New settlers in a withering rural Japan: changing notions of the “good life” and prospects for sustainability

Authors: Steven McGreevy*, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature
Topics: Rural Geography, Sustainability Science, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: shrinking society, well-being, Japan, alternative lifestyles, rural development, sustainability
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: 8217, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Depopulation, aging, and economic stagnation are usually framed as negative issues to be avoided. In Japan, socio-economic decline is interpreted as engendering a sense of society-wide precarity. There are signs that Japan’s mix of demographic and economic contraction is the unavoidable reality for much of the developed world. From a sustainability perspective, the inevitability of a shrinking society and economy aligns with renewed calls for “de-growing” the economy and decreasing material footprints.

Japan’s rural areas are some of the hardest hit when facing the challenges of a shrinking society. Depopulated villages, abandoned farmhouses and fields, and limited capacity in providing basic public services are just some of the most visible problems. Yet, there are significant numbers of young people, families, and retirees who leave urban places and settle in the countryside to pursue new lifestyles and livelihoods, many of which involve agriculture. Why do they come and settle in the very places that are most at risk of vanishing? This paper presents reports on new entry farmers in upland areas throughout rural Japan and looks at ways in which newcomers are redefining individual and community well-being amidst deteriorating conditions. Alternative notions of a “good life” and the strength of relationships formed between newcomers and the environment and their community are just some of the reasons that make rural living attractive. We explore the potential of these ideas in the context of signifying a broader, society-wide shift in cultural values and what it means for sustainability in modern Japan.

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