ProjectsPast and current JFS projects


April 30, 2008


Sustainability, and Local Climates of Areas becoming Uniform, like Fast Food

miurasan.jpg Copyright JFS

Lecturer: Atsushi Miura, Director of Cultural Studies.

Fast Fudo, is a term I recently made-up; Fudo means local climate in Japanese. As you can imagine, it came from the phrase 'fast food' and it reflects my concern that local cultures might become uniform throughout Japan, just like McDonald's restaurants.

Each area originally had a unique local climate. However, as large-scale commercial facilities centered around huge shopping malls are built, each local climate is mass-produced, just as same hamburgers are sold at every fast food shop in Japan, and local climate becomes homogeneous, like an industrial product. Thus, I question this trend and warn against Fast Fudo.

Large-Scale Commercial Facilities Bring Homogenization of Lifestyle

I will now describe a typical landscape that is becoming Fast Fudo. There is a busy road filled with cars, and public facilities, such as the prefectural government building, a city hall, a hospital and a police station, as well as commercial facilities, such as pachinko parlors, have moved in along the road in the suburbs. In some ways, this may seem innocuous. Such landscapes could only be seen around the Tokyo area, including Kanagawa and Saitama Prefectures 20 years ago. However, this is now a standard scene all over Japan.

There are big shopping malls, tens of thousands of square meters in size, on such roadsides. Upon entering, you would notice that these places are bright and clean, and they are open every day. Food floors are often open 24 hours. These facilities require enormous amounts of energy and they substantially increase environmental burden.

Old Japan had various natural features along on the sea or mountains from the north to the south. Various agriculture, forestry and fishery activities were established based on different local climates; for example, some areas were better suited for rice cultivation, while others were better for fishing. Handicraft and light industries started by making sweets using rice or making furniture using timber from mountains. Thus, industries based on local climates were started.

When such industries start, occupations such as pastry chefs or furniture workers are created. Various natural cultures produced a range of industries, developed occupations and unique lifestyles, which defined the area's unique culture, climate and spirit. I think of this as the primary local climate.

However, as Fast Fudo has progressed, similar shopping malls have been built everywhere. Fast Fudo, which is unrelated to local agriculture, forestry, fishery or other industries, has changed local lifestyles. Eventually, I realized that local lifestyles have become homogenized all over Japan.

What is the Problem of Fast Fudo?

There are five concrete problems with Fast Fudo:

1) As I suggested in the above example of shopping malls, Fast Fudo greatly effects environmental burden. For example, if classical shopping areas remain, an elementary school student would be able to buy pencils at a neighborhood stationary shop. However, he would have to travel much further if local shops closed in favor of large shopping malls. In the country side, even convenience stores are often outside of central areas, and people cannot go shopping on foot, which means that people must travel to the shops by car. Because small items like a pencil would then require a journey by car, the environmental burden is increased.

2) Four step of destruction of nature and society. The spread of roads in Fast Fudo not only damages the original natural state, but also disrupts agricultural villages in the area. In addition, it affects central urban areas. Historical shopping areas close their shutters, and the human environment of cities and communities is broken. As Fast Fudo progresses, the move to suburbs ruins old roadsides and destroys older areas. When commercial facilities increase in newer suburbs, shopping malls in older suburbs faced difficult competition, and are forced to close. Surrounding shops are also forced to close, and whole areas are ruined. Ultimately, new suburbs die as even newer suburbs are built, and towns become disposable.

3) The self-sufficient lifestyle, which is economically able to support itself, has been destroyed. This means that the basis of living is now fragile and is becoming unsustainable.

A large earthquake and heavy snow hit central Niigata Prefecture a couple years ago and inhabitants were forced to evacuate to a gymnasium. I lived in Niigata until 30 years ago. I can understand the problems associated with a large earthquake, but I do not understand why heavy snow deep in the mountains of Niigata would cause such major problems.

Thirty years ago, people in Niigata kept preserved food for winter. We preserved rice and rice cakes as they were, and we put snow on Japanese radish and Chinese cabbage to prevent rotting. In addition, we made Japanese pickles and farmers made miso (soybean paste). These preparations meant that we could survive for around a week without any difficulties during heavy snow.

In contrast, when it snows now, people cannot carry on with their modern lifestyles. This is mainly because, as is the case in cities, lives in Niigata Prefecture are supported by supermarkets or convenience stores.

4) Employment is destabilized. Even when large commercial facilities such as shopping malls are built, 80% of employment there is irregular employment, such as part-time work. Before such large commercial facilities were built, there were local shops or local companies, and despite the lower salaries, employees could work until the age of retirement as regular employees. As the salaries for irregular employees do not typically increase, especially for Japanese male, the potential for personal development, such as starting a family, is greatly reduced. This results in a gap of lifestyles, as I discussed in my book Low Society.

5) Living space-closure occurs. At the school that I attended, parents now have to pick kids up after school due to fears over the risks posed by suspicious individuals. This makes kids avoid going out alone, and they get fewer opportunities to play with their friends. Because of suburbanization, there are larger distances between houses, in contrast to the time when people lived around local shopping area. The opportunities for children to communicate with their older neighbors or people at local shopping areas have decreased and that might prevent normal social development. I believe that such factors play a role in the recent increase of NEETs (young people Not in Education, Employment, or Training) and stay-at-home youths.

Healthy Urban Development, Healthy Development of Children

What can we do for coping with Fast Fudo? New urbanism, which was established in the USA, is one of the concepts for residential areas. Its basic principles are: to control the expansion of cities to suburbs and to make transportation facilities rail-based instead of car-based; to build public spaces, such as shopping malls and parks, and residential space close together; to ignore various rank-based residential spaces, such as stand-alone homes and cheap complex housing; and to preserve historical streets, with the aim at providing places of interest for residents.

These practices are currently underway in some places in Japan; however, there is no reason to follow the American closely, as there still leave such elements in Tokyo. Before Fast Fudo, there were such structures and lifestyles. We now need to revalue these things. Too many roads and shopping malls are no longer needed.

I would like to suggest "city education." One of the problems associated with Fast Fudo is that living space-closure affects the communication skills of children. For social development, kids need cities where there is communication between inhabitants. I think that communication and friendly relationships create positive communities, and people can grow up with less anxiety. I think that one of reasons that cities should exist is socialization for children, and for that, cities that break away from Fast Fudo are needed.


Atsushi Miura
Director of Cultural Studies
A researcher of Consumerism and Urbanism, as well as Culture Planner of Media, Marketing and Information, who has gained attention in marketing, and other fields including sociology, family studies, youth studies, urban planning, housing and architecture.

Resigned from Mitsubishi Research Institute.
Founded 'Cultural Studies Laboratory', a think tank for research on consumption, cities and culture.
Research on lifestyles and values of the baby boomer, shinjinrui and baby boomer junior generations, suburbs, family and consumer culture.

Joined Mitsubishi Research Institute in charge of marketing, cultural facilities planning and multi-media content planning.

Managing editor for Across. Analysis of demographics, consumption, cities and culture. Gained attention for research on the baby boomer generation, studies of Tokyo and suburbs.

Graduated from Hitotsubashi University, Sociology Department
Joined the editorial department for marketing information magazine Across (Parco, Co., Ltd.).