines produced from the Koshu grape (Vitis vinifera var. orientalis) has secured their industrial recovery in the short term. This paper explores these changes, thereby contributing to the literature on the invention of traditions for economic profit and rural revitalization. Conclusions are drawn from archival research, interviews with stakeholders in the table grape and wine industries, and over one and one-half years as a grape farmer in the Kōfu Basin. Rather than significant improvements in educational or technical advancement in growing Koshu for wine or even wine production, the rise in popularity of wines produced from Koshu is argued to be more linked to the cultural re-branding of the grape based on co-produced and glocalized perceptions of simulacra in which the historical and local consumption of Koshu wine is equated with Japanese cuisine and culture. By connecting Koshu with Japanese identity and “Japaneseness,” branded wines now provide new opportunities for conspicuous consumption and “connoisseurship” for consumers.
Keywords: Koshu wine; invented traditions; conspicuous consumption; economic revitalization; Japan Brand
山梨県甲府盆地の食用ブドウとワインの生産業界は、この十年で、大きく変化した。 ワイナリーにとっては、近年の甲州ブドウ（Vitis vinifera var. orientalis） 産ワインの知名度の高まりは、短期間での業界の回復を確かなものにした。本稿はこれらの変化を分析し、経済的利益と農村活性化につながる伝統創造に関する研究への寄与を目指すものである。文献研究食用ブドウおよびワイン産業の関係者へのインタビュー、および一年半余にわたる甲府盆地でのブドウ農家としての体験に基づいて、結論を導く。甲州ワインの知名度向上が、地元におけるワインやワインの生産の教育や技術進歩の大幅な改善よりも、甲州ワインの歴史的、地元消費を日本料理文化と同一視する、共生成、グローカル化されたシュミラクラ現象に基づくブドウの文化的再ブランディング化に起因しているといえる。甲州を日本人のアイデンティティと“日本らしさ”に関連付けてブランド化したワインは、現在、 衒示的消費の新しい可能性とともに、消費者に“鑑識眼をもった愛好”をする機会を提供している。
The innovative potential of inbound tourism in Japan for destination development − a case study of Hida Takayama
In contrast to the rapid development of outbound tourism since the 1980s, inbound tourism has played a minor role in Japan until 2002, when the Japanese government embarked on a policy of active enticement of foreign tourists. Through active promotion and pushed by economic development in neighboring countries, visitor numbers almost doubled from 4,771,555 in 2001 to 8,350,835 in 2008; since then, worldwide economic downturn, disaster, and a soaring yen have taken their toll. However, while their contribution to the overall Japanese tourism market is still well below 10%, an analysis of available data shows that foreign tourists are spread unevenly across the country. As a result, some restricted inbound clusters have evolved. In these places, inbound tourism as a new sector of the tourism market can play an important role in rejuvenation of destinations and innovation in tourism. One such destination is Hida Takayama, a historical town tucked away in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture, which is considered a model for the development of inbound tourism in Japan. An analysis of Takayama’s tourism development process identified close cooperation between the public and private sector, the integration of inbound promotion into a wider set of tourism policies, and the combination of independent efforts by the city with active use of national policies as important factors for its formation as an international destination. As a result, the city attracts tourists from a variety of regions. A survey conducted with Japanese and different groups of foreign tourists proved that they differ in motivations and behavior and, therefore, add a stabilizing element to the tourism market. Finally, interviews with key persons from tourism associations and the accommodation industry, and a survey of small-scale businesses to examine innovations induced by the increase in foreign tourists showed that an active embracement of the new market segment is restricted to a small number of facilities. Through these steps of analysis, it could be shown that the impact of international tourism on destinations in Japan is limited to a number of places, where it nevertheless constitutes an important element of market stabilization and rejuvenation. However, its influence and potential for innovation are confined to some facilities within the destination, while the many small businesses forming the tourism industry often react in a passive way.
Keywords: Japan, innovation, tourist destination, inbound tourism, Takayama
Reviving tradition in disaster-affected communities: adaptation and continuity in the kagura of Ogatsu, Miyagi Prefecture
Questions of continuity and transmission, as well as relationship to the community, have long occupied an important part of folk performance scholarship. These topics take on a different urgency in disaster-affected communities, where preexisting socioeconomic issues become more pressing and endanger not only the continuity of folk practices but the communities themselves. The aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami has seen a surge of folk performance revivals in affected areas, hinting to the depth of the ties between local folk performance and community. Following an ethnographic approach, this paper explores the case of the community of Ogatsu (Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture) and its folk performance, the Ogatsu hōin kagura, as one expression of the revival process in an isolated, rural community extensively affected by the 2011 disaster. Putting in perspective the underlying dynamic of continuity and change that characterizes folk performances, the objective is to explore the nature and usage of the kagura and its relationship to the post-disaster community as it responds to changing circumstances.
Keywords: folk performances, community, Tōhoku, Great East Japan Earth- quake, disaster recovery, revival movementDOI: 10.1515/cj-2016-0010 [external]
Collaboration or confrontation? Local and non-local actors in the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial
This article deals with selected contemporary art projects that have involved the collaboration of heterogeneous actors in the framework of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, which started in 2000 in southern Niigata Prefecture. Originally initiated as a revitalization plan to tackle depopulation and obsolescence in this vast rural area, the triennal has been envisaged and implemented by the Tokyo-based commercial gallery Art Front Gallery (AFG) in cooperation with municipal and prefectural agencies. I will examine how the collaboration between local residents, non-local artist(s), and volunteers has evolved in three projects that were all carried out in mountain villages. The first project entitled “Ubusuna no Ie” was initiated by a Tokyo-based editor and his staff for the 2006 festival, involving the restoration of an abandoned house, which now serves as a space to exhibit pottery. As a result of the project, the village women have started a restaurant in the house, which has been an enormous success, attracting hundreds of visitors per day in August 2009. The second project implemented in 2006 involved the cooperation of a British artist group called Grizedale Arts with the locals in a secluded marginal village called Toge in order to find ways to revitalize the village. The third ongoing artwork is concerned with promoting a brand of traditional Japanese paper (washi) by combining it with contemporary design and involves the cooperation between the vernacular washi production site and a Yokohama-based artist. Introducing a model to examine the development of kyodo [literally: “working together”] by defining various stages of cooperation, the key issues I intend to explore are as follows: (1) What are the main factors that influence the implementation of the project, the intensity of cooperation, and its success? (2) What stages do we observe in the individual cases discussed here?
KEYWORDS: collaboration, interaction, contemporary art, revitalization
pp. 153 - 178
Constructing difference in Japan: Literary counter-images of the Okinawa-boom
This article’s approach is indebted to the method of discourse analysis from a cultural studies’ perspective. It attempts to position and analyze literary texts by four authors from Okinawa – Medoruma Shun (*1960), Matayoshi Eiki (*1949), Akahoshi Toshizō (*1974) and Tefu Tefu P. (*1976) – in the context of the Okinawa boom which has flooded Japanese popular culture and mass media since the 1990s. It will be shown that these writers clearly position themselves against the Okinawa boom. On the one hand, the texts selected for analysis in this paper construct Okinawa as a ‘different Japan’ – just like the images created by Japanese mass media and popular literature on the main islands. On the other hand, though, the authors subvert the mainstream discourse on ‘Okinawan difference’: Medoruma addresses inconvenient topics which otherwise remain excluded from popular images of Okinawa and, at the same time, highlights Okinawa’s inner diversity, thus destabilizing the idea of ‘one Okinawan identity’. Matayoshi stays ambivalent in creating Okinawa as a space which is culturally different from Japan: His text abounds with markers for Okinawanness, but at the same time his main character keeps an ironic distance to ‘Okinawan traditions’. Akahoshi and Tefu Tefu eventually pick up prevalent topoi from mainstream discourse and turn them into their opposites.
Keywords: Okinawa; difference; diversity; contemporary Japanese literature; Medoruma Shun; Matayoshi Eiki; Akahoshi Toshizō; Tefu Tefu P.