Fachgruppensitzung Stadt- und Regionalforschung 2021

Organizers: Cornelia Reiher (FU Berlin), Thomas Feldhoff (Ruhr Universität Bochum)

Miyako-jima Eco Island: between growth, branding, and conservation (Sarah Bijlsma, GEAS, FU Berlin)

Located between Okinawa Main Island and the Yaeyama group, the Miyako Islands are by many strongly associated with the natural world. Known for their subtropical climate and emerald-green sea, the islands attract more than a million Japanese and foreign tourists every year. Also, Miyako provides the largest amount of sugarcane of Okinawa Prefecture, added by tobacco and mango cultivation. At the same time, the unique environmental and geographical features also create serious challenges regarding energy and water supplies for personal as well as industrial use. In response to both environmental threats and opportunities, Miyako adopted in 2008 the brand of Eco Island, defining itself as a “sustainable island where people can continue to live in the future, passing on their lifestyles, culture, and nature, while considering the islands’ natural, geographical, and social conditions.” A year later, the Japanese government equally recognized the eco-friendly character of Miyako by officially granting it the title of Environmental Model City (Kankyō moderu toshi)—hitherto being the only island group on the list. The presentation discussed the ways how Miyako carries out its identity as Eco Island and Eco Model City. It discussed the notion of “sustainability” to illustrate that, in contrast to what the labels suggest, there is a continuous tension between economic growth and environmental protection aims. Comparing changes in the above-mentioned policies through time, the presentation especially pointed to a recent shift in focus from local residents to Japanese tourists. Doing so allowed to identify some of the ongoing debates regarding awareness, accountability, and the responsibility of human beings towards Miyako’s natural environment.

Finding home and building futures in the countryside: Urban-rural migration experiences in Wakayama prefecture (Cecilia Luzi, GEAS, FU Berlin)

Over the past two decades the phenomenon of urban-rural migration in post-industrial societies has been gaining the attention of both media and scholars. The experiences of young and middle-aged individuals willingly moving out of the metropolis to settle down in rural areas have captured instances of lifestyle sustainability, environmental consciousness and opposition to neoliberalism, and thus reached increased visibility. This internal migratory movement increasingly affects the Japanese society as well.

Building on the ethnographic fieldwork conducted among a community of in-migrants that relocated in the Wakayama prefecture, tis presentation illustrated the experiences of moving out of the city and settling down in the countryside. In particular, it concentrate on the daily life of three families to shed light on the reasons that trigger young parents to leave the metropolis and raise children in the countryside, as well as on the struggles of adapting to a new precarious, and labor-intensive life. These stories, in a nutshell, unveil the centrality that family has in the experience of migration. Yet, family here is not a rigid, mono- nuclear institution, but rather a more inclusive and intimate space where several people of the community care for each other. At the encounter with the rural space, this new way of thinking family relationships becomes the horizon to build hope and work for a more sustainable future.

The periphery and the center: Support schemes for urban-rural migration and their local appropriation (Ngo Tu Thanh [Frank Tu], FU Berlin)

Machi, hito, shigoto, sōsei sōgō senryaku, or the “Comprehensive Strategy on Communities, People, and Work” is currently the most prominent and the only policy framework for rural revitalization in Japan. The goal of the Comprehensive Strategy is to consolidate all policies and schemes for rural revitalization, decentralization of population in Tokyo, and anti-depopulation under one single holistic framework by eliminating the vertical hierarchy of ministries. In addition to its national version, an inalienable component the Comprehensive Strategy is its prefectural and municipal versions, which customize revitalization activities in light of the local conditions. Despite being one policy and sharing similar overarching goals and formal objectives, there is divergence in aspects such as policy priorities, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and length, across localities and jurisdictional levels. This divergence raises questions as to what has influenced the policymaking process (be it during the agenda setting or policy formulation stages) of the Comprehensive Strategy across different localities and jurisdictional levels.

This presentation examined the Comprehensive Strategy at large and one specific scheme mentioned in the plan, namely the Chiiki Okoshi Kyōryoku Tai (COKT) from the perspectives of policy actors in the center (Tokyo). The goal of this presentation was to analyze the rationales of Japan’s rural revitalization strategies and to evaluate the success of such activities.