Accepted paper:

Monozukuri and Machizukuri: crafts and community in contemporary Japan


Stephen Robertson

Paper short abstract:

A case study of a Japanese shopping district (shōtengai) in Nagano Prefecture suggests that partnerships between private enterprise and civil society can draw on traditional patterns of exchange to realize new forms of succession for moral economies of neighbourhood sociality.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the contemporary plight of Japan's shōtengai, traditional urban shopping districts that have long been synonymous with moral economies of neighbourhood sociality. In urban and peri-urban communities throughout Japan, demographic aging, economic stagnation, and shifting retail and consumption patterns have resulted in the widespread transformation of these once-bustling spaces into shuttered and silent shop fronts that have become symbols of nostalgia for a lost sense of organic community. Aging merchants and residents alike are increasingly faced with a generalized sense of an ending that resonates in individual lives and collective imaginings. Yet the subjective immediacy of this crisis is tempered by the objective reality that life must go on for those who remain, and that new patterns can emerge where others have passed into memory. Drawing on ongoing ethnographic fieldwork in Nagano Prefecture, I discuss the experience of a shopping district that has attracted nationwide interest as the focus of concerted efforts by merchants in the private sector and civil society organizations as an experimental model for community succession. Two conclusions are drawn. Firstly, I argue that this partnership between the private and public spheres complicates analytical models of civil society as the "nonstate, nonmarket sector" in Japan. Secondly, by exploring the implications of novel practices of succession for contemporary discourses of local identity, I suggest that a focus on the creative potential inherent in entrepreneurial innovation offers a window into myriad communal futures.

panel P70
Virtue in the marketplace