In Japan, politicians and the media alike contend that many rural areas are on the way to extinction. At the same time, the image of the countryside as a harmonic place has remained alive. This panel argues that reality is fractured, i.e. there are more than two ways of interpreting rural Japan.
Debates about rural areas in post-industrial societies are usually characterized by a seemingly contradictory assessment. On the one hand, a panic discourse grasps the countryside as backward and underdeveloped. On the other hand, the countryside is idealized as the bucolic repository of what urbanites lament to have lost. In Japan as well, most regional scientists, politicians and the media alike now contend that due to economic and demographic shrinking rural areas are on the decline, with some municipalities even on the way to extinction. At the same time, the furusato image of the countryside as a nostalgic, harmonic place where traces of the "original Japan" can still be found has remained alive. This interdisciplinary panel (speakers are from the fields of anthropology, sociology, and population geography) transcends this dichotomous view on rurality. Rather than taking sides with or arguing against one of these two views, we argue that rural social reality is fractured, meaning that there are more than two ways of interpreting rural Japan.. The individual papers included in this panel confirm the complexity of rurality in Japan: It is acknowledged that economic and demographic shrinkage is substantial indeed, but it is described as a discrete rather than unabated process, in some regions more effective than in others, and in most cases not leading to total extinction of settlements. Likewise, high wellbeing levels among rural residents may be read as an indicator for harmonic conditions in the rural social environment, but many forms of deviant life patterns hidden behind the even façade of village society tell a different story. Finally, while top-down decisions such as reconstruction projects in the wake of the 3.11-triple disaster unveil a high degree of social vulnerability, Japanese villagers are nonetheless not succumbed to fatalism or obedience but displaying various forms of resilient behavior