Topic: The impact of place and space on residents’ sense of happiness in rural Japan
keywords: happiness, periphery, mobility, community, space
Population decline of and outmigration from rural communities provide the backdrop against which media and academics discuss quality of life in the countryside and policy makers design rural revitalization programs. Yet how rural residents really fare in regards to their well-being and levels of happiness is still a matter of contention: Quantitative research so far remains divided as to whether people in rural or urban communities are more or less happy. To find out what makes life worth living in rural Japan, and how issues of mobility and immobility are played out in subjective well-being, we have conducted in-depth interviews with 24 residents in both a small rural settlement as well as in a neighboring town in Kumamoto prefecture, Kyushu. The interviews consisted of three parts: word definitions on several, emotion-related terms, three quantitative questions on happiness, as well as a board-game type of approach to understanding the multi-dimensionality of happiness indicators.
Findings point to aspects of embeddedness into the community, age, the spatial pattern of family relations, issues of mobility as well as employment within or outside the locality in regards to the significance of place for the residents’ sense of happiness. Opinions on one’s place of residence range from extremely positive to severely negative: from providing safety and a care network of extended family members to seeing the local community as bothersome, demanding of one’s extremely limited spare time, and literally crushing one’s freedom of control of one’s own time. The paper argues that despite remaining marginalized in rural Japan, happy existences can be forged, with issues of age, gender, and profession of further importance. Comparing the subsets from rural and urban localities, we point out the differential impact of place and space on rural happiness.