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Divergence of the sustaining and marginalizing communities in the process of rural aging: a case study of Yurihonjo-shi, Akita, Japan

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This study examines the marginalization process of rural communities, which is caused by the decline of community-based autonomy and various activities in relation to the decline and aging of their populations, based on the frameworks that describe the process in three stages. A field survey was conducted in five rural communities in Yurihonjo-shi in Akita Prefecture, Japan. These communities were selected based on their locations, population decline and aging rates, and population sizes and were categorized into two groups, the remote and the central communities. This survey was composed of two sections: (1) a questionnaire-based survey to households and (2) an interview survey with the chairperson of each community. In order to capture the multidimensionality of residents’ daily lives, sustainable development indicators, which are originally designed to capture the well-being of nations, were utilized to develop the questionnaire. The results demonstrated significant differences between the two groups of communities mainly on four aspects: (1) farming type, (2) visits and roles of out-migrated family, (3) self-evaluation of living conditions, and (4) residents’ future concerns. These findings suggest the current state of the remote community can be seen as that of the “marginalizing” community, for which a welfare-based approach is recommended to secure the living conditions of the residents. On the other hand, the current state of the central community is considered as that of the “sustaining” community for which a revitalization approach is recommended in order to rejuvenate the diminishing community functions.

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  1. Originally “genkai shuraku” in Japanese, this term has not yet been officially translated by Prof. Ohono into English. Alternative translations of meaning can be “marginal settlement,” “marginal hamlet,” or “dying community/settlement.” Similar expressions such as “peripheral” or “remote” are also used in studies on rural communities. Yet, in this study, “marginal community” is used to refer to Ohno’s definition of “genkai shuraku” and “remote” is used to refer to “geographically distant ” areas.

  2. The expression 'shi' indicates a city-level municipality in Japan. In local governance, each prefecture is composed of municipalities, that is either city (shi), town (machi), or village (mura). These categories are defined by the size of the population. For example, Akita prefecture is composed on 13 shi, 9 machi, and 3 mura. In Japanese local governance, 'shi,' although its translation to English is 'city,' does not indicate an urban or populated area.

  3. “Act on Special Financial Measures for Comprehensive Development of Public Facilities for Distant Areas” Act No. 88 of 1962. This law ordains special financial measures to set up systematic and comprehensive development of public facilities for municipalities in which selected distant areas exist. This law aims to redress the significant disparity in living standards and cultural levels of residents between distant and other areas.

  4. Originally it was called the “fukushiteki” approach in Japanese. This term has not yet been officially translated into English by either Niinuma or Sakuno. The authors translated it into English as “welfare-based.”


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Correspondence to Shogo Kudo.

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Handled by Masahiro Matsuura, University of Tokyo, Japan.

Appendix: Questionnaire for the household survey

Appendix: Questionnaire for the household survey

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Kudo, S., Yarime, M. Divergence of the sustaining and marginalizing communities in the process of rural aging: a case study of Yurihonjo-shi, Akita, Japan. Sustain Sci 8, 491–513 (2013).

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