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Article 2 in 2004
First published in ejcjs on 15 September 2004

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Collective Identity Creation and Local Revitalization in Rural Japan

The Complex Role of the Local Newspaper


Anthony Rausch

Hirosaki University

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This paper explores the role of the local mass media, in the form of local newspapers, in the processes of local identity creation and local revitalization in rural Japan. The research is contextualized in terms of the importance of collective identity and local revitalization in response to globalization and municipal mergers. Using the notions of social representation and journalistic representation, the research identifies how the local newspapers represent cultural markers and how these cultural markers are further represented in a manner which lends towards their transformation into cultural commodities. The processes identified include representations of community involvement with the cultural markers, the creation and re-creation of cultural commodities, and the importance of infrastructure in revitalization based on cultural commodities on the one hand, together with a focus on human interest aspects and educational, experiential and instructional aspects of cultural commodities on the other. The paper concludes that representation provides a means of better recognizing the cultural markers of a locale as well as managing these as cultural commodities for local revitalization.


Given the enduring tension between a sense of both nationalism and regionalism that characterizes Japanese consciousness and the impact of globalization on both local cultures and economies, local identity creation and local economic revitalization are issues of increasing importance for Japan, particularly for outlying prefectures and rural areas and communities. Morris-Suzuki (1998) alluded to an upsurge in identity debates taking place in response to globalization, as the varied levels of national, supra-national and sub-national identity are forced to co-exist while simultaneously competing against one another. Pietikainen and Hujanen (2003) assert that collective identities are profoundly tied to the regions that support them, meaning that the current wave of municipal mergers (shi-chō-son gappei) throughout Japan−the intentional, yet debateable municipal mergers resulting in the subsequent incorporation of smaller towns and villages into larger municipalities−renders the processes of creating and maintaining collective identity for the many and varied places of Japan perhaps never more important than at present.1 Collective local identity creation is also important in any effort to bring about local revitalization, if only in the sense of cultural awareness that results from the sense of community that such identity provides. Ray (1998), however, focused on cultural identity within local collective identity as a potential means of generating local economic revitalization by highlighting the importance of place-based cultural markers in any such revitalization. Through a multi-dimensional process of commoditization, these cultural markers, for which he offers a list that extends from local foods to landscape systems, have great potential in the economic revitalization of rural locales.

The premise of this article is that the local newspaper media plays an important role in that process. On one side, the mass media provides for messages to be produced and transmitted to large audiences, while those messages are sought out, interpreted and used, and in some cases recursively influenced by those audiences on the other. Gerbner contextualized the importance of mass media when he referred to "[t]his broad public making significance of mass media of communications−the ability to create publics, define issues, provide common terms of reference, and thus to allocate attention and power" (1967: 45). McQuail (1987) suggested several metaphors which capture the expanse of the roles of the mass media−windows that enable us to see, interpreters that help us to make sense, carriers that convey information, interactors that allow for feedback, signposts that provide instructions and directions, filters that screen and focus, mirrors that reflect ourselves onto ourselves, and barriers that block us from the truth. Anastasio, Rose and Chapman (1999) applied such notions to a study of public opinion as dictated by the media, concluding that the media can subtly but powerfully create the very opinions they seek to reflect.

This article explores these roles of the local mass media, in this case in the form of local newspapers in the processes of collective local identity creation and local revitalization, both cultural, but more importantly economic, in a rural Japanese setting. The notion of a local newspaper for the purposes herein is any newspaper that is clearly identified with a geographic district at a prefectural or sub-prefectural level that targets and attracts a regionally-representative readership on the basis of content quality and market-survival. The investigation uses the notions of social and journalistic representation to identify how newspaper representations of the cultural markers of an area contribute to both collective identity creation and local revitalization. Avraham (2000) pointed out that while it is clear that news images of cities are important and have a considerable effect on the fate of cities, there has been little attention given by researchers to the news media images of cities. While identifying the specific elements of the local identity that is to be constructed−what Sorkin (1999) refers to as the articulation of a territory−is fairly transparent and for the most part a highly deductive assessment, it is only through a closer examination of not only what is being represented but also how it is being represented, that the subtleties of that constructed image and the contribution it makes to local revitalization emerge. While the article contributes to the ongoing examination of the relationship between media and collective identity creation in general, the relevance of the research to Japanese Studies lies in it's focus and it's location. As Gatzen (2001) has pointed out in this journal, the media in Japan have not received adequate attention from Japan-oriented scholars. While there is a need for media research on a national scale, engaged examination at the local level is valuable as well. As one example, Parry (2004) pointed to the emergence in Japan of what is being called civic journalism, whereby local newspapers, in a effort to address dwindling circulation, have started experimenting with a style of journalism that covers news while at the same time encouraging civic engagement. Among the examples she described is one case in which the Chūgoku Shimbun newspaper provided a voice to readers in efforts to restore the safety, peacefulness and dignity of Hiroshima in the face of gang activity, and another in which the Kahoku Shimpō empowered readers with ideas on how to impact the practices of the powerful food production industry in Tōhoku (North-Eastern Honshū).

Furthermore, given the complex connections of culture and economy that are emerging in many realms of modern life, together with the increasing recognition of the necessity for locales to generate innovative yet reliable means of economic prosperity, the complex role of the local print media in generating both local identity and local economic revitalization in such a highly peripheral rural Japanese setting addresses an important question concerning the future of rural Japan as well. Kamata (2002), contextualizing his examination of local newspapers across Japan, noted that such local publications can escape neither their locale as a focus of their efforts nor the responsibility they bear toward that locale. Ultimately, local newspapers are charged with recording the news of their location, the unspectacular yet descriptive tale of the track of local life.

Social and Journalistic Representation

Media use, and the newspaper in particular, has been shown to correlate to increases of knowledge (Culbertson & Stempel 1986) and news has been cast as a major stock of what is called social knowledge, an important element by which the general public makes sense of social change and progress (Chang et al., 1994). Kaniss's (1991) examination of the media's handling of a controversial community issue highlighted the fact the local media in particular carries sufficient symbolic capital to unite the fragmented audiences that characterize contemporary society. In uniting fragmented audiences, the media creates collective identity, as pointed out for example in terms of assessments of Canadian unity (Antecol and Endersby 1999), European identity (Bruter 2003), and the construction of a new Slovenian identity (Erjavec 2003).2

The work of Bauer and Gaskell (1999) offers a means of considering how media processes achieve all of this, through the notion and practice of social representation. They cite Jovchelovitch's (1996) conceptualization of social representations as being at the crossroads between the individual and society, in a medium linking objects, subjects and activities. Formally, social representation can be envisioned as a relation between three elements: (1) an object that is being represented, either an abstract idea or a concrete reality; (2) constructed subjects serving as the carriers of the representation; and (3) a pragmatic context or social group within which the representation makes sense. An ideal type or paradigm for research on social representation as outlined by Bauer and Gaskell includes the following four components:

1. the typified process of the communication of the contents of social representation−analysis of the process of diffusion, propagation, and propaganda of the contents of social representation;
2. the contents of the communication of social representation−analysis of the anchors in naming and classification and the objectifications in images, metaphors, and representative behavioral patterns;
3. the consequences of the communication of the contents of social representation−rendered as opinions, attitudes and stereotypes that arise as a result of the communication of the contents of social representation; and
4. the eventual segmentation of social groups into milieus−the carrier systems and the functional reference of representations, identified through grouping and cultivated within groups through informal and formal communication.

Given that the local newspaper medium is the mechanism to be examined, it is meaningful to consider aspects of social representation through the mechanism of journalism, what Pietikainen (2003) refers to as news representation and Pietikainen and Hujanen (2003) refer to as journalistic representation. While the focus of social representation herein refers to the contents of the communication of an object, event, place, or person through naming, classification and objectification, news and journalistic representation refer to a closer inspection of the intentional process of generating new ways of organizing, clustering, arranging and classifying concepts, and of establishing complex relationships between them (Hall 1997: 116-17) in ways which are meaningful and useful within the pragmatic context or social group identified in social representation. Indeed, there is usually a regime of representations concerning certain topical themes, often heterogeneous and sometimes conflicting, with some more dominant and some more familiar than others, but each produced with a particular objective, be that objective overtly referred to or assimilated in the news-production process. As Weeks (1994) points out, representation in such a journalistic consideration has the power to articulate identity and thus representations play a constitutive, rather than a merely reflexive role. Such considerations lead to the notion of a politics of news representation, referring in a manner similar to social representation to the significance and consequences of the ways in which people, regions, ideas, and knowledge are represented.

Local Identity and Local Revitalization: Cultural Commodities

An examination of collective local identity creation begins with a consideration of what constitutes such an identity. While the notion of identity has different, and often conflicting meanings depending on contexts, Roca (2000) offers three distinct and readily identifiable dimensions of local identity, one of which will provide a basis for the argument of collective local identity presented herein: a socio-cultural dimension, a socio-economic dimension, and a techno-economic dimension. Summarizing, the local socio-cultural dimension includes among other components the traditional cultural landscape and the constructed heritage, the artifacts of collective memory (stories and songs), local arts, crafts, foods, and traditional events, as well as more modern examples of cultural production along with local self-esteem and cultural consciousness. The socio-economic identity, more demographically descriptive, includes among other components living standards and measures of local equality, employment sectoralization and unemployment, local consumerist and entrepreneurial spirit, and levels of both social participation and social crisis. In a similar means, the techno-economic identity is infrastructurally descriptive, in that it includes among other components the economic base (service, industrial, agricultural) and the size and character of local enterprises and the local infrastructure, both institutional and utilities-services based.

While a complex combination of these components is undoubtedly important in any efforts at revitalization, it is the socio-cultural components that ultimately provide the content and commodity base for the revitalization itself, particularly for rural locales which by geographic definition lack the agglomeration advantage of traditional industrial development. Lacking such industrial infrastructure, cultural commodities, the consumable cultural markers of specific locations−which Ray casts as comprising a range extending from "traditional foods, regional languages, crafts, folklore, local visual arts and drama, literary references, historical and prehistoric sites, and landscape systems" (1998: 3)−are viewed as taking on increasing importance in the economic and cultural revitalization of their host regions (see Ray 1998; Kneafsey, Ilbery & Jenkins 2001; Santagata 2002). Revitalization, a term most accurately reflecting the commonly-used Japanese notion of kasseika (katsu: life, activity; sei: suffix for -ness or -ity; and ka: suffix for -ation), implies a dynamic resurgence of a highly local character which goes beyond such terms as, for example, kaihatsu (development). Ray suggests that such revitalization be organized on the basis of a culture economy, where "the word economy signals that one is dealing with the relationships between resources, production and consumption, while culture tries to capture the reorganization of economies, at least partially, onto the geographical scale of local cultures-territories" (1998: 3). Morris-Suzuki (1998) reports on Kawakatsu's (1991) description of putting culture back into the economy, by noting a shift from an emphasis on production to an emphasis on consumption, for which each ethnic group has its own distinction product mix which defines its identity. 3 While a discussion of the culture economy is beyond the scope of this article, a preliminary conceptualization of the culture economy as based on four operational modes highlighting the importance of representation is outlined below:

  • Mode I calls for the commoditization of local culture by creation of cultural resources that have a place identity and can be marketed directly.

  • Mode II occurs with the construction and projection of a (new) territorial identity to the outside with emphasis on the incorporation of cultural resources into a territorial identity in order to promote the territory, a process which often operates in the context of 'selling places' for tourism.

  • Mode III is engaged in the territory selling itself internally, to the communities, businesses, groups and official bodies of the local area. The rhetoric of this mode concerns raising the self-confidence of the local people and organization, building confidence in their own capacities to bring about development, and valorizing local resources.

  • Mode IV emphasizes the normative capacity of the culture economy and involves reconstructing the state economy model at the local or regional level. Activity at this level include attempts to compete in the global economy mediated by forms of local protectionism to control the economic, social, cultural and environment impacts of such activity on the locality. (Summarized from Ray 1998: 6-7)

While social and journalistic representation outlined above can be conceived as being most directly related to the selling of the territory internally, Ray's Mode III, it is also clear that such representation is important in the creation of a local identity through the creation of cultural markers, Mode I, as well.

Representation of the Cultural Markers and Cultural Commodities of Aomori

According to the 2003 Kensei data book (Yano Tsuneta Kinenkai 2002), Aomori Prefecture, the northernmost prefecture of Honshū, is home to approximately 1,470,000 residents. The prefecture ranks low on most economic indices, and except for living space and social welfare expenditure per person, on most social indices. The prefecture is highly dependent on agriculture, with one of the highest proportions in Japan of workers employed in the primary sector. Aomori, however leads the nation in production of both apples (51%) and garlic (80%). The prefecture has long suffered from its geographic isolation, with the northernmost extension of the Tōhoku Expressway being completed in 1986 and a Shinkansen (Super Express Bullet Train) extension to the prefectural capital of Aomori City being presently undertaken. In a clear combination of geography and culture, the prefecture covers three regions with separate and distinct histories and contemporary identities−the Tsugaru on the west side, the Nambu on the east side and Shimokita, the axe-head shaped peninsula hanging over the rest of the prefecture to the north−with the three largest cities being Aomori City, the prefectural capital situated on Mutsu Bay, Hachinohe City, located in Nambu on the Pacific Coast, and Hirosaki City, the central city of the Tsugaru District. Examination of the character of place and cultural markers for Aomori Prefecture and the Tsugaru District was based on analysis of the Tōōnippō newspaper using the internet edition's homepage search function together with newspaper articles collected from both the Tōōnippō and the Mutsu Shinpō (romanized as Mutsu Shimpo on its front page) newspapers' paper editions over an 18 month period (2002-2003, n=123). The place-designated cultural commodities of the Tsugaru District which were examined are tsugaru nuri, a lacquerware with late Edo period origins that remains a prized, but also pricey traditional craft object, and tsugaru shamisen, a local shamisen music likewise dating from the late Edo, but with an increasing global following. Examination of the representation of tsugaru nuri lacquerware was based on analysis of newspaper articles containing references to tsugaru nuri (1999-2003, n=43 and n=27). Examination of the representation of tsugaru shamisen was based on analysis of newspaper articles containing references to tsugaru shamisen (2002-2003, n=36).

The Tōōnippō and Mutsu Shinpō newspapers were selected for the study on the basis of their geographical connection with the area (Aomori Prefecture and the Tsugaru District) on the one hand (the third newspaper published in Aomori, the Tōhoku Daily, is centered on Hachinohe and the Nambu District) together with resident appraisal of these two newspapers on the other. The Tōōnippō, with a history dating to 1877, with bureaus throughout northern Japan and a prefectural circulation of around 260,000, is clearly the dominant Aomori newspaper. The Mutsu Shinpō, headquartered in Hirosaki, is, conversely, considered a Tsugaru-centered newspaper, claiming a circulation of just over 50,000. In research unrelated to this project, readership of local newspapers in Hirosaki City was indicated by survey respondents as higher than that of national newspapers. In addition, the local newspaper was documented as an important information source, ranking second behind television news, with both the amount of information supplied and the accuracy of the information related to local issues supplied by the newspaper rated as weakly positive by local residents.4 The Tōōnippō usually contains from 20 to 24 pages for the daily (morning) edition and eight for the evening edition and the Mutsu Shinpō from 18 to 20 pages. The layout, although differing in terms of numbers of pages, is otherwise similar, with the front page devoting space to a mix of national and important local stories. Some front-page space may be taken by a timely international story; if not, then what might be called a 'warm and fuzzy' local story, such as a seasonal event accompanied by a photo, will be carried. Inside, the first several pages are given over to national and business news, followed by sports running through the center section of the paper. The articles examined in the research reported on herein, what can be termed strictly local content, are usually found in the final three to five pages of the newspaper. While a full analysis of the articles, considering for example sentence length, number of kanji characters per sentence and period to comma ratio was not undertaken, the articles ranged from about 15 to 25 sentences in length and photos were a prominent feature.

Recalling that examination of the contents of social representation calls for an examination based on analysis of the anchors in naming and classification and the objectifications in images and metaphors as well as journalistic representation an examination of how such representation establishes and organizes concepts, it is necessary to first identify such anchors and objectifications and then to organize the resulting representations with respect to identity construction and local revitalization. The data which follows will identify the character of these various 'contents,' the 'anchors and objectifications' of the representation of cultural commodities and the manner in which they are 'organized, clustered, arranged, and classified' in order to contribute to local revitalization.

The Creation of Cultural Markers through Newspaper Representation

Homepage Keyword Search (Tōōnippō newspaper)

As an introductory step, keyword searches using the Tōōnippō newspaper homepage search function were conducted on October 9, 2003, with results shown in Table 1.5 While obviously dictated by the intentional nature of the word search, the number of 'hits' does reveal several representations of the predominant identity and cultural markers of Aomori: (1) Tsugaru is the most represented district of the three prefectural districts; (2) there is a 'history-nature-agriculture' triad of representation based on the Jōmon-period Sannai Maruyama Ruins located in Aomori City, the Tsugaru-district centered combination of Lake Towada, Mount Iwaki, and the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Shirakami Mountain area and the importance of prefectural agriculture; (3) festivals are more newsworthy than tradition-based commodities, and Aomori City's showcase Nebuta Festival is the most represented festival of Aomori Prefecture with tsugaru shamisen the most represented directly commodifiable cultural marker; and (4) the themes of revitalization and tourism are being represented in the local media.

Table 1: Creation of Cultural Markers I

Representation of Cultural Markers in the Newspaper

The representation of the cultural markers of Aomori was more deductively outlined through an examination of newspaper articles (n=123), gathered on the basis of viewing both local newspapers on a daily basis over the period of the investigation and identifying articles deemed related to the notion of cultural markers. While basing the organization of the contents of these articles on Ray's (1998) range of cultural markers, as shown in Table 2, it is clear that there are specifics of a particular cultural marker base for Aomori Prefecture that are not evident in Ray's generalized cultural markers, seen in representations of:

1. traditional food culture as including both local traditional food as well as agricultural products, the representation of which increasingly stresses aspects of trust and safety (article examples: 'increasing the trust in local agricultural products - Tsugaru Ishikawa AgriCoop triple-up system: reliable, safe and stable,' 30.5.2003, Tōōnippō; 'agricultural traceability system - Hirosaki City proceeds with aid to agricultural cooperative,' 25.2.2003, Mutsu Shinpō);

2. the visual arts and drama component as being categorized on the basis of festival and performance as well as appreciation and preservation of local culture and recognition of individual artisans (article examples: the many articles that precede and accompany the seasonal festivals; the numerous articles noting the centennial of woodblock artisan Munakata Shiko in 2003 and the articles to follow in reference to Tsugaru nuri and tsugaru shamisen which reveal a clear human interest element; 'prefectural traditional crafts master recognized - kokeshi maker,' 5.12.2002, Mutsu Shinpō; 'deepening the connections for revitalizing cultural activity - crafts network established,' 19.3.2003, Tōōnippō and Mutsu Shinpō); and

3. landscape system-based cultural markers which are represented in the context of health on the one hand and based on climate on the other (examples: 'hot spring facility planned - Owani to become Health City,' 10.6.2003, Mutsu Shinpō; 'strengthen Aomori as Hot Spring Prefecture to lure tourists for health,' 2003.1.28, Mutsu Shinpō; 'fun in the extreme cold of Tsugaru - Kanagi Town Blizzard Tour,' 27.1.2003, Mutsu Shinpō).

Table 2: Creation of Cultural Markers II

The Commoditization of Cultural Markers

In addition to the representation of cultural markers in the form of direct reference to the markers themselves as above are representations based on references to other aspects, including the involvement of local social actors−community, residents, students and businesses−in the support and activity of cultural representation, the creation and re-creation of local cultural representation through specific representations and brand creation (rendered in the Tōōnippō as burandoka, where 'brand' is in katakana syllabary and ka is the character used for -ization), and the infrastructure related to cultural commodities in local revitalization, in the transportation links, the establishment and maintenance of internet homepages, and the development of maps and other such infrastructural support activities (as shown in Table 3). Such representations not only signify a transition in the role of cultural markers from signifiers of collective identity to commodifiable cultural commodities and so reveal the link between cultural markers in identity creation and cultural commodities in local revitalization, they also represent efforts to further develop both a socio-economic identity and a techno-economic identity, as outlined by Roca (2000), both of which ultimately support the commoditization of the socio-cultural identity that is being created.

Table 3: The Shift to Cultural Commodities

Explicit examples of such representation include:

1. the involvement of local actors in cultural markers: 'Tsugaru tourism campaign: citizens in the process, tie-ups with local businesses, local leaders must lead,' (1.4.2003, Mutsu Shinpō), 'using the city to revive the city - reviving furusato: residents' participation is key' (13.7.2003 column, Tōōnippō);

2. the creation and re-creation of local cultural commodities: 'energizing the region: Aomori's brand creation challenge' (2003, a Tōōnippō weekly column describing various economic revitalization activities, some of which are directly related to cultural commodities), 'toward a Jōmon Corridor - World Cultural Inheritance perspective' (7.9.2003, Tōōnippō, describing efforts to better utilize the Jōmon heritage of the prefecture); and

3. the infrastructure related to cultural commodities and revitalization: 'Hayate shinkansen effect expected - backup with tourism promotion' (10.9.2003, Tōōnippō), 'selling apples on the Internet - Hachinohe University students and local farmers' (29.9.2003, Tōōnippō), 'feeling Hachinohe City's history - local group published guide map to help understanding' (11.10.2003, Tōōnippō).

Representation of a Cultural Commodity: tsugaru nuri Lacquerware

The representation of tsugaru nuri lacquerware was examined on the basis of two separate analyses of newspaper articles related to tsugaru nuri, one an overview of the thematic orientation (n=43) and the other an analysis of orientations of tradition versus modernity as analyzed by native-Japanese speaker readers (n=27). As shown in Table 4, while historical references ('the establishment of a lacquerware company: the story of Mr. Yamada,' 19.5.2000, Tōōnippō), details of government and organizational activity ('tsugaru nuri samples designated Prefectural Treasures,' 4.4.2003, Tōōnippō and Mutsu Shinpō), descriptions of the lacquerware industry or a lacquerware product ('Italian pen maker to use tsugaru nuri in pen,' 31.3.2000, Tōōnippō), and information on events such as exhibitions and product fairs were common elements of the representation of tsugaru nuri. Also evident were representations focusing on specific educational and experiential activity associated with the lacquerware on the one hand and human interest articles on the other.

Table 4: Representation of tsugaru nuri Lacquerware

Examples of the educational aspect of representation can be found in the once-per-month Social Studies component of Newspaper in Education columns in the Mutsu Shinpō newspaper, which focused exclusively on tsugaru nuri in six columns over the two-year period.6 The experiential aspect can be seen in the following two examples: 'Hirosaki junior high school students experience making tsugaru nuri' (28.1.2000, Tōōnippō) and 'Aomori traditional craft exhibition - hands-on classroom opened' (30.11.2002, Mutsu Shinpō). The representations based on a human interest perspective can be seen in the following examples, in one case introducing a local lacquer craftsperson and in the other in an essay on the beauty of tsugaru nuri: 'using a youthful personal style to create - introducing tsugaru nuri craftsman Mr. M' (13.12.2002, in the Mutsu Shinpō 'Living in Tsugaru' monthly column), 'Tsugaru lacquerware: the treasure of my house' (14.2.2002, essay contest submission carried in Mutsu Shinpō).

Further contextualization reflecting a theme inherent in crafts such as tsugaru nuri was provided by analysis of the tension of tradition versus modernity illuminated by analysis of 27 articles by native-Japanese speakers. The native-Japanese readers were given instruction and then asked to consider the articles on the basis of a focus predominantly on the lacquerware product, some sort of human interest perspective or providing some information, and using a five-point Likert scale. Readers were also asked to indicate their evaluation of the relative emphasis on tradition or modernity of the article. Eighteen of the 27 articles considered by respondents had a photo (four articles with multiple photos), with eight photo depictions of individuals, 16 of objects, and six of lacquerware-related events. Eight of the 27 articles focused on the lacquer crafts-people, an indication of personification of the lacquerware referred to above, and 12 of the articles were part of a series-based column. The assessment pointed to equal balance between a focus in the representation on the lacquerware, some sort of human interest angle, and informational content overall. This is seen both numerically−in the number of articles and individual responses for which the particular assessment exceeded the median for that assessment category (for focus on the lacquerware, 13 articles and 170 responses in which the assessment of the focus on lacquerware exceeded 3.46 on a five-point Likert scale, as compared with 14 and 154 for focus on human interest and 14 and 156 for focus on information)−and in terms of the relative strength of the focus (the mean assessments: 4.52, 4.46 and 4.49 respectively; see Table 5). Likewise, within each of these three broad categories, the emphasis was fairly even between tradition and modernity, based on a similar comparison of article/case numbers and the mean responses, with modernity slightly more emphasized in the human interest category of articles.

Table 5 Representation of Tsugaru Lacquerware as Traditional or Modern

An example of an article which focuses on the traditional aspects of the lacquerware is, 'Tsugaru lacquerware samples designated Prefectural Treasures' 4.4.2003, Tōōnippō and Mutsu Shinpō), whereas an example showing the human interest is, as was introduced earlier, 'using a youthful personal style to create - introducing tsugaru nuri craftsman Mr. M' (13.12.2002, Mutsu Shinpō).

It is interesting to note that, in direct opposition to the representation in newspaper articles as described above, tsugaru nuri in newspaper advertising is characterized in a manner clearly and more dominantly oriented on the lines of history, technique and local representativeness and ownership. In a full page announcement of November 13 as Urushi no Hi (Lacquer Day), the largest block of text stresses the 'Artist's Skill,' while the adjoining text, which included a 500-character description of the history of tsugaru nuri, calls on readers to "protect the tradition of Tsugaru" (12.11.1999, Mutsu Shinpō). Heralding a major tsugaru nuri exhibition, the leading block of text in a full-page announcement states that "Lacquer is tied to our Jōmon history and our regional future" (9.5.1999, Mutsu Shinpō). Other, more frequent promotional representations have included references to tsugaru nuri as a furusato-hin, a product of one's nostalgic homeplace (28.7.2000, Tōōnippō), and more recently, tsugaru nuri being a "folkcraft of the people" (5.2.2002, Tōōnippō), and the importance of "seeking the opportunity of discovering Tsugaru through the traditional craft of tsugaru nuri" (31.1.2002, Mutsu Shinpō).

However, with the development of new forms and styles of tsugaru nuri , there is a question as to how these will translate into advertising for the lacquerware that reflects such forms. Clearly tied to the development of a modern version of tsugaru nuri lacquerware and most likely a reflection of the increase in non-traditional forms of lacquerware being produced, there are emerging advertising discourses which are based more on a tone of innovation. One example can be seen in the brochure describing the tsugaru nuri Royal Collection, which introduces a lacquerware which, "while possessing an Edo-era base, appeals to 21st century sensibilities and blends with Western flatware and crystal."

Representation of a Cultural Commodity: tsugaru shamisen Music

Analysis of the newspaper representation of tsugaru shamisen was based on newspaper articles containing references to the music (n=36). Every article had a photo, with 18 depictions of individuals, six of a teaching event, and eight of performance events; with an additional two with photos taken from an animated movie detailing the origins of tsugaru shamisen and two showing tsugaru shamisen CDs. As shown in Table 6 and similar to the case for tsugaru nuri, while there were elements of history, human interest and event information, the representation of tsugaru shamisen revealed first, a shift from the educational/experiential element identified in tsugaru nuri to an instructional aspect in tsugaru shamisen and second, a more active promotional orientation related to the cultural importance of the music.

Table 6 Representation of tsugaru shamisen

An example of the educational/experiential element identified in the representation is the article titled 'Experiencing the attractiveness of shamisen−performers let others play' (11.4.2002, Tōōnippō) while an example of the instructional element is in the article 'Teaching successors容lementary, junior and high school students' tsugaru shamisen fever' (19.11.2001, Tōōnippō) or 'tsugaru shamisen hobby group formed−aiming at performing' (2003.6.5, Tōōnippō). Examples of the promotional orientation can be found in the following: 'Roots of tsugaru shamisen−picture book aimed at children' (19.8.2003, Tōōnippō), 'tsugaru shamisen battle among national champions−Tsugaru shamisen All Japan Contest' (5.5.2003, Mutsu Shinpō) and 'tsugaru shamisen going to Russia−Foreign Affairs request for Russian-Japan Fair' (10.4.2003, Tōōnippō and Mutsu Shinpō).

Summary and Discussion

This article has presented a case study outlining and examining the role of the local mass media, in the case herein in the form of local newspapers, in both collective local identity creation and local economic and cultural revitalization. The link between the media and collective identity creation and local revitalization was contextualized by Ray's (1998) four modes of the cultural economy, which call for commoditization of the local culture, construction and projection of the local identity, a selling of the locale internally and reconstructing the local social and economic structures to bring a normative capacity to the local culture economy. The media-generated representation that contributes to these modes overall, but particularly in the case of construction of the local identity and the selling of that identity internally, were presented as Bauer and Gaskell's (1999) contents component of social representation−the anchors in naming and classification and the objectifications in images, metaphors, and representative behavioral patterns−and in new ways of organizing, clustering, arranging and classifying concepts and of establishing complex relationships between them as outlined by Hall (1997) in Pietikainen and Hujanen's (2003) journalistic representation.

Representation that relates to local identity creation should logically begin by focusing on the characteristics of the place−what Roca (2000) outlines as socio-cultural identity and what provides for Ray's (1998) cultural markers. Representation that relates to the economic revitalization of the location should then focus on the commoditization of this identity and these markers, these being the cultural commodities that emerge from recognition and subsequent management of this identity as well as the socio-economic and techno-economic identity that supports such revitalization. Indeed, in both the general examples and the specific cases of traditionally established cultural commodities such as the case for a craft object or a performing art, the principal anchors are a function of the place that was the origin of and continues to be the host to the cultural commodity, which is extended to include the essential supporting elements of the cultural commodity such as a particular history, a technique or a creative community, and ultimately, the commodifiable form of the cultural commodity, be it object or performance. Further, as shown herein for the contemporary case, these can be further contextualized to include representations of the involvement of multiple and diverse sectors of the community in relation to the cultural commodity, a consideration of the contemporary creation and re-creation of the cultural commodity, and references to the infrastructure that supports the cultural commodity, as well as a focus on a human interest element associated with the cultural commodity or some highly specific content relating directly to the cultural commodity such as educational, experiential or instructional activities.

The findings of the present research, separated to reflect the case for a general cultural markers grouping and a specific lacquerware-shamisen grouping, point to several conclusions. For the case of general cultural markers, there appears to be a focus on the representation of the highly place-based elements of history, nature and agriculture, organized on the basis of Aomori Prefecture's Jōmon archaeological history, the presence of the Shirakami Mountain Range and other nature-based scenic sites, and the agricultural products of the prefecture. While evidence of the prefecture's Jōmon history emerged recently, the representation referenced by nature and agriculture confirms the essential character of Aomori Prefecture. It is in this general case that elements in the representations clearly related to the involvement of the community, the creation and re-creation of these as cultural commodities, and to the importance of infrastructural support emerge. Representation referencing community in relation to cultural markers and cultural commodities are few, but clear in intent. Pietikainen and Hujanen (2003) point out that journalistic representations of people and places not only portray social phenomena, but also make claims about them, of which the allocation of agency is an important claim for the research herein. Allocation of agency, the ways in which the representation of social actors position them with respect to their capacity to act toward some objective, contributes to the transition of cultural marker to cultural commodity. Moreover, by expanding the community involved, through representations which include residents, students and businesses, the allocation of agency is shifted to the community collective, rather than being solely on the limited community directly associated with the cultural commodity.

The creation and re-creation of the history, nature and agricultural base as cultural commodities has been facilitated through what has been referred to as brand creation. In the case of the Jōmon history, this brand creation has been facilitated through the creation of the Sannai Maruyama archaeological site; in the case of the Shirakami Mountain Range, through its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and in the case of agricultural products, through the 'branding' of, for example, Aomori apples and the 'branding' of safety and trust in local cultivation practices. It is important to note that this brand creation has progressed on the basis of internal and locally-driven efforts as well as being an outcome of external, national and even internationally-orchestrated processes. Pride and interest in Japan's Jōmon history is a Japanese, rather than a strictly Aomori attribute; the designation of the Shirakami Mountain Range was a function of the efforts of ecologists and environmentalists at the international level; emphasis on agricultural practices viewed through a lens of safety and trust is a reflection of the increasing concern over bio-technical farming practices worldwide. Yet the rhetoric accompanying these trends contributes to the construction of a local identity and the commoditization of these cultural resources while also valorizing such local resources and raising the self-confidence of the local people in their capacities to bring about development on the basis of those resources.

The infrastructural support that is clearly referenced in the representations focused on three elements: the shinkansen high-speed train connection now completed through to Hachinohe City and being carried through to Aomori City; the potential realized through use of information technology in the form of homepages; and the efforts to provide for information needs through the production of guidebooks, maps and public relations materials at very local and specific levels. While the efforts to bring a shinkansen link to Aomori are, as was outline above, in part dependent on external processes, the information-production aspect described is clearly internal. As important is to note that the information-production aspect references an emerging tension in the realm of cultural commodities, that being the necessity of a potential consumer of a cultural commodity to experience the 'place' first-hand. Clearly the global reach of information technology and the detailed and highly inviting portrayals internet homepages can provide de-emphasize the importance of actually having to visit the place and experiencing the cultural markers as a part of appreciating the cultural commodity−this being the promise of virtual tourism. However, the efforts being made to provide accessible and meaningful information for the tourist emphasize a belief that in order to appreciate the thing, one must actually experience the place−a notion at the very heart of, for lack of a better term, traditional tourism.

Turning to the case for lacquerware and shamisen, while history as a point of reference in the representation was seen and information on the events and the 'commodities' of tsugaru nuri and tsugaru shamisen was seen, it was less important than a clear focus on a human element as well as references to the educational experiences and the instructional aspects inherent in each of these cultural commodities. The tension between tradition versus modernity in the representation of tsugaru nuri proved to be balanced, although it was clear in the advertising that with innovation in the form of the product, a higher degree of referencing of modernity in the representation will likely follow. As could be expected, information about events represented lacquerware on the characteristics of the product itself with the events being, for the most part, exhibitions, whereas in the case of shamisen, the orientation was much broader−covering for example, the performer, the performance and the audience reaction−which lends itself to a more appealing, and therefore more common, promotion of tsugaru shamisen in its representation.

The representation of a human element and educational, experiential and instructional aspects relate to the creation and re-creation of the cultural marker, but more in the hearts and minds of local residents than as a cultural commodity per se. It is clear that the human interest element, usually by way of introducing a lacquer crafts-person or a shamisen player, was an attempt to personify to the local residents the inaccessible world of a traditional craft or performing art. As such, this focus on the individual clearly contradicts both Yanagi's (1972) rejection of the individual-oriented crafts-person and the reality of most apprenticeship gained skills in traditional performing arts (see Singleton 1989, 1998). However, it is also clear that educational experiences are aimed at providing hands-on experiences for a relatively wide audience of local school students and residents as well as tourists. This experiential element is an emerging component in traditional cultural commodities promotion. Toda, Watanabe and Murata (1997) outline a 'traditional crafts and tourist promotion' scheme which includes four phases based on 'gains' to be initially generated in the potential consumer−gaining knowledge and gaining appreciation−which translate into eventual 'gains' for the commodity producing community−gaining purchases and gaining fans. As important as this educational experience is on an individual level, in the present examination, the representation of such activity contributes to a broader participatory community. In the case of more serious instruction, seen exclusively in the representation of shamisen, there was very much a sense of carrying on the tradition of the cultural commodity. While apprenticeship has long been a reality in craft and performance arts, the aspect of representation in the media of such instruction has not been considered. Again, representing what has been up to now a relatively closed community of committed apprentices in the media can only work to broaden the interest and ultimately, the appeal of the cultural commodity.

The premise of this article as described is that representation of cultural markers in the local media creates local identity, and further, that representation of these cultural markers as cultural commodities, in some cases reflecting a very real transition from signifying marker to tangible commodity, contributes to local economic revitalization. This premise holds that the local newspaper controls one aspect of the social representation of culture, the content of which, through processes of journalistic representation, are created, organized, arranged and classified. The local newspapers examined in this case study have been shown, through such social and journalistic representation, to have outlined an Aomori Prefectural identity which rests in parts on history, nature and agriculture, while also emphasizing how aspects of community involvement, continual re-creation and national and local infrastructure relate to local revitalization. The local newspapers in this study have also been shown to highlight a human-interest element along with the educational-experiential and instructional activities in their representation of two locally-designated traditional cultural commodities.

This article should be considered a starting point. Both social representation and journalistic representation refer to the consequences of such representation and Roca admits that the recording and assessing of evidence of local identity will always depend on the ways the apparently simple, but in reality cryptic and subjective concept of local identity is deciphered and coded into credible analytical categories. Further, Ray's modes of culture economy include an eventual normative capacity oriented toward the betterment of the locale−all considerations beyond the scope of this paper. That noted, the research reported on herein has shown that the local newspaper, through both social representation and journalistic representation, contributes to local identity creation and organizes a role for cultural commodities in local revitalization. As noted in the introduction, given the potential impacts of globalization on the one hand and municipal mergers on the other, issues of local identity and local revitalization are increasingly important in rural Japan. By noting the representation of cultural marker and cultural commodities in the local media of rural Japanese locales, the priorities and potentials for local identity and local revitalization in those areas can be better managed and maximized.


1. See Ikegami (2002) and Nakanishi (2002) for viewpoints on municipal mergers (shi-chō-son gappei). In the study area examined herein (to be introduced in detail later in this article), the merger process is for the most part complete, although citizen uncertainty about the implications abound−in many cases related precisely to the fate of their local community identity.

2. These three papers are offered as recent examples of the work in this area: the relationship between newspaper consumption and beliefs about Canadian federalism, the impact of news on cultural European identity, and media construction of identity in Slovenia.

3. A full discussion of the notion of culture economy as outlined by Ray (1998) as well as the cultural economy (see du Gay and Pryke 2002) is beyond this paper. Suffice it to say, considerations of the distinctions between culture and economy together with attempts to integrate the contrasting ideas of 'economics as culture' and an 'economy of culture' are increasing.

4. See Rausch (2002); readership of the Tōōnippō was reported at 67 percent and the Mutsu Shinpō at 26 percent, while the national-level Yomiuri Shinbun and the Asahi Shinbun were reported at 14 and 17 percent, respectively. Television was rated as the primary news source with newspaper clearly the second choice. Coverage of Aomori Prefectural issues by these two local newspapers was rated as very sufficient or sufficient by 64 percent of survey respondents and very accurate or accurate by 51 percent (N=71).

5. The Tōōnippō homepage includes both news content and some advertising. There are numerous thematically-grouped (national news, local politics, local economy, etc.) links to Tōōnippō-produced pages carrying daily articles as well as links to columns focusing on important local issues (municipal mergers, the fate of an industrial park project, etc.). For reference, the Mutsu Shinpō homepage can be found at www.mutusinpou.co.jp; however, the Mutsu Shinpō does not have a search function.

6. See Rausch (2004) for a description of how Newspaper in Education columns in local newspapers strike a balance between scholastic and local content−an argument contributing to the theme herein, namely that the local media, through representations of local cultural markers, contributes to collective identity creation.


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About the author

Anthony S. Rausch is Foreign Lecturer at Hirosaki University, Japan and a Doctoral Candidate at Monash University, Australia. His research interests center on rural Japan and have focused on volunteerism, education, the media and economic and cultural revitalization. He has authored and co-authored books on the Tsugaru District of Aomori Prefecture (tsugaru shamisen and Tsugaru lifestyle) and is completing his dissertation on cultural commodities in local revitalization.

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