- Urban Migrants in Rural Japan: Between Agency and Anomie in a Post-growth Society by Susanne Klien
Social science research often provides validation for phenomena that we might only suspect are taking place: it articulates the details that outline the context and contours of the phenomena while also providing for a common understanding, which is essential in proposing broader implications associated with an emerging social reality. Susanne Klien’s Urban Migrants in Rural Japan: Between Agency and Anomie in a Post-growth Society is an example of this type of social science work. The book provides abundant descriptions and detailed characteristics—the faces and cases—that portray the “return to the rural” that some japanologists have noted in passing but few have captured in detail. The book also provides both a theoretical background to this phenomenon and evidence of the co-occurring similarities and differences, paradoxes and contradictions, and straightforward human motivations and complex societal realities that characterize urban-to-rural migration. The contents in total then provide a base from which Klien offers her interpretation of the broader meanings of this phenomenon for Japanese society, both in the present and for the future.
Klien dedicated nine years, from 2009 to 2017, to interviewing 118 adults in the six prefectures of Shimane, Tokushima, Niigata, Iwate, Miyagi, and Hokkaido. These individuals had either migrated from an urban area to a rural place or were dividing their time between the two. Klien conducted additional interviews with individuals who had returned to an original urban situation after realizing that rural living did not match their expectations. Along with these semistructured interviews, Klien’s research included observation of events involving lifestyle migrants and [End Page 243] periods of time simply spent with migrant groups in various settings. The book aims to explore the “values, dreams, and aspirations [of] urbanites between twenty and forty-five years of age . . . who choose to relocate to rural areas of Japan” (p. xiii). Klien presents extensive ethnographic interview data with the purpose of “examining how individuals position themselves in their new surroundings and engage with their environments in their pursuit of a personally more meaningful private and professional life” (p. xiii). As for larger concerns, Klien quite correctly points out that the representation of rural Japan is transitioning from one focused on nostalgia and rice paddy fields to a more practical, if not functional, view focused on, for example, the potential for various combinations of information technology and venture entrepreneurship. By linking to a broader literature on the changing nature and increased complexity of modern living, mobility and migrant lifestyles, and the character of post-growth Japan, Klien goes on to organize her conclusions and, to use her concluding chapter title, deconstruct Japan’s rural-urban divide.
The book’s introduction prefaces and outlines much of the content while also giving brief views of the literature and methodology, which are spread across the seven interview-focused chapters. The book examines its subject matter by progressing through the following topics: migration and mobility; aging, creative depopulation, and female empowerment; the countryside as a site of lifestyle and professional experimentation; agency, anomie, and neoliberalism; the normative convergence of work and leisure; liminality and what the author calls “moratorium migration” (relocation associated with focusing on the moment in order to buy time while postponing decisions about the future); and entrepreneurism and self-determination.
Across the book’s seven main chapters we meet around thirty interviewees, and through Klien’s clear presentation of these cases we gain meaningful and specific details for each. Included are single women, wives accompanying husbands, a social introvert, the manager of a collective house, several volunteers working under short-term contracts for the government, a couple of nomads who just want an easy and comfortable life, a young man keenly aware of the need for money, and many, many disaster volunteers who stayed on in a region long after most others had left. We learn of their backgrounds: while Klien at one point late in...