Shrinking Gracefully: Finding Sustainable Transitions in Declining Japanese Municipalities

Event: Global Asia Studies Workshop
Date: November 8 (Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan)
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Japan is shrinking. How are Japanese cities and towns adapting their policies to this new context? Local governments are struggling to identify suitable development models to address their smaller size, heavily relying on pro-growth responses seeking to halt and reverse population decline. They are tirelessly trying to lure urban migrants, increase birth rates, attract new businesses, and curb outmigration to no avail: nationwide depopulation prevents their success. This growth-at-all-cost obsession might close opportunity windows to manage a soft-landing while exhausting (already limited) financial resources. In this presentation, I explore the emergence of alternative approaches to standard pro-growth policies that envision ways to ‘shrink gracefully.’ By reflecting on the cases of Imabetsu Town, Aomori Prefecture, and Shimokawa Town, Hokkaido, I argue that shrinking municipalities need to break free from pro-growth strategies and find more sustainable forms of local development bringing socio-environmental concerns to the centre of the debate.