Government Policy and the Disintegration of Village Community Life and Individual Identity in Urbanising Japan

Government Policy and the Disintegration of Village Community Life and Individual Identity in Urbanising Japan

John Fawsitt (Kibi International University, Japan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1807-6.ch005


In this chapter the author tries to assess the implications for society in Japan brought about by the continuing demographic shift from a rural to an urban society, resulting in changes to its communities' environment and social practices. While the decline in a population's economic effects are well-known, the social effects of the flight from the provincial villages, and what this means for society in its cultural, social, and environmental consequences, has been less explored. Particularly in the sphere of identity, the author contends that this phenomenon should be treated as a disintegration that brings unseen consequences rather than a shift, and that government policy is exacerbating the risks rather than alleviating them.
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It is rare for events to occur in isolation and economic change can lead to social change and then to cultural change and so on. Sometimes it is difficult to understand which has given rise to which. Which are simultaneous and which subsequent, which dependent and which coincidental, and while there may be no causative or instigative connection they occur in each other’s context. This gives rise to an incredibly interwoven pattern and sequence of phenomena that can prove hard to meaningfully disentangle. This difficulty is heightened if the events in question are far away in time, distance or context from the observer. In other cases, it is hard for us to observe and comment on change even if it is within our own context. In these cases, it is difficult to differentiate between what we are merely used to and know, and what is actually fundamental change. We can deceive ourselves that the society we grow up in was the old order rather than just the state of affairs that held for that particular time and place. Further complicating our assessments is our perception of time which alters as we grow older. Things that seemed to have been there forever in our youth vanish and it appears dramatic that they do so, even though their actual span was only a few years.

But at the same time, it cannot be denied that the pace of visible change in the world has sped up, even though what is decisive is said to be our reaction to these changes rather than the changes themselves. (Wheeler 2019). These changes are a fact of life and it is part of our personal growth to accept and incorporate these changes and lack of certainties into our personal world view.

This is also the case with the broader community and societies as a whole. Such communities that have constituted themselves as nation states also need to deal with change. However, when such change comes, the population or certain sections of it may oppose it, if it seems to threaten something innate to their view of themselves. This is most readily apparent in hostility to outsiders and immigrants however it can also manifest itself when there is a sense of the loss of something that constitutes some essential trait of the nation. This loss can be one of a general decline in national power, identity, dynamism, spirituality or other qualities felt to be intrinsic to the nation. In fact, these feelings are often the spark for the expressions of hostility towards unconnected trends that just happen to be coincident with the sense of decline. Even though these new trends perhaps contribute to the society in other ways, and forge a path toward the future. The populist phenomenon apparent in many apparently “modern” societies in the early 21st century can be, to a certain extent, attributed to this. (Karolewski et al., 2019)

Changes can be classified into several types. Those that are produced due to outside forces and those brought about by forces from within. Those from within can be the increase or decrease in certain factors whether relative or absolute. Those that come from outside, or are results from increases in factors are more readily identifiable than those that are the product of decline, which are generally harder to evaluate or explain. Giving them shape is often attempted through the word “malaise”. This is a broad question that is coming increasingly into focus in the West due to its looming loss of economic primacy, aging populations and the invalidation of many legacy assumptions. Indeed, a crisis of identity can lead to countries seeking security from strongman figures as has occurred in several countries already. “Recent contributions on populism suggest that people who lack a positive social identity are more susceptible to anti-elitist sentiments and homogeneous conceptions of “the people”, which both are essential dimensions of populism.” (Spruyt et al., 2016)

There is also the phenomenon of practices or policies that outlive their utility and can change from being beneficial to being constrictive and even pernicious. In the Japanese context this is exampled in the continuing equation of modernity with urbanization and growth. It is evident that Japan has progressed further along the curve of postindustrial development than other countries and that its reluctance to incorporate a large amount of migrants into its population has propelled it onto a trajectory different from that yet experienced by other technologically advanced countries.

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