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Risks and Opportunities in Japan - Challenges in Face of an Increasingly Uncertain Future

An interdisciplinary and comparative research programme

The sustainability of our societies depends upon how we deal with the threats and opportunities inherent in an uncertain future. Much of our behaviour, strategies and policies as well as our social, economic and political institutions directly or indirectly reflect how we confront uncertainty or – more generally – how we cope with knowing that we don’t know.

With regard to risks and opportunities in the context of increasing uncertainties, Japan is a case in point. Like many other industrialized nations, Japan faces various social, economic and political challenges. These include:

  • a hyper-aging and now also declining population,
  • growing income inequalities within the context of increasingly diversified employment relations, and rising numbers of relative poor,
  • a record high fiscal debt built up in a long lasting deflationary environment,
  • energy policy choices revolving around the restart of nuclear reactors, costly imports of fossil fuels and the rapid expansion of renewables,
  • political tensions with close neighbours caused by nationalistic tendencies posing a threat to historical reconciliation and economic integration,
  • global competition and technological change requiring structural adjustment and strategic re-positioning as well as new and intensified efforts in such fields as education, research and development.

In the Japanese case these challenges are especially demanding, as they are not only intertwined, but have also evolved faster than in many other OECD countries. How Japan as the second largest economy in the developed world confronts the implied risks and opportunities, bears strong relevance beyond its borders for the wider Asian region as well as the world as a whole.

Our research programme comprises a broad range of topics, from genuine risk-research fields like the study of individual risk attitudes, private and social insurance, corporate risk management and entrepreneurship to more general topics such as welfare and energy policy, health and food safety, employment and international relations. The risk and opportunity perspective is also applied to analyse the impact of far-reaching transformation processes like globalization and demographic change or the erosion of traditional social structures.

We explore the various research questions with concepts and theoretical approaches rooted in different disciplines of the social sciences and humanities. Methods applied range from large-scale surveys, in-depth interviews, case studies, ethnographies, to text and discourse analyses or laboratory experiments. Where appropriate, the findings gained through different discipline-based research methodologies are reflected upon from interdisciplinary perspectives. Such interdisciplinary discourses may reveal commonalities and complementarities, thus confirming and enhancing what we know, or they may point to contradictions stimulating further research. International research collaborations allow us to put Japan into a broader context and to conduct comparative analyses gaining new insights about other societies, too.

Our research programme aims at contributing to a better understanding of how Japan embraces the risks and opportunities inherent in an increasingly uncertain future. We expect the various projects to yield new insights into important aspects of Japanese culture, society, economy, and politics. The multi- and interdisciplinary approaches and comparative analyses provide new grounds for theory building and advance our general understanding of the nature and implications of risks and opportunities in an increasingly complex and dynamic world.

The research programme is being implemented through two institute-wide projects studying the future of local communities and the role of diversity in Japan and through various individual projects.

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