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3 The Community Marginalization Process in the Wake of Rapid Aging in Rural Areas

3 The Community Marginalization Process in the Wake of Rapid Aging in Rural Areas

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S. Kudo



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and for organizing local events. These functions, undertaken by local residents,

are recognized as “community-functions” (originally “shurakukino” in Japanese)

in Japanese rural studies (Kasamatsu 2009; Odagiri 2009, 2011; Ono 1991, 2008;

Sakuno 2006). Early studies referred to the community-function as an indicator to

assess the state of a given rural community. For example, the management of local

resources, seasonal cleanups, and traditional events are considered as activities

which represent the quality of community-function at an individual community.

A similar concept is also discussed as “community vitality” in the United States.

Crandall and Etuk (2008) define community vitality as “the ability of a community

to sustain itself into the future as well as provide opportunities for its residents

to pursue their own life goals and the ability of residents to experience positive

life outcomes” (Crandall and Etuk 2008). The community-function (or community

vitality) concept is a useful notion to understand the self-managing capacity of a

rural community, and its decline implies the declining vitality of a community.



2 Methodology to Examine the Sustainability of Rural

Areas: The Community Marginalization Framework

In this study, the sustainability of rural areas is seen as the totality of the selfmanaging capability of individual communities. Any qualitative changes in this

self-managing capacity over a period of time are considered as a key factor to

examine rural sustainability, and thus the methodology to be applied has to be able

to analyze the dynamics of this system. Without a methodology including this time

dimension, any study on the sustainability of a target system becomes a simple a

snapshot or description of the system’s current situation. Therefore, it is preferable

that a longitudinal study is conducted when the objective of the research is to fully

examine qualitative changes of a target system. Yet, it is often the case that “solutions to problems may have to be sought before those problems are sufficiently

analyzed or identified” (Komiyama and Takeuchi 2006). In the case of rural Japan,

demographic changes, namely aging and depopulation, are taking place at a faster

pace than in any other part of the world (Kudo et al. 2015), and hence a novel

method that can predict possible trajectories of a target system is needed.

The methodology used in the present study is the community marginalization

framework, which has been developed based on the idea of community-functions

(Fig. 1), and which enables a researcher to examine changes in rural communities

over time. This framework illustrates the declining process of community-functions in a rural community as the community experiences population decline,

which is often referred to as community marginalization (Kasamatsu 2009;

Odagiri 2009, 2011; Sakuno 2006). The term “marginalization” is derived from

Ono (1991, 2008), who coined the term “marginal community”,2 which describes

2Originally



“genkai shuraku” in Japanese and it means “a community facing its limits”.



Sustainability Field Exercises in Rural Areas …



157



High



Community size (population)

/ Community - function



Turning points



Low



Communityfunction



Community size



1st stage



t1



2nd stage



t2



3rd stage



Time

Fig. 1  Conceptual illustration of the marginalization process of rural communities [Modified

from Kasamatsu (2009), Odagiri (2009, 2011), and Sakuno (2006)]



the state of a rural community where more than 50 % of residents are over

65 years old. The term describes a situation where significant declines in community-function quality can be observed, so that the residents of a community cannot

organize their communal ceremonies by themselves, including for example seasonal gatherings, funerals, or other local events (Ono 2008).

Community marginalization is thus believed to have three stages (Fig. 1). In the

first stage, a rural community goes through a drastic population decline, yet the

quality of community-functions can be maintained by the remaining community

members. In other words, there is still enough population to maintain communityfunctions. Local activities such as mutual support in production activities, community gatherings, and seasonal traditional events, are maintained, with the content

and frequency being preserved in a similar way to what was done by previous

generations.

The second stage explains the condition of community in which the size of the

population becomes smaller than the required size to maintain the previous degree

of community-functions. At this stage some local activities are gradually simplified and integrated with other activities or events. For example, residents agree to

do cleanup only once instead of two times per year. It is also common to integrate

spring and fall festivals, both of which are used by the community to pray for good

harvests, into one festival due to the reduction in cultivated areas.

In a community at the third stage of the marginalization process there are only

a few households left. Therefore, the degree of community-functions becomes



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considerably smaller than in the previous two stages (Fig. 1). At this stage abandonment of local properties such as farmlands, individual houses, and community

centers, is often observed. In addition to depopulation, aging affects residents’

physical capacity to maintain significant levels of community-functions.

In addition to these three stages of community marginalization, the framework

suggests two turning points, which illustrate thresholds between the first and the

second stages, and the second and the third stages. As a rural community experiences a decline in its population, it goes through these two tuning points. The

framework suggests that the quality of community-functions would significantly

differ before and after these turning points. This point indicates possible interventions where rural communities should be re-structured according to the current

position of each community in the proposed framework. One of the remaining

challenges that are not addressed in literature is how to accurately examine the

current position of a rural community within the framework. Nevertheless, the

community marginalization framework is considered important as it provides a

systemic perspective to understand the transition of a rural community when it is

experiencing community marginalization (Kudo and Yarime 2013). In contrast,

previous literature focused on each social phenomenon in rural areas such as

rural migration (Champion 1989; Hugo and Moren-Alegret 2008; Mitchell 2004),

increasing pressure to rural small farmers due to market globalization (Hall 2004;

Marsden and Sonnino 2008; Morgan et al. 2010), or general living conditions and

well-being of rural elderly (Atterton 2008; Lowe and Speakman 2006; Stockdale

2011). Japanese rural studies have also followed the same trend by examining rural issues such as declining agricultural activities (Ishimaru 2009; Sasaki

et al. 2007; Tsukada 1997), declining living conditions in marginal communities

(Niinuma 2009; Noguchi et al. 2010; Takegawa 2010), and revitalizing local economy by increasing the interactions with urban residents (Fujita 2005; Tsutsui et al.

2008). The types of challenges that rural communities face today are a mixture of

all of these topics, and therefore a more systematic perspective is required. This is

particularly the case for the rural areas of Japan, as the combination of aging and

depopulation is threatening the sustainability of rural communities.



3 Case Study of Kamikoani Village

To examine community marginalization in rural communities the case study of

Kamikoani village (hereafter Kamikoani) in Akita prefecture, Japan, was analyzed. Kamikoani is located in the northern part of Akita prefecture (Fig. 2). Akita

prefecture has the highest proportion of age 65-plus residents in Japan, 33.6 % in

2015 against a national average of 25.1 %. In fact, Kamikoani has the highest proportion of over 65’s among the prefecture’s 25 municipalities, or 50.3 % in 2014.

Population aging in Kamikoani has been largely caused by continuous population

decline, with the town’s 7000 residents in 1960 being reduced to 2524 residents in

2015 (Table 1).



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159



Fig. 2  Location of Akita prefecture and Kamikoani village (Note Created from Google map)



Table 1  Demographic trends

in Kamikoani from 1955 to

2010



Year



Total population



1955

1960

1965

1970

1975

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015



6,754

6,972

6,550

5,242

4,708

4,352

4,116

3,746

3,553

3,369

3,107

2,727

2,524



Population growth rate

(%)

3.4

3.2

−6.1

−20.0

−10.2

−7.6

−5.4

−9.0

−5.2

−5.2

−7.8

−12.2

−7.4



The total area of Kamikoani is 256.82 km2, which 92.7 % of the land being

covered by forests. The primary sector, particularly rice production and forestry, constitutes all major economic activities in the village. However, due to



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160

Table 2  List of communities in Kamikoani and the definitions of the community groups



1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20



Community



Population



Households



Okitaomote

Kosawada

Hadachi

Shimogotanzawa

Oobayashi

Fukudate

Kamibussha

Doukawa

Sugihana

Shimobussha

Otase

Ooase

Nakagotanzawa

Daikai

Nagashida

Minamisawa

Kamigotanzawa

Yagisawa

Nakamo

Fudoura



831

371

193

179

151

133

94

93

67

66

55

52

48

46

45

36

21

17

6

2



388

163

72

70

66

57

29

38

28

25

21

19

19

18

21

21

11

8

3

2



Age

65-plus

(%)

47.2

33.2

45.1

48.6

47.7

50.4

33.0

26.9

58.2

40.9

45.5

38.5

47.9

37.0

53.3

56.4

66.7

64.7

100.0

100.0



Community

group

Group 1



Definitions of

community

group

Larger than 200

residents



Group 2



Between 100 to

199 residents



Group 3



Between 60 to

99 residents



Group 4



Between 40 to

59 residents



Group 5



Less than 40

residents



the national trends of agriculture and forestry decline, the local economy of

Kamikoani has also faced a continuous decline.

In order to adopt the community marginalization framework as its methodology, this study divides the communities in Kamikonai into five community groups,

which are defined based on their population sizes (Table 2). These community

groups (each with a different population) can be shown to depict the “community size” line in Fig. 1, as this line illustrates declining population at the community level. This case study presumes that findings regarding these five community

groups will depict different qualities of “community-function” given in Fig. 1. In

such a way, the present chapter aims to capture over time changes in rural communities as they go through the community marginalization process.

A household survey was conducted amongst the 1,079 households in

Kamikoani.3 Questionnaire forms were distributed to each of the households, with

3There are two elderly welfare facilities in Kamikoani, which have 165 residents in total (each

resident in these welfare facilities is counted as one household, and thus there are 165 households

between them). Through consultation with the municipal office, it was decided to exclude these

households from the survey since they do not join local activities. Thus, although the total number of households in Kamikoani is 1,244, the questionnaire survey only targeted the 1,079 households that do not form part of the welfare facilities, representing a complete survey of the area.



Sustainability Field Exercises in Rural Areas …



161



the total number of forms returned being 520 (return rate of 50.0 %). The survey

questions were developed regarding five categories: (1) Household profile, (2)

Transportation & access, (3) Property management, (4) Economic state, (5) Social

relationships. A total of 17 questions were asked, based on a literature review on

rural livelihoods (Table 3), which identified a number of topics that are often discussed. Firstly, transportation and access is one of the most discussed topics in

early studies. Access to reliable transportation and basic services are seen as key

elements for social inclusion in rural settings (Farrington and Farrington 2005;

Preston and Rajé 2007). Several other studies have addressed the minimum and

affordable size of transportation (Lovett et al. 2002; Smith et al. 2012).

Secondly, the maintenance of both private and community properties is considered as an important topic in rural areas of Japan. Especially, there is high interest

regarding the management of abandoned paddy fields (Inaba 2006; Sasaki et al.

2007; Tsukada 1997). Abandonment of private houses and the loss of local culture

are also seen as critical issues in rural planning (Shinobe and Miyachi 2012; Ueda

2007; Yusa et al. 2006). In rural planning, a strategic merger of marginalized communities is often discussed (Hayashi 2011; Nishino 2010).

Table 3  Question categories and contents for the questionnaire design

Question categories

1



Household profile



2



Transportation and

access



Question

number

Q1

Q2

Q3

Q4

Q5

Q6

Q7



3



Property management



Q8

Q9

Q10



4



Economic state



Q11

Q12



5



Social relationships



Q13

Q14

Q15

Q16

Q17



Contents

Members of household

Age groups of household members

Working members of household

Working locations of household

Main transportation means of household

Main means of access to groceries and daily

needs

Frequency of household’s access to groceries and daily needs

Farm operation by household

Removing snow by household

Activities or events that household feels

lack manpower

Working members of household

Satisfaction level on current income state of

household

Relationships with other members of

community

Relationships with out-migrated family

members of household

Frequency of the out-migrated family

members’ visits

Regional activities that household is interested in

Willingness to continue to live in the same

community



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S. Kudo



Thirdly, there is a significant amount of public discussions on the issue of local

economy revitalization. The economic state of rural areas has been discussed at

various levels, from individual to regional. In Europe, migration of retired residents from urban to rural areas is seen as a valuable resource for the revitalization

of a local economy, as these people often have established networks from their

previous careers (Kalantaridis 2010; Klinthäll 2006; Stockdale 2006).

Lastly, the social relationship among local residents has also been extensively

studied in relation to rural livelihoods. Especially, the social capital discourse has

gained some popularity. Such studies on social capital examine the relationship

between the local environment and the residents’ identity formation (Burholt and

Naylor 2005; Heenan 2010), and see social capital as the key driver for maintaining rural communities vibrant (McManus et al. 2012).



4 Results

In this section, the results of questionnaire survey regarding four of the question

categories are presented. The first category was excluded since the analysis of this

chapter is based on the five community groups defined. The results are divided

according to community group, which are referred to as Groups 1–5, together with

the village total.



4.1 Transportation Means and Access to Basic Services

Regarding the main transportation means of the household, 70–80 % of all

respondents answered “Car driven by a household member” (Fig. 3). Aside from

that, less than 10 % of households within all community groups use other transportation means. In Groups 1 and 3, about 10 % of households use “Public transportation”. In Group 2, 10.5 % of households answered “Walk or bike”. In Group

5, 10.5 % of households responded “Car driven by others” as their main means of

transportation.

Similar to the results regarding the means of transportation, the access to groceries is largely self-managed within the village. Approximately 80 % of respondents in Groups 1 to 4 said they are “Self-managing” their access to groceries

(Fig. 4). Other means are not commonly used, except 11.1 % of Group 4 households, who use “Mobile grocery stores”.4 In the case of Group 5, households who

4“Mobile grocery stores” is a type of grocery shopping service which brings products to the community. This service is often offered by a local store and brings those grocery items in a van, so

that the customers can shop without traveling to the stores. The difference from a delivery service

is that the customers do not need to request a delivery, but can purchase directly while inspecting

the product.



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163



Village total



Walk or bike



Group 1



Car driven by a

household

member



Group 2



Car driven by

others



Group 3



Public

transportation



Group 4



Local NGO

service

Others



Group 5

0



10



20



30



40



50



60



70



80



90



100



Percent of respondents



Fig. 3  Main means of transportation of households



Village total



Self-managing



Group1



Mobile grocery

stores



Group2



Delivery

service

Group3



Outmigrated

family

Neighbors



Group4

Others

Group5

0



10



20



30



40



50



60



70



Percent of respondents



Fig. 4  Main access mean to groceries



80



90



100



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