Jahrestagung 2017

Rural Japan Revisited: Autonomy and Heteronomy in the Peripheries

31 October – 2 November 2017
University of Vienna, Department of East Asian Studies
Austrian Economic Chambers, Vienna
Organizers: Prof. Dr. Wolfram Manzenreiter and Dr. Ralph Lützeler (University of Vienna)

This conference will focus on the challenges Japanese peripheries and their communities are facing under the threats of depopulation, political power concentration and economic globalization. It is hosted by the University of Vienna and the Austrian Economic Chambers. The three day program will start with an expert meeting to stimulate a dialogue exchange between scholars from Japan or Japanese Studies and business representatives that are providing services and goods for regional economies in Austria and internationally. On the second and third day, the topic will be addressed from a more academic perspective.

By putting Japan’s experience with rural development onto the agenda of social analysis, we intend to initiate a significant perspective shift within social scientific research on Japan in general and within the debate on regional Japan in particular. We call upon “revisiting rural Japan” now for two major reasons: First, rural Japan, which has been the main object of empirical research on Japanese society during the formation period of modern Japanese studies, has come to be largely neglected by social scientists since the 1980s. Second, contemporary debates on the conditions of rural Japan are usually prioritizing an urban reading of the countryside and ignoring local interpretations of problems, needs, interests and resources. We think that revisiting rural Japan helps understand the future challenges some cities in Japan and many rural areas in other OECD countries are going to face under the impact of population decline, de-industrialization and decreasing infrastructure investment.

Specifically, the conference is devoted to highlight the tensions between autonomy and heteronomy in rural areas. Japan’s regions are dependent on central fiscal spending to a degree that the scope of decision-making at the local level has been rendered as “30 percent political autonomy”. In addition, many salient problems in the peripheries have been caused by decisions and processes initiated at national and global centers, such as the liberalization of trade in agrarian goods or pollution of soil and irrigation by industrial pollution from neighboring areas or even abroad. While heteronomy characterizes regional politics to a large degree, there is ample evidence to argue that autonomy is an important prerequisite for rural areas to realize their full potentials and to live up to the increasing amount of expectations they are confronted with, including the preservation of landscapes, cultural traditions, environmental protection and contributions to improving Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate. Policy makers in the EU as well as elsewhere have realized the limitations, if not futility, of a universal strategy that fits all cases, thereby acknowledging the significance of local knowledge, resources and practices.

Dipl.-Geograph PD Dr. Ralph Lützeler