Urban Migrants in Rural Japan

Between Agency and Anomie in a Post-growth Society

By Susanne Klien

Subjects: Asian Studies, Japanese Studies, Anthropology, Geography, Human Ecology
Paperback : 9781438478067, 232 pages, January 2021
Hardcover : 9781438478050, 232 pages, February 2020

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

1. Lifestyle Migration and Mobility: Negotiating Urban Lifestyles in Rural Communities

2. The Countryside between Aging, Lack of Perspectives, and Creative Depopulation through the Lens of Female Settlers

3. Post-Growth Forms of Living and Working: Countryside as Experimental Ground and Social Imaginary

4. Between Agency and Anomie, Possibility and Probability: Lifestyle Migrants and the Neoliberal Moment

5. Convergence of Work and Leisure: Blessing or Plight?

6. Liminal Belonging and Moratorium Migration: Lifestyle Migrants between Limbo and Purpose of Life

7. Social Entrepreneurs between Self-Determination and Structural Constraints: Examples from Miyagi and Tokushima Prefectures

Conclusion: Deconstructing Japan's Rural-Urban Divide


Offers an in-depth ethnography of paradigm shifts in the lifestyles and values of youth in post-growth Japan.


2020 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

Urban Migrants in Rural Japan provides a fresh perspective on theoretical notions of rurality and emerging modes of working and living in post-growth Japan. By exploring narratives and trajectories of individuals who relocate from urban to rural areas and seek new modes of working and living, this multisited ethnography reveals the changing role of rurality, from postwar notions of a stagnant backwater to contemporary sites of experimentation. The individual cases presented in the book vividly illustrate changing lifestyles and perceptions of work. What emerges from Urban Migrants in Rural Japan is the emotionally fraught quest of many individuals for a personally fulfilling lifestyle and the conflicting neoliberal constraints many settlers face. In fact, flexibility often coincides with precarity and self-exploitation. Susanne Klien shows how mobility serves as a strategic mechanism for neophytes in rural Japan who hedge their bets; gain time; and seek assurance, inspiration, and courage to do (or further postpone doing) what they ultimately feel makes sense to them.

Susanne Klien is Associate Professor of Modern Japanese Studies at Hokkaido University, Japan. She is the author of Rethinking Japan's Identity and International Role: Tradition and Change in Japan's Foreign Policy.


"Klien's academic interests include intangible cultural property, rural Japan, lifestyle migration, transnational mobility, regional revitalization, and new modes of working and living. She is well-read in each of these areas, and carefully introduces the reader to new terminology, whether academic jargon (of which there is quite a bit) or Japanese terms … For those interested in these issues, I wholeheartedly recommend her labor of love." — Robert D. Eldridge, Japan Forward

"…this is a valuable book and one that I highly recommend, both for the research that constitutes its heart and for the voices of the interviewees that are expressed throughout, as well as for the broader implications that are teased out of the interviews and connected with important theoretical themes. The work clearly validates a phenomenon we see in the contemporary urban-rural dynamic: the aspirations of young urbanites to relocate to rural areas in pursuit of the ideal life they imagine to exist in such areas. As Klien's rich and extensive ethnographic data shows, while some do succeed in either finding their ideal life or accepting their new life on its terms, there are as many cases of disappointment." — Anthony Rausch, Monumenta Nipponica

"This timely study about the growing number of Japanese urbanites relocating to rural areas provides some cautionary tales about unrealized dreams and the long shadows of mainstream norms." — Pacific Affairs

"…this is a well-researched, thoughtfully written book. It contributes to a wide variety of literatures on rurality, mobility, migration, identity, and other topics." — Journal of Japanese Studies

"…this book combines insightful narratives from the field with theoretical reflections on major issues of contemporary societies around the globe … This book conveys its messages in a highly comprehensible manner and is suitable for scholars as well as students of Japanese society." — Contemporary Japan

"Tearing down the urban-rural divide, Klien's focus on the translocal, liminal and fluid elements of these migrants' lives is a welcome contribution to mobility studies, locating belonging beyond the limits of place. Furthermore, the book adds to the understanding of the larger societal shifts taking place in Japanese contemporary society, particularly in their post-growth, post-industrial aspects, which are expected to have echoes in other developed countries in the near future." — Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology

"Klien carefully anchors her discussion in the literature on migration (especially lifestyle migration), resulting in a book that is both empirically and conceptually valuable … Excellent as an update on Japanese society, but also as a useful reflection on the complexity and unpredictability of contemporary migration overall." — CHOICE

"This book is a valuable contribution to knowledge about diversifying rural Japan and evokes reflection about the future of post-growth Japan. Klien's study benefits from assiduous and long-term field research and insightful analysis. She excels at locating the specifics of the study in theoretical observations and concepts, thereby setting the work into a larger consideration of Japan's paradigm shifts in lifestyle and values." — Nancy Rosenberger, author of Gambling with Virtue: Japanese Women and the Search for Self in a Changing Nation