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Japan’s Growing Diversity: New Risks and Opportunities for Whom?

This interdisciplinary project is part of the DIJ research focus on Risks and opportunities in Japan – Challenges in face of an increasingly uncertain future. The main aim of the project is to shed light on what the many simultaneous processes of growing diversity mean for contemporary Japan. In particular, we ask which risk and opportunity structures emerge due to increasing diversity and how these impact individuals, actor groups and institutions. We combine analytic perspectives that cover ethical, psychological, political and economic research questions and, together, allow drawing a comprehensive picture of diversity and its consequences in Japan.

Growing diversity is widely understood as a process that is just as inevitable as it is far-reaching in its implications. Whether with regard to ethnicity, gender or age, to name only a few of the aspects the concept entails, diversity creates both new risks and opportunities for actors across all sections of contemporary society and demands that individuals as well as policy-makers adapt to a constantly changing environment. While diversity as an abstract concept is arguably used and discussed in Japan just as widely as it is elsewhere, in some instances it appears to be much more contested than in other countries. This contrast is particularly striking considering that, on the one hand, Japan is characterized by a high stability of traditional values that continue to shape social life. In this regard, Japan can appear like a reluctant latecomer to the globalized (and as a result diversified) world, with a strong counter-current to diversity that emphasizes homogeneity and traditionalism, e.g. with regard to ethnicity, work arrangements and family values. Surveys indeed indicate that the myth of an exceptionally homogeneous and stable Japanese society still reigns strong. On the other hand, Japan is facing great social, economic and political challenges such as increasing social inequalities, demographic change, as well as conflictual foreign and security policies. Related processes of political, technological, economic, demographic and cultural change all result in a growing diversity of individual lifestyles, interests and values.

Aiming at a society which actively embraces diversity rather than emphasizing conformity may be a way to not only address such social and political challenges, but may possibly lead to unexpected benefits. Yet, at present it is not clear to what extent social, political and economic actors in Japan are actually prepared to accept or even advocate a growing diversity.

In its initial stage the project develops four analytic perspectives on growing diversity in Japan focusing on ethical, psychological, political and economic aspects. On this basis the project will then provide a platform for close exchange and inter-disciplinary projects within the DIJ as well as with cooperating researchers in Japan, Europe and the US.

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