Perspectives and problems in studies on Japanese rural space as text

Satoshi Imazato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Over the last few decades, symbolic meanings, knowledge of subsistence, and social orders of Japanese rural space have been the subject of controversy in human geography, folklore studies, cultural anthropology, and rural sociology. In human geography, a text analogy approach was introduced to elucidate the spatial system of these semiotic topics. The characteristics of rural space as text, however, have not been sufficiently examined either theoretically or empirically. This review article, based on a re-examination of the problems encountered in previous studies on Japanese rural space and society, synthesizes the various interdisciplinary traditions in order to gain a new perspective on rural space as text. The four key points of the text analogy approach can be identified as follows. The first is the semantic unit of space and its actors: the functions and range of the rural community or 'basic region', the spatial relations among various cooperative groups within the community, regional integration of communities, and boundaries of the village territory. The second is classificatory and the deep structure within space: folk categories or taxonomies, symbolic and social systems of 'place', and semiotic structure of the total space. The third is the socio-spatial dialectic of the village: relations between spatial structures as well as material resources, such as irrigation, common forests and plains, or fishing grounds, and social structure of the community. The fourth is the diversity of spatial cognition based on social attributes of the village people: people's perceptions and activities in the subsistence space, knowledge of small names over the total space, and social representations of the village. The concluding remarks given in the review on the above four points can be summarized as follows. First, we need to introduce a socio-spatial system perspective which consists of the following four elements: spatial structure and material conditions of the rural settlement, its internal social structure, multi-scales of folk classifications from cultivated strips to the total settlement space, and lastly multi-levels of spatial cognition from subsistence knowledge to social identities of the village people. Second, rural space as text should also be examined through an analysis of the intertwined economic, political, social, and cultural factors of change in the interacting scales between a micro-village and the global society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalJapanese Journal of Human Geography
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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