Accepted paper:

Monozukuri and machizukuri: crafting community in contemporary Japan


Stephen Robertson

Paper short abstract:

The paper focuses on a shopping district (shōtengai) in central Japan in which young craftspeople and artists are being encouraged to open their own shops in partnership with ageing merchants and property owners to realize new forms of succession for moral economies of neighbourhood sociality.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the contemporary plight of Japan's shōtengai, traditional urban shopping districts that have long been synonymous with moral economies of neighbourhood sociality. In urban and peri-urban communities throughout Japan, demographic aging, economic stagnation, and shifting retail and consumption patterns have resulted in the widespread transformation of these once-bustling spaces into shuttered and silent shop fronts that have become symbols of nostalgia for a lost sense of organic community. Ageing merchants and residents alike are increasingly faced with a generalized sense of an ending that resonates in individual lives and collective imaginings. Yet the subjective immediacy of this crisis is tempered by the objective reality that life must go on for those who remain, and that new patterns can emerge where others have passed into memory. Drawing on ongoing ethnographic fieldwork in central Japan, I discuss the experience of a shōtengai that is attracting nationwide interest as the focus of concerted efforts by young artists, private sector merchants, and civil society organizations as an experimental model for generating an alternative youth economy based on monozukuri, the Japanese concept of "making things well". Two conclusions are drawn. Firstly, I argue that this partnership between the private and public spheres complicates analytical models of civil society as the "nonstate, nonmarket sector" in Japan. Secondly, by exploring the implications of novel practices of succession for contemporary discourses of local identity, I suggest that a focus on the creative potential inherent in entrepreneurial and craft-based innovation offers a window into myriad communal futures.

panel P113
Forging futures