Place, belonging and the meaning of happiness

Wolfram Manzenreiter, Barbara Holthus

Studying subjective well-being in rural Japan is a tricky endeavor at best and methodologically challenging. Not only is research divided on how location matters to the well-being of people in general. Also urbanities have dominated the research agenda of happiness researchers in Japan as elsewhere. Existing quantitative governmental data (the Aggregated Kumamoto Happiness Index) provides us with insights into the diversity of happiness within the Southwestern prefecture of Kumamoto, showing that people within the larger area of our ongoing fieldwork are “happier” than elsewhere in the region. Based on participant observation and in-depth interviews with the inhabitants of a rural settlement in Kumamoto prefecture, we attempt to understand what makes people “happy” in rural Japan. Our research questions therefore are to identify what does happiness mean to them and their lives? And how does happiness change by different social indicators, such as age, gender, social status, economic means, employment status, level of involvement in village affairs, having ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’ status, being ‘short term or ‘long term’ residents? And how does social connectedness (through community networks, relationships, and personal bonds between people) matter to the well-being of the people in that settlement?
Methodologically, we tackle the issue of how to understand the multidimensionality of well-being through interview data. Interview research on subjective well-being is greatly influenced by interpersonal dynamics, as well as issues of gender and age of interviewee and interviewer. We discuss our approach to these issues by conducting research in teams. In addition, we also reflect on the cultural variance of subjective well-being, and the linguistic variability of terms encompassing issues of happiness and well-being.

Institut für Ostasienwissenschaften
Externe Organisation(en)
German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ)
ÖFOS 2012
504027 Spezielle Soziologie, 602020 Japanologie
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