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Civil society organizations and changes in female marriage migrants in rural Japan

Global Center of Excellence Center of Governance for Civil Society, Keio University
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  • Economics


Marriage migrants are frequently found in Japanese families not only in urban areas but in rural areas as well. However, international marriages in rural areas have been regarded a priori as a "problematic phenomenon". It is said that marriage migrants are victims of the system of the patriarchal stem family and economic differences between Japan and their countries of origin. Therefore, they are seen as weak and passive, and as being under pressure to assimilate into Japanese society. Recently, however, some researchers have discovered opposite cases, seeing marriage migrants as strong individuals who can help transform Japan into a multicultural society. This newly discovered image of marriage migrants runs contrary to their stylized image as weak and passive. What led to this gap between the two images of marriage migrants? This is difficult to understand as long as we restrict our analysis to their individual capability. In other words, the characteristics of the adaptation process of marriage migrants depend on the social characteristics of the communities that accept them. It is possible to establish two hypotheses. One is that rural communities are in a process of adjustment to new socioeconomic conditionsthat make it easier for marriage migrants to settle. The other is that the existence of marriage migrants and their experience of going through an adaptation process are much more complex than the available interpretations that see them as either victims or opportunity-seekers who use marriage to Japanese men to earn money. Based on investigations in Minami-Uonuma-shi, Niigata Prefecture, this paper demonstrates that the premises of previous studies do not necessarily reflect actual socioeconomic conditions and the changes that are giving individuals a freer way of life even in rural areas. Minami-Uonuma-shi has undergone major changes in response to globalization since the 1980s. Against the background of socioeconomic and cultural changes, marriage migrants have created new social networks within and beyond their communities which did not previously exist. In other words, the female marriage migrants and their children are establishing a new identity that goes beyond nationality. Regarding social networks in rural communities, traditional bonding-type social networks are characterized by strong mutual trust among the members of the community but that are exclusive and largely closed to newcomers. But by the end of the 1990s, an important change began to take place in rural communities. New socioeconomic conditions emerged that encouraged the development of a new type of social network, a bridging-type that is accommodating and open to newcomers. The development level of bridging-type social networks is a key parameter that determines whether or not marriage migrants can become agents who enhance the transformation process of rural communities and create new life patterns. In order to examine changes in network types, in this paper I analyze case studies of two civil society organizations.

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