Development and Urbanization
This paper draws on participatory observation and interviews in the former village of MinamiShinano (now Iida City, Nagano Prefecture) to analyze change and continuity of local selfgovernance institutions in rural and peri-urban Japan. The Heisei wave of municipal mergers (2002-2006) has pushed many former towns and villages to the peripheries of larger municipalities. These peripheries often face exceptionally high aging rates and a lack of work opportunities, schools, or welfare services. Against this background, the government has recently been pushing for the creation of so called “regional self-management organizations” (chiiki unei soshiki). Iida City has served as a model case for this development. Since the merger, aging and depopulation in the village accelerated, not least because the former village government was a major local employer. The self-governing institutions imported from Iida City are struggling with the task of “revitalizing” the shrinking village, with limited funding and a lack of political clout within the larger municipality. Field research has shown that these institutions crucially rely on the integration of preexisting local social structures (e.g. hamlets, neighborhood associations). On the one hand, this supports local embedding and legitimacy of the new self-governance institutions. On the other hand, it reinforces the preexisting local social structure, including problems like the aging of local stakeholders and limited participation of younger residents and women. More generally, the case enhances the theoretical understanding of the role of “traditional” institutions in the ongoing process of building and renegotiating local governance in Japan’s peripheries.