Fieldwork Research for Community Welfare that Reflects Residents' Thoughts and Desires

Takashi Miyashiro, Professor

Department of Community Development, Faculty of Social Policy and Administration
Posted Sep.18,2020

Faculty Profile

Professor Takashi Miyashiro studies community welfare issues throughout nearly the entirety of Japan, from the 2011-disaster stricken Tohoku region to the Okinawa islands. He collects the opinions of local communities and makes policy proposals, working toward solutions to achieve a society where everyone can live with peace of mind.

Identifying Issues with Local Residents and Developing Approaches to Solutions

My field of specialization is community welfare. I first became interested in this field when I was in university. At that time, I visited a home for people with severe disabilities as a volunteer group member. I felt upset about the residents being forced to live separately from general society. I felt that everyone, regardless of age or presence of a disability, should be able to live together in society with peace of mind. I decided that I wanted to help create such a society.

Community welfare studies should serve specific communities. As such, it is important to collect the opinions of people living in each community. Fieldwork is essential for this purpose. To keep my understanding of residents’ thoughts and desires up to date, I visit target communities on an ongoing basis and conduct interviews in person. Then, I analyze the collected information to identify what is important for the residents and what issues the community is facing. I search for solutions by looking deeply into the causes. That is the process I use for my research activities.

I build long-term relationships with each community where I have started fieldwork. That’s because even if the issues are clear, it takes a long time for residents to change their attitudes and behavior, and for local governments to develop the relevant policies. Supporting local community empowerment (the ability to take self-initiated actions) takes time and patience, but I will continue with my activities to help drive forward each of those local efforts.

Learning from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, Supporting Recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake

In 1995, I lived in Kobe when it was stricken by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. I worked with the Kobe City Social Welfare Council to carry out support activities in catastrophically damaged regions. Being a disaster victim and a support provider at the same time, I was given a precious opportunity to consider what a disaster-affected community needs. This had significant implications for my subsequent research activities. I also learned useful lessons to share in society and apply to future volunteer activities for disaster relief.

In Japan, which has become more prone to natural disasters in recent years, many districts are hit by devastating natural events and forced to exert reconstruction efforts over years. Rikuzentakata City, Iwate Prefecture, is one such district. It was hit by a massive tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.

Since I had some connection with the area, I organized the Rikuzentakata District Reconstruction Support Research Project in cooperation with town planning specialists. We invited a number of universities, including Hosei University, to form support networks. This project won a grand prize (faculty category) in the AY 2017 Practical Wisdom for Freedom Award.*1 The project is still in operation.

Also, Rikuzentakata City was selected by the government as a SDGs Future City in fiscal 2019 for its continued new community development efforts. At the end of 2019, Hosei University and Rikuzentakata City concluded a cooperation agreement to promote the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)*2 initiative. This will deepen their partnership, a driver of expanded networks to support regional redevelopment.

Adopting Students’ Viewpoints to Dig into Issues and Develop Practical Wisdom

I believe that key materials for community welfare studies are hidden in the field. It is an essential role of researchers in the field of community welfare to interact with local residents, collect live data using the five senses, and explore possible solutions.

There are many types of communities with different demographic characteristics depending on geographical location, such as urban or rural areas. Thus, it is important to take a close look at individual local characteristics of the target community to explore solutions best suited for the community and its residents.  Based on this awareness, I build seminar plans for working on community issues, with a focus on conducting fieldwork and adopting students’ viewpoints.

In December 2019, I hosted an open forum to discuss possible community welfare strategies from the point of view of the young. It targeted Hachioji City, where Hosei University’s Tama Campus is located. Through this opportunity, I shared local issues identified from the viewpoint of young people to a broad sector of society while having exchanges with local residents and representatives from the welfare sector. 

When doing fieldwork, students can become very effective interviewers, collecting information from local residents. This is because people seem to find it easy to open up to young students, an outsider who has no interests at stake. Actually, quite a few interviewees pour out their hearts about things that they have long kept to themselves. Such information is precious as it can suggest significant issues and keys to solutions. 

Situated in a district rich in nature, I feel that the Tama Campus provides an environment suitable for students to develop a rich spirit and open mind, which are essential to pursuing careers in the field of social welfare. At the same time, you need to build a strong will to face anxiety in order to keep yourself open-minded when working in Japan’s welfare sector, which is facing tough social challenges related to accelerating demographic changes. When tackling the unknown and having difficulties finding the answer, you must believe you can find it and keep working until you obtain it. This may be a hard struggle, but the entire process of that struggle can provide the basis for practical wisdom. You must collect as many of them as possible to apply to the creation of your future life. I hope I can help all my students with such efforts.

*1. Please read the related article posted on Hosei University’s branding site, HOSEI PHRONESIS.
*2. Please read the related article posted on Hosei University’s website.

It’s been nearly ten years since the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred. It is my task to publicly communicate the reality that affected areas are still in the process of reconstruction.

The Rikuzentakata District Reconstruction Support Research Project has been continuously active since its launch immediately after the occurrence of the Great East Japan Earthquake, and is now in its tenth year. I have visited the location more than 60 times over this decade. The situation of affected areas tends to quickly change immediately after the occurrence of a disaster, so during the first two years of the project, I spent every weekend in Rikuzentakata, getting home to Tokyo at midnight on Sundays to teach the first Monday morning class at university. The situation has become more stable recently, allowing my research trips there to be concentrated into long-term vacations. I engage in fieldwork in the district with my students, conducting interviews and questionnaires with local residents. 

Recovery from disaster requires an extended period of time. The primary desire of many affected people is to rebuild their homes, but it is not simply about building new homes. When rebuilding a home, it is essential to reflect the owner’s desires, which must not be ignored just to execute a project. Otherwise, people could lose affection for their hometown.

As family circumstances and financial situations differ by household, it is important to spend time understanding accurately the specific needs and desires of each affected household regarding their lives and home rebuilding plans. This requires responsible expert and administrative services to engage in time-consuming, persistent processes, but it is the key to successful regional redevelopment. 

In order to promote reconstruction initiatives, I believe, it is critical to bring the opinions of the affected people to society. Thus, I have compiled research reports on Rikuzentakata project activities to distribute to local administrative and lawmaking authorities, as well as media agencies. Additionally, I have decided to publish a book based on past activity results to coincide with the ten-year milestone since the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred. I have begun preparing for the publication of the book under the title of Rikuzentakata: Living in Temporary Housing for over 10 Years.

Japan is prone to many types of natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, flooding, landslides, and volcanic eruptions. This exposes the nation to natural threats in various forms, and often causes damage that seriously affects the lives of many people. In disaster areas, affected people are forced to endure long-term, difficult recovery processes. What are the appropriate approaches to reconstruct affected areas? What do affected people need to return to normal, pre-disaster living? A decade after the disaster, the general public is less concerned about the affected people. So I think I need to broadly communicate about the ongoing harsh reality of reconstruction faced by affected areas. I hope that a published collection of the real stories from the affected people will be a precious asset for considering future reconstruction efforts. 

At present, the novel coronavirus pandemic is causing serious damage to human activities around the world, including Japan. The future of this crisis situation is uncertain, so many people’s lives will likely be subject to a prolonged serious impact. What should we do to address the ongoing crisis? This unprecedented ordeal is putting humans to the test regarding our wisdom, faith and cooperation.

Takashi Miyashiro, Professor

Department of Community Development, Faculty of Social Policy and Administration

Born in Shizuoka in 1957.

Graduated from the Department of Political Studies, Faculty of Law, Gakushuin University and the Graduate School of Japan College of Social Work. Completed the Master’s program for the Course of Social Welfare at the Graduate School of Social Welfare, Toyo University, and the Doctoral program for the Course of Social Welfare at the Graduate School of Social Welfare, Japan College of Social Work. Doctor of social welfare Served as Lecturer, Associate Professor, etc. at the Department of Social Work, School of Health Sciences, Tokai University before assuming the position of Associate Professor at the Faculty of Social Policy and Administration of Hosei University in 2001. Appointed to the current position of professor in 2005. Vice Chairman of the Japanese Research Association for Community Development, and Director of the Student Affairs Office of Tama Campus at Hosei University.