Urban Way of Life

Among the various definitions of the ‘‘urban way of life’’ in Japanese social science, Susumu Kurasawa’s (1987) definition is most widely accepted in sociology. ‘‘Way of life’’ here refers to a way of coping with common and collective problems in the community. A ‘‘rural way of life’’ is characterized by a strong capacity of residents’ households to deal with common problems and their dependence on the mutual aid systems of laypeople in coping with collective problems. In contrast, the ‘‘urban way of life’’ is characterized by the low ability of households to sustain themselves, and their consequential dependence on the specialized systems of experts and professional institutions.

Kurasawa examined several classic arguments in modern sociology on the issue, such as Sorokin and Zimmerman’s (1929) urban–rural dichotomy, Simmel’s (1951) analyses of urban life, Wirth’s (1938) urbanism as a way of life, as well as Tadashi Fukutake’s (1952) and Eitaro Suzuki’s (1957) definitions of rural and urban communities. Kurasawa then identified the core of the urban way of life as the specialized systems of professional institutions in urban communities. His argument focuses on occupational diversity, social differentiation, division of labor, and nodal institutions which have been identified as the structural characteristics of urban life, and he excluded from the conception individual and psychological traits such as secondary contacts, superficial and temporary relationships, rationality, impersonality, and alienation. In sum, Kurasawa argued that specialized systems of professional institutions are distinctive traits of urban social organizations. He also proposed his own definition of the city: it is a relatively large, dense settlement of non agricultural residents in a society at a given time.

While concentrating on defining the city and the urban way of life, Kurasawa’s theoretical framework remains unclear. He may have considered the ‘‘urban way of life’’ to be an independent variable that affects both the ecological traits of cities and the social and psychological traits. Or perhaps he considered the ‘‘urban way of life’’ to be an intermediate variable between the two. Either way, his focus was on the concept of the ‘‘urban way of life’’ itself. Treating the concepts of professional and mutual aid systems as a dichotomy, he argued that the professional systems should be complemented by mutual aid systems even in urban settings (Kurasawa 1988). In effect, this can be used as an analytical framework for describing urban problems.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, suburbanization produced many new problems in urban Japan, such as a deficiency in infrastructures. Kennichi Miyamoto, one of the leading urban economists in Japan, argued that since the ‘‘urban way of life’’ includes concentration of population, commodity consumption, and collective consumption (i.e., public facilities such as water supply and sewerage systems, streets, parks, and schools), contemporary urban problems were distinctively characterized by the deficiencies in the means of collective consumption (Miyamoto 1980).

Another issue associated with them is the creation of local urban communities. Citizen’s movements and public policymakers addressing urban problems advocated the creation of communities in cities. Kurasawa, as we have seen, recommended that local communities should play a significant role in providing mutual aid systems within the urban way of life.

Defining the urban way of life in terms of the reliance on specialized systems of professional institutions thus implies that most urban problems result from expert systems. They may be caused by the deficiency of collective goods provided by governments or by excessive dependency on goods and services provided by markets. Local communities may complement the specialized systems and help alleviate the associated problems. This view remains limited, however, to the consumption sphere, as does Miyamoto’s ‘‘urban way of life’’ (and Manuel Castells’s similar arguments on ‘‘collective consumption’’). More recently, specialized systems have been reconsidered in relation to the problems of trust and the risks of the ‘‘abstract systems’’ of modern societies (Giddens 1990). The conception of the ‘‘urban way of life’’ in terms of specialized systems may obtain further significance if it is connected to an analysis of the broader consequences of specialization on modern mental life, as with Simmel’s argument in the early twentieth century.


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  11. Wirth, L. (1938) Urbanism as a Way of Life. American Journal of Sociology 44: 3-24.

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