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Creating a Community of Resilience: New Meanings of Technologies for Greater Well-Being in a Depopulated Town


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This article reflects upon the process of care in a depopulated town that is progressively graying. This has led to a consciousness of older adult’s well-being and has led to the creation of living places for people from diverse cultural backgrounds and multiple generations. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in this town, this article traces the activities of persons searching for ways to promote a new industry in a manner that is appropriate to the local environment and that also matches the needs of older adults, aiming to help them continue to live in the community. It explores the kind of world discovered by those older adults who have continued to work by taking advantage of both their own resources and those of the community, and looks at how creative ways of supporting those efforts have affected the lifestyle of younger generations as well as the very nature of the town. It also explores the meaning of the development of technologies as an element that makes up the time and space in which people gather and considers the ways the community expresses and shares wisdom
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Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 2012: 33 (3)
Aging & Anthropology
in eAst AsiA
Japan has become well-known for its rapidly progressing
aging and depopulation. Since 1994, it has witnessed the
emergence of the so-called “aged society,” with 14-21%
of the population aged 65 or older, and became classied
as a “super-aged society” (21.5%) after the population
estimation conducted in 2007. There are frequent reports
of depopulated towns or villages falling into a critical
situation with the local community, public service and
social infrastructure no longer functioning and the natural
environment being destroyed. Since the beginning of
1990s, this situation has been such a concern that areas
speCiAl internAtionAl submission on Aging And mAteriAlity in JApAn
Creating a Community of Resilience:
New Meanings of Technologies for Greater
Well-Being in a Depopulated Town
Nanami Suzuki, Ph.D.
National Museum of Ethnology
National Institutes for the Humanitites
Graduate School of Advanced Studies, Japan
with more than 50% of the population aged 65 or older
have been called “Genkai Shūraku” (region in limit
situation) (Ōno 2005), expressing worries especially for
older people lost or isolated. Genkai Shūraku increased
to eleven municipalities in 2010 according to the latest
national census. These days, graying and aging in “new
towns” developed on a wide scale after 1960s are also a
concern as they are in the U.S. (Stafford 2009).
In an effort to halt depopulation and isolation of older
people, researchers of economics and demography
have insisted on the importance of promoting primary
industries in regions experiencing depopulation
This article reects upon the process of care in a depopulated town that is
progressively graying. This has led to a consciousness of older adult’s well-
being and has led to the creation of living places for people from diverse
cultural backgrounds and multiple generations. Based on ethnographic
eldwork in this town, this article traces the activities of persons searching
for ways to promote a new industry in a manner that is appropriate to the
local environment and that also matches the needs of older adults, aiming to
help them continue to live in the community. It explores the kind of world
discovered by those older adults who have continued to work by taking
advantage of both their own resources and those of the community, and looks
at how creative ways of supporting those efforts have affected the lifestyle of
younger generations as well as the very nature of the town. It also explores
the meaning of the development of technologies as an element that makes
up the time and space in which people gather and considers the ways the
community expresses and shares wisdom.
Keywords: aging, depopulation, work, technology, community, environment,
Kamikatsu, Japan
Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 2012: 33 (3)
Nanami Suzuki Creating a Community of Resilience
(Matsutani & Fujimasa 2002: 94-99). This is because in
Japan, the ability to continue work and other roles is a
signicant factor contributing to the well-being of the
older adult. According to one international comparative
study on the traits of the aged in ve countries, the
older adult in Japan have a greater tendency to attach
importance to having a paid job and to getting along well
with their neighbors (Maeda 2006; Yuzawa 2003:176). In
the history of Japan, the older adults have important roles
working in the community, such as tending pineland and
caring for and educating children (Miyata et al ed. 2000:22;
Miyamoto 1984:33-43) (Photo 1). Aging and depopulation
may deprive both older adult and younger generation of
the opportunity of cultivating inter-generational relations
(Thang 2001), and going through life as a whole.
Kamikatsu-cho (Kamikatsu Town), located on the island
of Shikoku, is an example of an area that has suffered from
progressive aging and depopulation. Several prior studies
reported the reconstruction of regions as carried out both
by local governments and a semi-public joint venture
(dened as a category of the third-sector in Japan). Honma
(2007) and Ōe (2008) referred to Kamikatsu Town in their
comparative studies on successful cases in promoting
primary industries in various depopulated municipalities,
focusing on the government’s
designation of special districts of
structural reform. These reforms
were an attempt to avoid restrictions
in certain elds and to stimulate the
administration of local districts. Ōe
has termed these attempts as “welfare
promoted by industry” (Honma 2007:
70-71; Ōe 2008: 69). One of leaders
of the semi-public joint venture of
Kamikatsu Town reported his efforts
toward cultivating new products as
an agricultural instructor (Yokoishi
2007). The mayor of Kamikatsu Town
also gave reports of recycling system
developed in the town (Kasamatsu and
Sato 2008).
In previous research, I conducted
a general study concerning Japan’s
aging society and the well-being of
people from various generations. First,
I examined historical changes in the
thoughts about the lifecycle starting
from medical writings of Hippocrates
(ca. 460-370 BC) (Terasaki and Suzuki
1994). I found that similar to western
conceptions of the lifecycle (Cole 1992), such as “the
stairway of life” that rst appeared in medieval western
society in the form of “The Seven Ages of Man” in the
Orbis Sensualium Pictus (“World in Pictures”) textbook
by John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), for example, adults
became recognized as the “norm,” while the older adult
and children became peripheral, or were considered only
as recipients of care by the adult generation. Second, based
on eldwork, I examined the process by which older adult
in Kamikatsu Town have been able to continue making
use of their abilities and their local material resources,
culminating in the promotion of a new industry. The
article sheds light on townspeople’s search for the way of
normalization for older adult to participate in their new
work (Suzuki 2005; 2009; 2010).
This article, based on eldwork and interviews I
conducted starting in 2004, proceed to look into how a
depopulated town revive with creative ways of promoting
a new business through indigenous products, and how
the venture has spiraled not only to provide well-being
to the older adults, but also allowing for more new ideas
to surface by younger people who came from outside the
town. I especially focused on experiences of older women
who participated in the industry and the ways their work
reshaped both their social life and personal outlook. I also
shed light on how technologies and the creative ways of
Photo 1: Japanese dolls of an older man and woman in traditional
silk kimono (Photo courtesey of author)
Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 2012: 33 (3)
Nanami Suzuki Creating a Community of Resilience
supporting the older adult’s activities have affected the
lifestyle of the younger generation and the town itself by
examining the process of developing technologies and
working out plans toward the creation of new events and
activities. Through those works, each townsperson as well
as people that considered about the town contributed to the
empowerment of the local community by pursuing well-
being, without clinging to generational or gender-based
norms or roles (Matsumoto ed. 2011). I also explore how
older adult in particular came to expand their system of
mutual aid with the cooperation of people outside of their
town, sharing leisure time and regenerating experiences
in addition to work.
deVelopment oF a new induStrry
Crises and changes of Kamikatsu Town
Kamikatsu Town is situated upstream of Katsuragawa
River in the central region of Tokushima Prefecture of
eastern Shikoku. The town is dominated by range of
mountains higher than 1000m above sea level. Low-lying
lands under 200m comprise only 4% (4.2 square km) and
lands between 200m to 500m are 28%, thus two thirds of
town is nestled in upland region. Some 55 settlements are
scattered in the mountain slopes of the V valley, around
100m to 700m. Forest area reaches 86.1% of the town.
68% (73.96 square km) of agricultural land is located over
500m and can be seen up to 600m (Kamikatsu-cho 1979:
The population of the town was 1783 and the number
of households was 763, the percentage of the town’s
population aged 65 or older was 52.4% according to
national census of October 2010. In the years between
1915 and the Second World War, the number of household
increased but the overall population decreased. The
population peaked at 6,356 in 1950 when returned
servicemen and dislocated workers came back to the
town. Since 1955, the population began to decrease, and
since 1960, it fell fast due to drastic out-migration to the
three major metropolitan areas as well as to such cities
in Tokushima prefecture as Tokushima, Komatsushima,
Anan and Katsuura (Kamikatsu-cho 1979: 23-26, 1216).
Kamikatsu Town thus has been regarded as a Genkai
Shuraku in critical condition.
The town’s main industry—lumber and mandarin oranges
of the Onshu variety—had started to become unprotable
during Japan’s rapid economic growth years of the
1970s and 1980s, owing to increasing imports and the
expansion of production of those products in other areas
of Japan. In February 1981, the town bore the brunt of an
unprecedented cold wave that was quite localized, with
the mercury going down to -13 degrees Celcius (around
9 degrees Fahrenheit), dealing a devastating blow to its
mandarin orange orchards. Trees of the special indigenous
varieties of aromatic, sour citrus fruits—such as yuko and
sudachi—were also on the verge of dying. An agricultural
instructor, Mr. A, was transferred from Tokushima City
to help develop new crops suitable to chill high ground.
Various other crops as scallion, nozawana and shiitake
mushroom, were planted experimentally, but people’s
livelihoods barely improved (Yokoishi 2007:160-165).
Having lost hope, many of the local residents turned to
alcohol or became depressed. Deprived of the opportunity
to cooperate in farming and seasonal festivals they were
happy with in the past, people lapsed into saying nasty
things about others at “Idobata Kaigi” (gossip meetings).
It thus became an urgent task to revitalize not only the
town’s economy, but its spirit as well.
New work of leaf production: discovering the
resources of a town
The town’s residents tried to create a new industry suitable
to the town. They came up with a hit agri-forestry product,
inspired by a conversation overheard at a Japanese
restaurant in Kyoto. Mr. A, the agricultural instructor
brought to Kamikatsu, was eating dinner this restaurant
after a long day of work when he overheard some young
women happily conversing about the beautiful leaves
decorating their food. Mr. A thought to himself, “Those
kinds of leaves can be found all over Kamikatsu Town—is
it really true that they make people so happy?” Indeed,
leaves are often placed upon kaiseki and other types of
Japanese cuisine as a garnish, with the cooks normally
obtaining the leaves themselves in the vicinity. Mr. A,
however, wondered whether the demand for leaves might
be high if young people like the women in the restaurant
enjoy food so much, including the leaves. The work of
picking the mountain leaves was perfect for the older
adult of Kamikatsu Town, who were quite familiar with
local vegetation. Moreover, the work did not require so
much physical energy.
Mr. A returned to Kamikatsu and broached his idea with
the local residents, but no one took him seriously at rst.
Older people who had previously thrived in the forestry
and mandarin orange industries refused to believe that
just going to the mountain, picking up leaves, and putting
them in a box was “real work.” His proposals were not
easily accepted by the townspeople, in part because he
was considered an “outsider.” It was hard to persuade
the older adult, who had so far enthusiastically engaged
in the development and production of other agricultural
products that “leaves could be products” too.
Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 2012: 33 (3)
Nanami Suzuki Creating a Community of Resilience
At last, he found several farming households whose female
members agreed to cooperate with his plan. The various
kinds of leaves collected by the women—all in their 60s—
were loaded by Mr. A in the agricultural cooperative’s
automobile, which he drove to Osaka and Kyoto in
an attempt to peddle them at several markets. In the
beginning, Mr. A found difculty in grasping consumers’
needs, such as the form of a leaf, color, size that are called
for each season. Reluctantly, he made repeated visits to
restaurants where leaves were actually being used in
cooking. Bit by bit, he learned how to choose and arrange
leaves that would be seasonal and those that would bring
out the best avor of the food.
When the enterprise got off the ground, the town entered
a semi-public joint venture, prepared cooperation with an
agricultural cooperative association, and began to tackle
this industry completely. Indigenous leaves and branches
of plants growing in the village were commercialized as
ingredients in food, including the leaves of persimmon
and maple trees, nandina, giant elephant ear (a kind of
taro), camellia plants and bamboo grass, along with azalea
owers and the owers of plum, cherry and pear trees.
The industry was successful beyond everyone’s
expectations. Moving forward 19 years to 2005, some
300 kinds of leaves were being shipped from Kamikatsu
Town, with annual revenue exceeding 250 million yen
(around $3.25 million), accounting for more than 80%
of the product being sold at the
Osaka Central Wholesale Market.
City-dwelling customers now enjoy
dishes decorated with beautiful
leaves, and willingly pay for them
as well. More than 150 households
(around 20% of all households)
in the town participate in the
production of the leaves, with the
average age of the people engaged
in the tasks of collecting, washing
and packing the leaves standing
at around 68 (as of 2005). Many
women and older adult do the work
as it allows them to apply their
knowledge of local vegetation and
because of relatively light workload
in all stages of production (Photo
2). They earn a monthly income
of 200,000 to 300,000 yen (around
$2,500 to $3,750); some people even
occasionally earn 1 million yen
($12,500) a month. Kamikatsu Town
had successfully created a top-
selling product that could be made primarily through the
activities of its older adult residents.
deVelopment and modiFication oF
echnologieS to increaSe acceSSibility
and changeS in older peopleS liVeS
While the work of the older adult may seem outwardly
simple, it is in fact hardly simple at all. It is not enough
for them just to pick some leaves here and there—the
harvest must be planned and designed in a way that
meets market needs, with the leaves being sent to the
market at an appropriate time. The act of producing the
kinds of leaves that match such needs is something that
older people ought to do well, for they have seen various
kinds of leaves over many years change colors throughout
the four seasons on the slopes of the mountains. Still,
there remained for the producers the issues of identifying
exactly which kinds of leaves were being demanded by
the market, as well as guring out a method to transport
the products to the market in a timely fashion.
The special efforts that were utilized to bring out the
abilities of the older adult in Kamikatsu Town can be
broadly categorized into three types, as described below.
Divert use of wireless telegraph for equal information
First, it was suggested that the town’s existing simultaneous-
broadcast wireless system, designed for use in disasters,
Photo 2: A woman prepares and packages leaves (Photo courtesey
of author)
Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 2012: 33 (3)
Nanami Suzuki Creating a Community of Resilience
be utilized to equitably get information
sent out to the people participating in
the leaf production. For people living
and working in scattered mountain
areas, the simultaneous-broadcast
wireless system has been utilized to
inform townspeople of emergencies
and other important matters. This
time, a new system was organized by
which the disaster fax service could
be used to send out information to the
leaf producers, forming a network that
allowed everyone to quickly acquire
information such as requests for
shipments, etc. That way, information
about seasonal leaves in demand
including the copy of leaf samples that
help the producers easily adjust the form
of a leaf, a color, a size, to a standard,
are sent swiftly and simultaneously to
all the farm households registered as
leaf producers.
Upon receipt of the fax, the producers can then ascertain
whether or not they can make a timely delivery of the
amount of leaves specied in the order, and then make
a phone call to the central ofce to place a bid for the job.
After that, they take the packed leaves to the agricultural
cooperative by the specied deadline. Only if a bid is placed
does the order get nalized, however, so the old people of
Kamikatsu Town always keep close tabs on the condition
of the leaves growing on their mountains as they patiently
wait for a fax to come in, acting very quickly until their
phone call to make their bid goes through. Once, when
I was interviewing one of the local women, she got a fax
with an order request, whereupon she quickly dropped
everything else to concentrate on the mountain leaves.
Producers’ feeling of fulllment by acquiring
information of the area
Second, a computer system—loaned to anyone who asks
for it—has been developed that is easy even for older people
to use. It is extremely important for the leaf producers to
get timely market information—regarding such things
as the products being traded, the deadlines for delivery,
and prices—so that they can plan what to cultivate in light
of the season. As such information constantly changes, it
was considered desirable to have it distributed through
the network to the individual producers, who would then
be able to act on it.
As far as using computers was concerned, discussions
were made about the type of software and settings that
could be used by older adult for the rst time. An easy-to-
handle trackball, with the ball moved by the entire palm,
was devised for older adult unaccustomed to clicking
a mouse. The older adult could receive and send out
information by simply rolling the trackball and moving
the cursor to the desired place on the easy-to-understand,
color-coded screen (Photo 3).
What especially makes the leaf producers excited is getting
constantly-updated information about their own sales
totals and sales rankings, as well as which kinds of leaves
are hot sellers. With color-coded bar graphs depicting
shipment targets and current shipment status, the leaf
producers can instantly decide whether to ship seasonal
items or those in constantly high demand. Every day, the
older adult lift up the protective cloth covers over their
computer screens and pay rapt attention to them.
Another method to share information was Mr. A’s
handwritten newsletter reminiscent of the bulletins used
to exchange information at elementary school. The paper
includes detailed information about leaves and is chock-
full of stories about minor events in the town. Each issue,
too, is distributed by fax. The townspeople are often
highlighted in the newspaper, and they look forward to
reading about each other’s activities there.
Photo 3: Using a computer with a trackball device to recieve and
send out information on deliveries (Photo courtesey of author)
Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 2012: 33 (3)
Nanami Suzuki Creating a Community of Resilience
Transportation and communication
Manufactured leafs have to be supplied to an agricultural
cooperative association by the xed time. In a town
without a public transportation facility except for a trunk
road, reservation of transportation which older adult can
easily use was a pressing need.
Taxi services are now being provided through paid
volunteers in special zones, allowing the older adult to
deliver their products safely to the agricultural cooperative
to meet the prescribed deadline. Kamikatsu Town applied
to the government to develop the original system of
helping aged and disabled people to move around town
with volunteer-run, fare-charging taxis. The “Project in
Special District of Transportation with Fare-charging
Volunteers” was approved through the government’s
policy of “Special Districts in Structural Reform” in May
2003. This policy was efcient because residents devised
an idea that is suitable to a region they live. Thanks to
the system, older adult who cannot or do not drive are
now able to ask someone else to transport them without
Changes in the lives of the aged
The way of life of older adults in Kamikatsu Town has
changed signicantly thanks to the new leaf-collection
industry. Thanks to the stable income they earned through
the “easy and clean work”, they were able to enhance their
lifestyles and build a sense of hope in the future. With
their extra money, the rst thing they did was to increase
their avenues for amusement. Mrs. B said that although it
seemed small pleasure, she was relaxed and happy to have
a cup of beer with her husband at supper time after work.
Her husband had been engaged in charcoal burner, but he
had never got enough money from his hard work. Now
they cooperate in collecting, coordinating, and shipping
leaves. They feel so happy to have something to work for
together and to talk in smile about. They even hope that
their son’s family come back to the town and inherit their
In the case of older women, especially—those who
had married into farmer’s families or who had been
housewives—a whole new life began, one in which they
had income to spend freely for the rst time. Mrs. C, who
was 84 years old in 2005, evenly split the income she made
from collecting leaves with her daughter-in-law, who
was helping her in her work. Although Mrs. C lost her
husband long time ago, she was proud to have supported
her grandson living in the city to buy a house and to
prepare for family gathering all by herself. She and her
daughter-in-law work and live together happily.
The second thing the old people of Kamikatsu Town did
with their extra money was to use it to invest in the future.
Examples of that include people who have planted new
trees with an eye on those kinds of leaves that are in high
demand. Mrs. C, who has the nickname of “Ace,” has been
participating in this work from the very beginning of the
project, and has continued to plant new persimmon trees
in anticipation of future harvests. While it takes some
three years from the time a tree is planted until it can be
harvested for its leaves, she says that she looks forward
to it.
From the viewpoint of the investment, it is a new experience
for the work colleagues to make bus trips to Kyoto for the
purpose of study tours, not only the sightseeing trip. On
the tours, they can enjoy going to restaurants that buy their
leaves to see how they are actually prepared, and taste
dishes with the leaves in them. It makes good opportunity
for them to spark the new ideas together.
The leaves have gone beyond merely being things that
are “plucked” to things that are “made.” The relation
between such factors as sunlight and altitude with the
color of leaves can only be predicted by those who have
a lot of experience. What was formerly seen as the town’s
weak point—its unsuitability for planting crops because
of the scarcity of at land—is instead now recognized as
its strong point, namely, the ability to get leaves of all sorts
of colors. The whole town is now viewed as “shelves in
a store,” with the people totally absorbed in the task of
caring for the nature of the forest.
The third change that came about was the increased number
of opportunities for individuals in the community to “exist
with visible faces.” Many of the women, particularly, told
me that for the rst time, they felt that they existed with
a “visible face.” Thanks to the information they get sent
to them over the network, they can keep track of what
their colleagues in the business are doing and learn about
the market, even while they remain at home. Mrs. D is
happy to do her work with her son thanks to the growing
accessibility of work. After being ill, her son is not strong
enough for working outside but he can drive to bring
leaves for his parents.
The opportunity for people to meet others face-to-face
has also expanded because they have common topics of
conversation. The townspeople use the well-appointed
facilities of the remodeled and expanded local public inn
to enjoy the hot springs there, and often get together in the
inn’s meeting room to discuss common themes.
Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 2012: 33 (3)
Nanami Suzuki Creating a Community of Resilience
the deSign oF well-traFFicked placeS
The changes in the lifestyle of the older adult in Kamikatsu
Town led to changes in the atmosphere of the whole town,
including the lifestyle of other generations and the way
people interacted.
The volunteer taxi service that was organized to help the
work of the older adult can be done by anyone who can
drive, but one necessary condition for the drivers is to
be within voice range of their customers. Thanks to the
introduction of the small taxi system, both older adult and
younger people have expanded their opportunity to talk
with members in the vicinity. The small changes have led
to an increase in the number of conversations, bringing
about a sense of greater vitality to the town.
Since 1993, the “1Q (Ikkyu) Athlete Meet,” named after
the famous Buddhist priest “Ikkyu,” who loved to hold
dialogs in the form of questions and answers in order to
get and share good ideas, has given everyone in town
a chance to express their opinions on how to make the
town a better place to live and visit. Starting in 1995,
the town was divided into ve districts, each with six
representatives (two of which are women) serving on a
30-member committee that was organized to think up and
transmit ideas about the town, including its environment,
at the meet. Each of the ve districts presents its problem,
and the committee has gured out a solution together as it
did in developing the taxi service for townspeople living
in the mountains.
According to Mr. A, such activities are positioned as an
attempt to “Ki wo Sodateru” (foster spirits) of the residents.
Thinking and coming up with ideas are said to be a form
of “play.” Surely, in places outside of work to earn income
to support their livelihood, new arenas were created for
people to be active in the community, where ordinary
people came to have experiences that were universally
illuminated by coming out to the front stage.
Transition to a “clean town” by the efforts of recycling
One stage for fostering spirits was the recycle center set
up to support the town’s economy and ecology. Since the
town did not have an original garbage dump, garbage
processing was an important subject of discussion. The
townsfolk did not want to use tax money either to buy
an incinerator or to ask another town to dispose of their
waste materials. Searching for the good way to recycle,
they solicited, over the Internet, someone who could help
them develop a feasible system of recycling for the town.
They received an application from a young woman who
had learned many ways of recycling in Denmark. She has
lived in Kamikatsu Town since the summer of 2004, and
has taken leadership as Director of an NPO (nonprot
organization) called “Zero Waste Academy.” to improve
the method of recycling.
Recycling begins with carefully classifying waste. The
newly hired recycling expert and the townsfolk formed
“Zero Waste Academy,” and developed a system to
separate rubbish according to categories. Following the
expert’s directions, the townsfolk have come to separate
their rubbish into 30 or more groups at the “Hibiya Recycle
Center.” At the center, people classify garbage, with a clear
explanation given of how the rubbish is to be recycled.
The recycle center also resembles a small museum where
children can learn recycling. People now enjoy more
opportunities than ever before to converse with others
by consulting other older people on the center’s staff as
they carefully separate their garbage. A volunteer group
that helps older adult or carries their garbage was also
formed. Now the rate of recycling in Kamikatsu Town is
80%, compared to just 19% overall in Japan (Kasamatsu
and Sato 2008: 107).
The “Zero Waste Academy” publishes a journal called
“Kurukuru,” a Japanese word describing a circular
motion, to introduce its “eco-life,” giving information
to the townsfolk about how to make small articles from
waste materials. Kamikatsu Town has been known for its
efforts to recycle garbage to become a “clean town,” which
will enhance its image of growing “beautiful leaves.”
Nowadays, the recycle center has become a kind of
community center, the site of various activities being put
into practice. A place called “Hidamari” (meaning a “cozy
place in the sun”) has been set up next to the center as a
meeting place. The space has been utilized as a place for
people to bring their unneeded items for recycling and/or
making things. There, older adult and young people enjoy
making new shirts, bags and hats out of material recycled
at the center, as well as koinobori carp streamers, making
use of older adult’s knowledge on sewing with old cloth
such as tafu (made from bark of the region in winter). In
that small space, people use their leisure time to pass on
knowledge about sewing and making things, with cloth
remnants being transformed into new items.
Deployment of the local specialty stand of a town
Another stage that has been established for people was the
local grocery store, “Ikkyu-san,” which has served as the
site for the new plan of cooperation between the young
people coming to the town from the outside and the town’s
older adult and housewives. Since 2000, young salesmen
and women have been dispatched to Kamikatsu Town for
Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 2012: 33 (3)
Nanami Suzuki Creating a Community of Resilience
a year at a time by a NPO in Tokyo. They select and sell
the foods considered to be interesting from a stranger’s
viewpoint. In cooperation with the housewives, they sell
a small amount of vegetables, home-made side dishes, the
seasoning made from citrus fruits, the traditional rice-cake
sweets that are characteristic of the region.
Next to the product is a small piece of paper where
they can write down such information as where the
product came from, what times of the year it is best to
eat certain mountain vegetables, etc., and delicious ways
to prepare the ingredient. That gives tourists and newly-
arrived young residents information about the region’s
distinctive food culture and connections with the natural
environment. On the second oor of the shop, both
tourists and townspeople often enjoy healthy meals using
local food at lunchtime as well.
Activities of the younger generation and a new
movement in the town
Most people in Kamikatsu Town welcome returnees
(u-turn people) and newcomers (i-turn people). For older
adult and townspeople of Kamikatsu Town, various new
plans have been a sense of discovery of new ways to use
their leisure time, and that has led to the discovery of new
jobs and activities for young people as well. Some young
people, after a temporary stay, decided to continue to live
in Kamikatsu Town.
Since 2005, a working-holiday scheme has been instituted
in the town, with more than 100 persons participating
while staying in farmers’ homes. A few of the participants
have moved to Kamikatsu Town as well.
Each year, one person sent from an NPO to work as a clerk
at “Ikkyu-san” as a relocated person from the outside. The
town pays for part of their living expenses, also supporting
their lifestyle by providing low-cost housing—a house
lled with the scent of new wood—built by a joint public-
private lumber processing venture. That also meant the
use of local timber, one of the resources in the town, which
has promoted forestry. Some 17 young people have been
sent there so far, with six of them settling permanently.
One young person, when asked why she wanted to keep
living in the town, said that it was because the townspeople
frequently talked to her about the way of living in the town.
Young people have plenty of opportunity to try their idea
together with a resident. By expressing their viewpoint as
a “stranger”, young people can gain a valuable place as a
member of the town.
There are also those who apply experiences obtained in
the town in new places. The woman who took charge
of maintenance of a recycle center offers her experience
now in another location near Tokyo. Thus, the experience
cultivated and accumulated in Kamikatsu Town has been
shared and utilized by people of other areas with similar
challenges of aging and depopulation. People who have
worked in town would share the same subject with and
feel sympathy with people in other areas in Japan.
Although newcomers increased, the total population
of Kamikatsu Town did not grow signicantly. Older
people have died and some students have moved out
of the town to go to school. However, the circulation of
residents gives the town a chance for new conversations
and ideas to grow. Thus, townspeople have made efforts
to share resources with people living outside of the town
as a means to offer urban dwellers the chance to own a
tanada or “terraced eld” in the town. Summer outdoor
concerts have been held for the townsfolk and visitors at
the tanada, now famous throughout Japan for its beautiful
scenery. In former times, rice planting was conducted with
the cooperation of community members of a settlement
and rice-planting festival was held. Nowadays, tanada
has been tended through the cooperation of townspeople
and outsiders, and the concert gives various meaning to
this mutual aid.
In order to realize their vision for the town, old and new
residents alike are trying to nd out how the factors once
considered the disadvantages of a depopulated town have
turned into advantages more recently. However, they
do not have a vision of making Kamikatsu Town a “big
town” or a tourist spot.
The idea of maintaining and employing a town efciently
came to be shared by people through developing techniques
and technologies of communication and sharing the town
with newcomers. This involves the superimposition of
each generation’s life cycle as the culture of the district is
being spun forth.
Kamikatsu Town was a depopulated town that aimed to
promote an industry that took advantage of the region’s
special features and the practical knowledge of the older
residents. Their innovations enabled the accessibility of
work, which not only allowed older adult to participate,
but also changed the lifestyle of the community including
other generations. The numerous innovations aimed at the
district’s revitalization created a new range of activities, in
turn increasing the number of opportunities for everyone
to better communicate with each other.
The new store selling locally-produced goods served as a
physical entrance or “channel” through which new young
Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 2012: 33 (3)
Nanami Suzuki Creating a Community of Resilience
residents and tourists were attracted to the town. The
recycling center became multifunctional in nature, having
set up places for people to relax and socialize. This led to
the development of indigenous products of the town that
utilized recycled goods. Those attempts also expanded
the spaces for interpersonal exchange within the town,
and opened up the possibility for people to build new
The older adult’s feeling of happiness and well-being came
not only from the money they earned, but also from social
and cultural factors such as their place in their family and
community. Without stereotyping older adult as “objects
of assistance,” their participation in an activity as full
members of the district resulted in their feeling that they
existed in the community with a “visible face.” Having
their own money—earned through work that they were
good at—led to new activities, giving rise to a situation
that might be described as “cyclical coexistence” (Suzuki
2005: 355, 366), in other words, a practice of care that works
only when everything moves in cycles in conformity with
the setting and situation of the people who are related to
a certain place.
All the technologies have been applied by face to face
communication until users understood after many trials
and errors, not by simply distributing manuals. Such
normalization processes have only taken shape by listening
to wishes of each older adult as well as by looking into the
environments where they have been leading their lives.
This kind of effort is indispensable toward cultivating “a
society without handicaps” (Suzuki ed. 2012: 1), a place
where people are able to live performing what they would
wish without feeling barriers, and where they are able
to get a feeling of sharing a place with others and being
included in the community.
The purpose of developing and applying technologies is
not to make people live independently, but rather to get
access to ideas of how to care for the town in which people
of various positions would want to live, and developing a
more holistic system of care. For the people in the town, the
act of building a relationship of interdependence—namely,
depending on each other and helping each other out—for
the purpose of letting others advance in their chosen eld
and accomplishing what they want done, leads to mutual
recognition and the ability of each person to secure his/her
niche in life. At the present day, developing technologies
for normalization of the environment would surely give
more opportunities especially for older adult living in
changing society to extend care as in former times for the
place they live as well as younger generation would want
In the past, mutual aid was practiced mostly within the
family and among community members in a settlement
to accomplish work such as rice planting, forestry, and
roong, and to prepare the festival following harvesting.
At present, a greater variety of mutual cooperation is
conducted by a diversied group of people, often as
an experience of “rite of passage.” The residents of
Kamikatsu Town noticed that it was not only economics
or governmental administration that gave people power
to think about what they value in everyday lives and in
the future, but also the time they had for pleasure and
regeneration, often on occasions of new types of events
shared with various people. Producing local foods and
newly invented handicrafts by making use of the resources
of the area, townspeople enjoy communicating with
visitors and discovered the meaning of sharing leisure
time to continuously develop ideas and reconsider their
values. This promotes the resilience and exibility of the
community toward the well-being of people living in as
well as visiting the district.
Developing technologies has enhanced accessibility and
communication for people to participate in generating
ideas to care for the place they live in as well as in
regenerating themselves to reconsider what they value for
their future life design.
This article is based on my presentation “Creating a Community
of Resilience: The Art of Searching for New Meanings of Materials
for Greater Well-Being in a Depopulated Town,” comments, and
discussions conducted at the Session 10 : “Recontexualization
of Technologies and Materials Pursuing the Well-Beings in
Changing Aging Societies in Japan and Korea” on August 2,
2011 at Chonbuk National University (Jeonju), of The 2011 SEAA
Conference organized by Korean Society of Cultural Anthropology
and American Society for East Asian Anthropology to publicize
the results of the project ‘Anthropology of Caring and Education
for Life’ (2011-2013), a core research project of Minpaku (NME:
National Museum of Ethnology) in the domain of ‘Anthropological
Studies of Inclusion and Autonomy in the Human World.’
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Nanami Suzuki Creating a Community of Resilience
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... In interviewing the older women who played a key role in the project, I was impressed by the fact that they voiced that, for the first time, they felt they had become a "visible" presence in the community. This feeling was linked to being recognized as someone who could impart knowledge and experience to the people around them, to getting the necessary support from the younger generation, and to their interactions with the young people in terms of caring for each other and of actually being by their side (Suzuki 2012;Suzuki 2013a;Suzuki 2019a). ...
Available Online:
Full-text available
Published Version available online: Based on 9 weeks of research on the island of Sado I unite the concepts of care, generation and the life course to examine how people observe care responsibilities in the context of depopulation and migration associated with rural Japan. I concentrate on the care of children, care of parents and care of the deceased and assert that care, understood as a socially recognized right which people have in certain life phases, is exchanged in a long term intergenerational contract. Care duties can strengthen intergenerational relationships, and can lead to frustration and the feeling of having no choice, especially amongst eldest sons who are traditionally seen as care-takers of the family. For younger generations, I observe an increased flexibility in care duties, where the contract as such seems unlikely to dissolve. The thesis is on a different level a reminder of the relevance of villages as anthropological field sites.
An informed and often moving account of the crucial role of place in the lives of elders and what researchers and city planners are doing—and need to do—to make communities more age-friendly. Elderburbia: Aging with a Sense of Place in America argues that aging is not about time and the body, but about place and relationships. Drawing on the fascinating, multidisciplinary field of ethnography, it gives readers a deeper understanding of how the aging experience is shaped by where people call home, as well as a look at what makes a place well-suited for post-retirement living. Elderburbia combines cutting-edge scholarship with practical advice. The book provides an introduction to pivotal research on the broad subject of aging and place, including studies of migration and relocation. It also takes readers inside innovative elder-friendly community planning around the United States, particularly AdvantAge—an initiative to help counties, cities, and towns prepare for the growing number of older adults who are "aging in place," as opposed to moving to retiree-only communities. Everyone from individuals and families to social workers, activists, and city officials will find this a helpful, enlightening resource.
Yoshito 2007 Chīki saisei no jōken [The Requirements for Regenerating a Regional Community
  • Honma
Honma, Yoshito 2007 Chīki saisei no jōken [The Requirements for Regenerating a Regional Community]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
Nanami Suzuki Creating a Community of Resilience Kamikatsu-cho
Anthropology & Aging Quarterly 2012: 33 (3) Nanami Suzuki Creating a Community of Resilience Kamikatsu-cho 1979 Kamikatsu-cho shi [A History of Kamikatsu Town]. Tokushima: Kamikatsu-cho shi Henshu Iinkai.
Akutibu eijingu no shakaigaku [Sociology of Active Aging]
  • Nobuhiko Maeda
Maeda, Nobuhiko 2006 Akutibu eijingu no shakaigaku [Sociology of Active Aging]. Kyoto: Minerva Shobo.
Tsuneichi 1984 Kakyo no oshie [Lore from Home]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten
  • Miyamoto
Miyamoto, Tsuneichi 1984 Kakyo no oshie [Lore from Home]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
Chīki no chikara [The Power of the Local Community]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten
  • Masaaki Ōe
Ōe, Masaaki 2008 Chīki no chikara [The Power of the Local Community]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.
Akira 2005 Sanson kankyo shakaigaku josetsu [Sociology on Environment of Mountain Villages]
  • Ōno
Ōno, Akira 2005 Sanson kankyo shakaigaku josetsu [Sociology on Environment of Mountain Villages]. Tokyo: Nousangyoson Bunka Kyōkai.
Kakinoha wo tsumu kurashi: Nōmalaizeishon wo koete, Bunkajinruigaku [Creating a New Life through Persimmon Leaves: Living More Than a " Normalized
  • Nanami Suzuki
Suzuki, Nanami 2005 Kakinoha wo tsumu kurashi: Nōmalaizeishon wo koete, Bunkajinruigaku [Creating a New Life through Persimmon Leaves: Living More Than a " Normalized " Life. Japanese Journal of Cultural Anthropology]. 70 (3): 355-378.
Kōreisha no uerubīng to raifudezain [The Well-being of Older Adult and Cooperation in Life-design
  • Nanami Suzuki
  • Kuniko Fujiwara
  • Mitsuhiro Iwasa
Suzuki, Nanami, Fujiwara, Kuniko and Mitsuhiro Iwasa, eds. 2010 Kōreisha no uerubīng to raifudezain [The Well-being of Older Adult and Cooperation in Life-design]. Tokyo: Ochanomizu Shobo.