Research - books

Japan's Shrinking Regions in the 21st century

contemporary responses to depopulation and socioeconomic decline

Matanle, P., Rausch, A.S., with the Shrinking Regions Research Group (2011) Japan's Shrinking Regions in the 21st Century: Contemporary Responses to Depopulation and Socioeconomic Decline, Amherst, NY: Cambria Press.

Published: 28 September 2011.
ISBN 9781604977585; 11 Chapters, 564pp.

Publisher Website -- Library Access -- Purchasing

Reviewed by David Edgington for Regional Studies
Reviewed by John Mock for Asian Anthropology

Rich in documentary information and theoretical background, revealing, disturbing, prophetic -- this is one of the most important books to be written on Japan in recent years.
Alex Kerr, author of Lost Japan (1996), and Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan (2001).

This is, quite simply, one of the best books on contemporary Japan produced in the past 30 years and represents a must-read for scholars of Japan, demographers, and anyone interested in processes of population change that will affect many parts of the world in the future.
John Traphagan, University of Texas, author of The Practice of Concern: Ritual, Well-Being, and Aging in Rural Japan (2004), and co-editor with John Knight of Demographic Change and the Family in Japan's Aging Society (2003).

Book Summary

Japan’s population is shrinking. On current trends it will decline by an average of half a million people per year for the next forty years. The country is also getting older and the ratio of dependants to active workers is expected to approach 1:1 by around 2030. This is already having a profound effect on Japan and will continue to do so for decades into the future.

In the twenty-first century, a historic turnaround in global demographic trends is occurring. Europe and East Asia are especially vulnerable to demographic shrinkage. Germany is also shrinking, as is Russia. In Asia, South Korea is ageing and will begin to shrink soon and, importantly, so will China from around 2030. On a global scale, population shrinkage is almost certainly good news but it brings with it changes to ways of living and working which require adjustment at the national, regional and community levels.

Japan’s rural areas have been shrinking for decades. Entire villages have vanished, even been 'sold'. Thousands of municipalities have become non-viable and been merged. Thousands more private and public enterprises have collapsed leaving colossal debts and abandoned buildings, while many older people live lonely and difficult lives in neighbourless communities. Rural shrinkage has been the unseen corollary of Japan’s extraordinarily dynamic 20th-century urban expansion; indeed, Japan’s postwar economic miracle has to some degree been achieved at the expense of rural retreat.

Potentially disastrous is the negative-sum game that national depopulation triggers, as one community’s gain becomes another’s loss. Japan’s Shrinking Regions in the 21st Century reveals how communities are responding positively to these emerging circumstances, delivering a message of hope and vitality to shrinking regions worldwide. Setting Japan alongside Europe, and including an epilogue on the Tōhoku earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns of 11 March 2011, the book offers policy makers and practitioners up-to-date advice for community revival born of extensive collaborative fieldwork across the whole Japanese archipelago.

Together we use multiple case studies to show that the phenomenon of regional shrinkage is widespread and multi-faceted in terms of its characteristics, impacts and implications. And we examine and analyse the various responses that have been brought to the problem; from infrastructure development, through tourism, to acknowledging and learning to live with shrinkage. For many, especially rural communities, collapse and eventual disappearance is inevitable. What happens to others will depend upon the degree of sophistication in planning, coordination, creativity and ingenuity that can be brought to bear.

Japan’s Shrinking Regions in the 21st Century brings together the work of 18 international scholars to present the first comprehensive study of regional shrinkage under Japan’s national depopulation. Interspersed throughout with numerous illustrations, the book reveals a richly textured examination of shrinkage at the local level, from which emerges the overall story of Japan’s depopulation and its place within the trajectory of world development.

This will be an essential source for all social science collections, as well as for researchers, policy makers, students, and practitioners with interests in regional development, demography, East Asia, and post-industrial change.