Housing Estates as Experimental Fields of Social Research

By Sukenari, Yasushi | Development and Society, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Housing Estates as Experimental Fields of Social Research


Sukenari, Yasushi, Development and Society


1. Introduction

This paper discusses researchers' relationship with their research object and its transformation in empirical sociology by examining studies on "danchi" (housing estates) conducted by Japanese sociologists.

In the 1950s, housing policy was quickly established in Japan to deal with the postwar housing shortage, as well as the concentration of population in metropolitan areas that accompanied economic reconstruction and industrialization. Japan's post-war housing policy is characterized by a system of housing provision that loosely corresponds to residents' economic stratification, with the "Government Housing Loan Corporation" (Jutaku Kin'yu Koko) promoting home ownership for people of higher income, "municipal housing" (Koei Jutaku) providing subsidized rental housing for people of lower income, and the "Japan Housing Corporation" (Nihon Jutaku Kodan) supplying high-quality rental housing for people of middle income in metropolitan areas.

Of these, the newly emerging urban landscape of the reinforced concrete housing complexes constructed by the Japan Housing Corporation attracted inquisitive media interest. Housing estates comprising such buildings were labelled "danchi," and their dwellers dominated by white-collar workers with young families "the tribe living in danchi" (danchi-zoku).

Several influential postwar Japanese sociologists began studying danchi during the mid-1950s and 1960s1 (see Table 1). One reason for this was that this new form of housing was compatible with the facilitation of new social research methods requiring the random distribution of standardized questionnaires to individual respondents. Thus, danchi became experimental fields for social research.

2. Front Lines of Social Change: Urbanization and Atomization

A precursor to danchi studies was the Toyama Apato study (1956-57), conducted by family sociologist Takashi Koyama for the "Research Group on Family Issues" (Kazoku Mondai Kenkyukai). To help clarify the effects of urbanization and modernization on lifestyles and family attitudes and to gain insight into the gradual social changes from traditional to modern society, this research group chose to study three distinguishing fields: a mountain village where traditional ways of life remains strong, a city where modernization has progressed, and an intermediate outlying farming village.

Toyama Apato is a community representative of the newest housing forms of apartment buildings that have appeared along with the development of urban society, including narrowing of land, inflation of land price, and differentiation of occupations. The residents are of relatively lower age, and are characterized by the middle-class, intellectual workers, and salaried workers (Koyama, ed. 1960, p. 19).

The researchers interested in the form of housing known as "apartment houses" (apato) as a field of research relied on the presupposition that "the apartment lifestyle greatly nurtures the tendency towards modern families" (Koyama, ed. 1960, p. 52). They found these households to be relatively small, and the apartment residents typically to be heterogeneous and mutually isolated, but also to be lacking historical identity and a sense of community. Residence was generally temporary, which made the population fluid.

The main focus of social statistician Saburo Yasuda's study on the Tamadaira Danchi (1960) was on the conformism and careerism of whitecollar workers. He states that "I chose danchi residents as my research objects because I thought the rapid development of mass society made them appropriate" (Yasuda 1962, p. 161). Danchi was considered as a convenient study area where the latest social phenomenon could be captured.

However, it seems that the relationship between danchi and social research is more complicated, as urban sociologist Michihiro Okuda suggests:

It is clear that the method and sociological analysis of 'attitude and opinion surveys' (ishiki chosa) was inspired by the 'danchi' studies, and has developed since. …

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