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In Session: Rethinking Space, Subject, and Body in Japan through Heterotopia
1: Heterotopia and Health: Life in Rural Hokkaido as a Quest for Wellness and Ikigai
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Hokkaido University, Japan
The popular image of rural Japan has shifted over the last four decades. Thirty to forty years ago it was often eyed with romantic nostalgia, seen as a utopic repository of craft, agrarian culture or tradition standing counter to a ‘lost’ urban modernity. The locus of ‘proper’ Japan. From the 1990s this utopic image of the rural clearly shifted. From the post bubble economy to the present, inaka, or the countryside, has more often than not been presented as a dystopic location of decline, most notably with a focus on its aging populations and dearth of public services such as healthcare. Yet, based on over 15 years of ongoing fieldwork, this paper argues that for numerous individuals – young and old, native and newcomer – Hokkaido’s northern Tokachi district is perceived in neither utopic or dystopic terms by its residents, but as a heterotopia, a particular place where Quality of Life, and notably health, are often viewed as a central motivation to remain. For many of its residents, meaning of life, or ikigai, is linked with notions of health and wellness and this is not reducible to objective criteria such as the number of resident physicians per capita, average income, or the frequency of public busses. Such notions are tied to subjective understandings and affective resonances, such as communication with neighbors, the perception of safe food, and breathing fresh air. In sum, many residents feel that ‘their’ rural Japan that is not ‘that’ rural Japan.