Rural Japan's Appeal to Old and New Residents

A Migration Analysis of Two Case Studies in Aso Region (Kumamoto)

Antonia Miserka, MA

Topic of this Survey

This project aims to understand the appeal of living in rural areas of Japan by analyzing the living conditions in two municipalities in Aso Region, Aso city and Minami-Aso village. Depopulation and shrinking of Japan‘s rural areas are much discussed topics in recent research. Better job opportunities and a broader range of educational institutions entice many young people to migrate from the countryside to metropolitan areas, leaving behind the elderly to sustain their community. There is, however, a small trend of counter-urbanization – people coming back to their home municipalities or moving to rural areas without having any former connections there. Previous research focused mainly on negative aspects of population change, as well as the possibility of survival for rural municipalities. This research takes a closer look at both positive and negative aspects of living in the countryside.

Research Questions

The main questions answered in this study are:

  1. Can the theories of "push-pull" factors be applied to life in / migration to rural areas of Japan?
  2. What characteristics of life in Aso region can be seen as advantageous or disadvantageous?
  3. Is internal migration to rural areas caused by personal preferences (intrinsic) or outside influence (extrinsic)?
  4. What problems can occur during (re-)integration in a local community?


The analysis of the factors involved showed the Aso region scoring very differently depending on various areas of life:

  • Local infrastructure was described to be insufficient in most cases. A lack of schools and adequate job opportunities is said to be one of the main reasons future generations might tend to move to bigger cities.
  • The living conditions in rural areas are very different from those in cities. Houses are usually more spacious and owned, instead of rented, which can be seen as a positive enticement. However, said houses often include up to four generations in one household, which can be cause for conflict between younger people and the elder generation.
  • Natural environment fared best during this study as almost all participants praised the nature and surroundings of Aso region.
  • The sense of security was heavily influenced by recent natural disasters, including the 2016 earthquake and the eruption of Mount Aso. While natural disasters seem to negatively affect the local sense of safety, residents maintain a feeling of security in terms of criminality.
  • Regarding the future of the Aso region, most residents voiced concerns. While the “centers“ of Aso show less shrinking, more peripheral settlements at the edge of the caldera are being regarded as more likely to dwindle in the future.
  • The quality of life in the Aso region, in regard to the participants of this study, is generally better than in urban areas.
  • Lastly, social integration to local communities is mostly seen as positive. While living in a close-knit community entails many obligations, residents tend to help and support each other.

Methods and Data

Qualitative aspect:

  • Interviews in Aso city, focusing on I- and U-turn migrants (August 2017 to September 2017)
  • Participant observation in Minami-Aso village (July 2017 to February 2018)

Quantitative aspect:

  • Questionnaires in a small settlement in Minami-Aso village, including I- and U-turn migrants as well as people without migration history (December 2017 to February 2018)

This study combines the theories of “push-pull“ factors (mainly: personal characteristics, individual expectations towards the living environment and social connections to a region) with research regarding the structure of everyday life in rural municipalities and therefore enables an application of said „push-pull“ factors to the Japanese countryside. Further, by conducting research both on meso- (municipality) and micro-level individual), this study aims to draw an extensive picture of life in rural municipalities.


  • The theories of “push-pull” factors can be applied to life in / migration to rural areas of Japan.
  • Infrastructure and future prospects are shown to be clear “push“ factors, driving mostly younger residents to move to more urban regions.
  • Living conditions and the sense of security show both positive and negative aspects.
  • Natural environment, quality of life and social integration within a community are shown to be “pull“ factors for living in the Aso region.
  • Internal migration of I-turners is mostly motivated by intrinsic factors, while U-turners often move due to extrinsic causes (family, etc.).
  • U-turners have less problems reintegrating into their home community as they have access to their families‘ resources.
  • I-turners lack these resources and therefore often struggle to get a foothold within the local community.