But There is Nothing Here, Is There? New Mobilities as an Agent for Sustainable Development in a Postgrowth Society: The Case of Imabetsu, Aomori.

Event: 16th International Conference of the European Association for Japanese Studies
Date: August 25-28
Conference Paper

Japan’s severe population decline is seriously threatening the sustainability of many of the country’s municipalities. In a desperate run for survival, all levels of government have hurried to apply strategies aiming at stopping decay and the development of new infrastructure is met with particularly high expectations for new prosperity. That is the case of Imabetsu, Aomori Prefecture. At just 2,756 inhabitants, it became the smallest municipality in the country to enjoy a stop in the high-speed railway (HSR) network after the completion of the first trait of the Hokkaido Shinkansen in 2016. The town, whose population has more than halved since the 1950s, have devised a new masterplan to take advantage of the HSR and revitalise its local economy.

Still entrenched in a traditional pro-growth narrative, this approach seems to disregard the dire socioeconomic reality of the town and northern Tohoku region. Initial findings also seem to disprove the expectations of local planners and offer a much more nuanced perspective on the regional impact of HSR. Would it be possible to reconsider the role of the Shinkansen by adopting a radical agenda that embraces new mobilities and degrowth as a paradigm to address sustainable development?

By reflecting on the case of Imabetsu, this paper explores alternative mechanisms to address degrowth thus rethinking notions of revitalization for peripheral communities and regions in Japan. It argues that rather than fighting against decline by luring new residents, towns like Imabetsu could better take advantage of the opportunities granted by HSR and explores ways in which the flow of human capital and resources can both support the long-term viability of the town and a more sustainable form of development. In doing this analysis, this paper calls for a careful reconsideration of the contemporary pro-growth approach of Japanese shrinking regions based on a holistic approach promoting a sustainable circulation and the valorisation of local resources.