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Resident Happiness and Community Communication In Real Life (IRL)

Noriko Kurata/Associate Professor, Faculty of Global Management, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Public Policy and Regional Government Theory

My research

Before starting my career as a university faculty member, I worked for a local municipality for more than 15 years.

Institutions such as national and prefectural agencies do not allow people to casually visit the departments in charge of policy. Appointments are required and ID must be shown when entering such a building. The public can convey their opinions to national and prefectural governments by email or the Internet, but such communication is in the form of digital text; that is, it is communication in the virtual world.

On the other hand, as staff at administrative agencies closest to residents, local public officials of municipalities carry out public policy while engaging in real contact with local residents. At local municipal government offices, anyone can access and talk to the department in charge in real life. Having offices located near the homes of local residents is not the only aspect of an easily-accessible government. There must also be mechanisms for actually listening to the thoughts of residents closely. Engaging with the real world is essential for understanding life in the community. I believe that communication between government and residents fulfills the most important role within this real world. Efforts for active mutual communication in everyday life are necessary even the relationship is close.

Each resident living in the community is a professional in some way. Through their daily lives, residents obtain specialized knowledge and wisdom about the community. The administration of a local municipality is a place to listen to, adjust, and systematize such knowledge and wisdom. Therefore, if residents have the time, energy, and interest to be involved in their community, they can actively cooperate with local government to create their community.

I am researching the ordinances and plans of local municipalities from the perspective of public policy and legal policy. It goes without saying that the enactment of an ordinance requires a vote by the legislative assembly, but there are also cases in which the residents participate directly in formulating the original bill. Residents also participate in drafting the plan. Ordinances and plans express what the municipality, assembly, and residents want to emphasize and what they want to protect. In other words, they express the culture of that municipality.[1][2][3]

Comprehensive plans are the highest-ranking plans of local municipalities and share one common theme. Each municipality seeks to be a place where all people can live with peace of mind in good health. This is the ultimate wish and form of happiness shared by all residents of Japan. Although regional revitalization tends to emphasize the dispersal of population from Tokyo to rural areas and the strengthening of local earning power, it must ultimately contribute to the desires of residents. I have conducted research by focusing on the desire to be healthy.[4][5]

All people

Currently, a different dimension of child-raising support is being advocated as a national policy. However, Japanese citizens are looking not only to the near future, but also to the distant future. Life does not end at the age that a person is eligible to receive child-raising support. In the age of 100-year lifespans[6], people may be reluctant to have children if they do not foresee a bright future for themselves or their children. Here, all people refer to children, adults, the child-raising generation, the elderly, people with disabilities, and foreigners. During the process of life, people undergo changes such as growing from children into adults, raising their own children, becoming elderly, and possibly becoming disabled. Over such a long life, we must examine whether people can live with peace of mind despite such changes, and how public policy can support the resilience of each individual.

With peace of mind

The declining population is most likely the key to determining whether or not people can live with peace of mind. The number of vacant houses is increasing both in rural and urban areas, and there are more situations in which almost no neighboring residents can be seen. In recent years, there are some areas where brutal robberies targeting ordinary households arise or it is difficult to establish community associations due to aging populations and a lack of people willing to participate in such associations. It is important to increase the number of residents by increasing the number of workplaces in the community, a concept which is indicated in the national strategy for regional revitalization. At the same time, it is essential to establish communication between new residents and existing residents.

In good health

Good health is one of the ultimate desires of residents. Moderate exercise is known to be one part of preventive medicine. Municipal governments are also working on policy to secure places where residents can exercise. In recent years, there has been a movement to create opportunities for children to play sports in the community. The Japan Sports Agency believes that there is a limit to what school teachers can do to support sports club activities. Therefore, the national government attempts to delegate to communities the responsibility for securing opportunities for children to play sports in those communities.

School tends to be the only society for children. If children feel out of place at school, they may refuse to attend school. Encouraging children to go to local sports venues will not only reduce the working hours of teachers, but may also create the secondary effect of allowing children to find a community outside of school where they can belong. In that respect, it is likely to lead to the improvement of children's well-being (physical, mental, and social health). Furthermore, by communicating with people in the community, children and adults can form relationships which may lead to crime prevention.

Until now, sharing narratives about children and elementary schools has become a central starting point for communication in the community. Some examples are the forming of relationships among parents when children who attend the same elementary school go to each other's home for playdates, and parents forming relationships through PTA activities. However, the number of children is decreasing in both urban and rural areas, and adults need a different starting point for relationships than in the past.

Phrases such as "participation in policy formulation" and "implementation of policy" sound quite formal, while terms such as "weeding" and "cleanup activities" create the image of hard work. If activities were enjoyable, more people might be able to participate. As stated in behavioral economics, emotions such as enjoyment are superior to rational judgment. Similarly, when it comes to promoting cooperation among many residents, enjoyment is more important than formal phrases such as "saving the community."

For example, in the case of urban areas, it may be possible to use allotment gardens as a starting point for relationships. Residents can engage in small talk while checking on the growth of cucumbers and tomatoes. If a communal kitchen is located nearby and it is possible to create a community cafeteria that includes adults (like an enlarged version of a children's cafeteria), it may be possible to organically create communication in the community based on a shared narrative of food; specifically, enjoying growing vegetables and having meals together with a sense of unity in positive manner. Also, if university students become involved in such activities, members will naturally change as new students come and go. This will ensure that the activities are full of diversity and contribute to the creation of new enjoyment.

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us the value of good health and the importance of securing food locally. Rather than simply returning to the pre-COVID era, we must build on the many sacrifices which we made and change our way of thinking. People may have large amounts of digital coins and "likes" on social media, but those same people were unable to secure real food during the pandemic. In my opinion, the pandemic reaffirmed how humans are creatures who exist in real life (IRL). I also believe that we have entered an era in which people should have a strong desire to create an environment residents can continue to live together in local communities.

[Reference Literature]

[1]KURATA, Noriko, et al. Semi-Quantitative Analysis of How the Preambles in Ordinances Are Designed: Observing the Change of People's Motivation Towards "Inheritance" After the Great East Japan Earthquake. International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research.
[2] KURATA, Noriko, et al. Information Sharing and Administrative Planning: From Japan's Local Government Ordinances. International Conference on Sustainability, Energy & the Environment.
[3]KURATA, Noriko, et al. Is Senior Citizens' Collaboration in Town-planning a Form of Coercion? A Comparative Survey of Fundamental Ordinances on Local Autonomy and Citizen-participation Ordinances in Japan. International Education Conference.
[4]KURATA, Noriko, et al. Measurement Method of Seven Body Region Weights by Use of a Body-region Separately Weighing System. Japanese Society for Medical and Biological Engineering.
[5]KURATA, Noriko, et al. The Effects of Respiration on the Weights of Seven Body-regions Measured with a Body-region Separately Weighing System. Asian Congress of Nutrition.
[6]GRATTON, Lynda & SCOTT, Andrew. The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. Bloomsbury Information.

Noriko Kurata/Associate Professor, Faculty of Global Management, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Public Policy and Regional Government Theory

Noriko Kurata graduated from the Department of Law in the Faculty of Law, Chuo University. She completed the Graduate School of Policy Studies, Chuo University, where she received a MA and a PhD.

With the practical experience of working as a local government employee for over 15 years, she currently conducts interdisciplinary research on communication between residents and the government, health management and other aspects that support the lives of residents.