Cosmopolitan Rurality, Depopulation, and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in 21st-Century Japan

Cosmopolitan Rurality, Depopulation, and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in 21st-Century Japan
* Includes images.

Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, Japan has been experiencing an unprecedented decline in population that is expected to accelerate over the coming decades. Rural areas, in particular, have been at the cutting edge of this demographic transition as young people often out-migrate to urban areas to pursue education and career opportunities and to explore spaces and lifeways viewed as cosmopolitan and international. At the same time, some urbanites have decided to either return to the rural climes of their upbringing or move there for the first time to start small businesses. And rural communities have attempted to attract large projects, such as the International Linear Collider, that it is hoped will draw in new people, prevent younger people from out-migrating, and bolster local economies. A combination of individual and institutional entrepreneurial activities is changing the social and geographical landscape of rural Japan and reinventing that space as one that blends perceptions and experiences of the urban and rural, cosmopolitan and rustic.

While there has been considerable research on rural Japan and numerous studies that focus on entrepreneurs, only limited attention has been paid to the intersection of entrepreneurial activities in rural Japan and the ways in which entrepreneurs more generally are contributing to the re-formation of rural space and place. This ethnographic study develops the concept of cosmopolitan rurality as a social and geographical space that cannot be characterized as either urban or rural nor as specifically cosmopolitan or rustic. In the “rural” Japan of the early twenty-first century, as in many other parts of the industrial world, we see the emergence of a new type of social context forming a hybrid space of neo-rurality that brings together people and ideas reflecting local, national, and global frames of experience. One of the key drivers behind this hybrid space is expressed in entrepreneurial activities by locals to generate an entrepreneurial ecosystem that it is hoped can attract new people and ideas while retaining ideational and geographical elements associated with traditional values and spaces.

Cosmopolitan Rurality, Depopulation, and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in 21st-Century Japan is an important book for Asian studies, rural studies, anthropology, and the study of entrepreneurialism.


"A very engaging and thoughtful work that will be of great interest to Japan scholars and to any social scientists with a concern for conditions of life in contemporary rural regions in many of the advanced industrial societies. This is a book about entrepreneurship, depopulation, and the nature of the contemporary rural. Each of these is of broad and comparative significance. The Japanese countryside doesn’t look like the countryside of the sentimental imagination; it is a complex hybrid formation, much as we find in Europe and North America, giving the case a wide salience. Depopulation is a shorthand for several related trends of much consequence: population decline, yes, but rapid aging of the population and significant marriage delay, declining births, and solo living. This too is a feature of the rest of the “developed” world, but Japan’s trends are among the most advanced and there is much to learn from a judicious account such as this book. This is an impressive book, which should gain an enthusiastic and appreciative readership." —William Kelly, Professor of Anthropology and Sumitomo Professor of Japanese Studies, Yale University

“Traphagan’s book should be required reading not just for Japan specialists but for students, cultural anthropologists, gerontologists, demographers and anybody in general interested in the topics indicated in its title. The richness of his ethnographic descriptions conveys many tasty morsels of insight into Japanese culture reflected within life in Kanegasaki, Iwate Prefecture that pertains to pop culture, fashion, gender relations, food, religion, economics, and population loss here relevant to any locale. A very welcome practical and theoretical introduction to 'cosmopolitan rurality applicable globally today in the context of Japan!” —Professor Christopher Thompson, Department of Linguistics, Ohio University

“Move over Tokyo and Osaka, the countryside is where real cosmopolitanism and entrepreneurship can be found in Japan. From Toyota factories making hybrid cars from the global marketplace to the new sharing economy of drone-controlled tractors plowing organic farms, John Traphagan makes a compelling case based on over thirty years of close ethnographic fieldwork in the rural northeast for the dynamisms that can be found in places formerly considered peripheral but should now be understood as deeply networked.” —Professor Karen Nakamura, Department of Anthropology, University of California Berkeley

“John Traphagan, through his engaging account of six case studies of entrepreneurship in the remote northeastern Tohoku area of Japan, shows how the distinction between rustic and cosmopolitan, and rural and urban, is blurred by the hybridization of life and culture in contemporary Japan. The proliferation of the automobile gives people in the countryside access to the supermarkets, box stores and jobs in the suburbs or centers of the towns, sharing a life that differs little from the life of the town dwellers. The entrepreneurs in his case studies exhibit considerable creativity while also adhering to basic tenets of Japanese culture concerning family and community. All of this is taking place in an area of Japan that is experiencing worrisome depopulation with the ageing of society and the migration of young people to Tokyo and other large cities. This is an important and fascinating study showing basic changes in life and culture in Japan during the three decades of Traphagan’s fieldwork.” —Professor L. Keith Brown, Department of Anthropology, University of Pittsburgh


John W. Traphagan is a professor of religious studies and in the program in Human Dimensions of Organizations at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also Mitsubishi Fellow in Religious Studies. He holds a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, an MAR from Yale University, and a BA from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Dr. Traphagan’s previous books on Japan include Taming Oblivion: Aging Bodies and the Fear of Senility in Japan and The Practice of Concern: Ritual, Well-Being, and Aging in Rural Japan.


John W. Traphagan


Cambria Press






Social Sciences


Urban / Rural