Cosmopolitan Rurality, Depopulation, and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in 21st-Century Japan

by John Traphagan


"A very engaging and thoughtful work that will be of great interest to Japan scholars and to any social scientists with a concern for conditions of life in contemporary rural regions in many of the advanced industrial societies. This is a book about entrepreneurship, depopulation, and the nature of the contemporary rural. Each of these is of broad and comparative significance. The Japanese countryside doesn’t look like the countryside of the sentimental imagination; it is a complex hybrid formation, much as we find in Europe and North America, giving the case a wide salience. Depopulation is a shorthand for several related trends of much consequence: population decline, yes, but rapid aging of the population and significant marriage delay, declining births, and solo living. This too is a feature of the rest of the “developed” world, but Japan’s trends are among the most advanced and there is much to learn from a judicious account such as this book. This is an impressive book, which should gain an enthusiastic and appreciative readership." —William Kelly, Professor of Anthropology and Sumitomo Professor of Japanese Studies, Yale University

“Traphagan’s book should be required reading not just for Japan specialists but for students, cultural anthropologists, gerontologists, demographers and anybody in general interested in the topics indicated in its title. The richness of his ethnographic descriptions conveys many tasty morsels of insight into Japanese culture reflected within life in Kanegasaki, Iwate Prefecture that pertains to pop culture, fashion, gender relations, food, religion, economics, and population loss here relevant to any locale. A very welcome practical and theoretical introduction to 'cosmopolitan rurality applicable globally today in the context of Japan!” —Professor Christopher Thompson, Department of Linguistics, Ohio University

“Move over Tokyo and Osaka, the countryside is where real cosmopolitanism and entrepreneurship can be found in Japan. From Toyota factories making hybrid cars from the global marketplace to the new sharing economy of drone-controlled tractors plowing organic farms, John Traphagan makes a compelling case based on over thirty years of close ethnographic fieldwork in the rural northeast for the dynamisms that can be found in places formerly considered peripheral but should now be understood as deeply networked.” —Professor Karen Nakamura, Department of Anthropology, University of California Berkeley

“John Traphagan, through his engaging account of six case studies of entrepreneurship in the remote northeastern Tohoku area of Japan, shows how the distinction between rustic and cosmopolitan, and rural and urban, is blurred by the hybridization of life and culture in contemporary Japan. The proliferation of the automobile gives people in the countryside access to the supermarkets, box stores and jobs in the suburbs or centers of the towns, sharing a life that differs little from the life of the town dwellers. The entrepreneurs in his case studies exhibit considerable creativity while also adhering to basic tenets of Japanese culture concerning family and community. All of this is taking place in an area of Japan that is experiencing worrisome depopulation with the ageing of society and the migration of young people to Tokyo and other large cities. This is an important and fascinating study showing basic changes in life and culture in Japan during the three decades of Traphagan’s fieldwork.” —Professor L. Keith Brown, Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh


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