Aso Summer Field School 2018: Research and Education

Antonia Miserka, Fabian Schunk, Florian Ramberger, Johannes Wilhelm, Julia Ramprecht, Kerim Mallée, Luisa Jäger, Marion Dallapozza, Martin Bär, Matthias Pech, Stefan Aichholzer, Tamara Opacic, Wolfram Manzenreiter

University of Vienna, Dept. of East Asian Studies


Scholarly studies struggle to find consistent evidence of a link between happiness and living in an urban or rural community. Some studies suggest that cities are boasting higher levels of happiness, others hint at the opposite being true and some do not find any differences at all. Many of these studies relied heavily upon socio-economic indicators. Social connectedness has not yet received much attention in the context of urban-rural happiness research.

Demographic changes in rural Japan and the accompanying societal challenges have been a focus point of research conducted by the Japanese Studies department since the first Aso Project was launched in 1968. The summer field school of 2018 not only set forth to continue this research as part of the project Aso 2.0, but also to take undergraduate and graduate students to the field for training in ethnographic research.

Preparations and expectations

The Aso Summer Field School aimed to provide insight into long-term social change in rural Japan by weaving research questions and tools from the 1960s into the current research design. Under the guidance of Wolfram Manzenreiter, students constructed a questionnaire to monitor social change and connectedness among all household members in a village in the Aso region.

Students also learnt to use observation and enquiry techniques to broaden their understanding of rural society. They took part in preparatory work for a local festival and recorded activities and encounters of diverse groups of festival participants in field notes. Insights gained from the observation at two festivals were discussed with local stakeholders and Japanese researchers and students.

Program Schedule

Survey and further agenda

The questionnaire consists of two parts: The first part focuses on social connectedness and happiness and was to be filled out by all residents 18 years of age or older. The second part, to be completed once per household, contains items on household composition, property, farming and tradition. The survey was distributed through the village head and local neighborhood groups and concluded with a return rate of 84.7%.

The accumulated data is computed, reviewed and subject to a first round of analysis by another group of students during the winter term of 2018. Future results will not only be published in journals and used within the academic realm, but also given back to the institutions and organizations in the research area to assist their efforts in understanding and overcoming current challenges.

With the kind support of:

The Japan Foundation
Faculty of Philological and Cultural Studies, University of Vienna

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