Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Social Capital Development in a Rural Community Based on Exchange Management with Outsiders: The Case of Akimoto, a Small Mountainous Settlement in Japan

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Social Capital Development in a Rural Community Based on Exchange Management with Outsiders: The Case of Akimoto, a Small Mountainous Settlement in Japan

Article excerpt

This article investigates the potential of exchange management toward social capital development in a rural Japanese community. In Japan, many rural communities are suffering from depopulation. To revitalise such communities, the alternative concept of social capital has recently gained traction alongside conventional infrastructure-oriented development. This article analyses the process and results of social capital development through a case study of the small settlement of Akimoto in Takachiho Town. The residents have been seeking revitalisation through exchange with outsiders. The major results are: (1) exchange strengthened the residents' community attachment; (2) the main features of social capital, i.e. norms, trust, and networks, were strengthened; (3) exchange management functioned well in terms of human encounters, mutual understanding, and maintaining exchange; and (4) discreet leadership, and the existence of professionals and specialists, were found to contribute to social capital building. Finally, this article discusses the applicability of this approach to other communities.

Rapid economic growth during the 1960s-1980s in Japan caused depopulation in numerous rural regions, resulting in tremendous population concentrations in metropolitan areas. In spite of many policies put in place by the national and local governments against these population problems, depopulation became more serious, encompassing wide-ranging issues such as ageing, public finances, welfare, and, above all, the social sustainability of rural regions. Policies against depopulation mainly sought to revitalise agriculture, forestry and local industry, and to increase employment in those industries through investment in infrastructure such as roads and industrial parks (so-called 'exogenous development'). These investments actually improved the transportation and industrial conditions of rural areas. However, in closed rural communities, it has gradually become clear that few people or groups have the capability to create value-added industries and re-discover local resources by taking advantage of newly developed facilities. With this understanding, we know that community revitalisation (the development of the abilities/human capital of residents) has significant importance in the revitalisation of rural areas (so-called 'endogenous development'). Furthermore, considering the fact that decreasing public finances makes investment in such policies difficult, the role of community revitalisation is even more signifi- cant. Specifically, the importance of community revitalisation becomes larger because many rural residents choose to always live in the same locality so that they can take care of their parents while also maintaining their ancestors' properties, culture, and history, etc. Additionally, community revitalisation has a strong relationship among residents with the recognition of identity for one's region/community/family, and in turn, also with pride and significance in living in their community.

Taking this background into consideration, recently in Japan there has been growing interest in rural community revitalisation to develop resident as well as group capabilities and activities. Community revitalisation has the potential to lead economic revitalisation in rural communities. Okada et al. (1989; 1990) have proven, through a detailed investigation of a rural village in Japan, that 'outsiders' were able to actually lead the development of resident capability and finally create a new valueadded industry. Likewise, the concept of social capital is also attracting attention in the field of community revitalisation, because the concept puts significant importance on social networks. Innovation and the development of human resources and abilities are introduced by taking advantage of social networks (e.g. Putnam, 2000). Taken as a whole, these studies highlight the significance of human relationships and networks both inside and outside communities. …

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