People and Culture / People and Society

Makiko Horita

Era of Grass-roots Culture

Makiko Horita , Associate Professor

Research Faculty of Media and Communication, International Media, Communication, and Tourism Studies

High school : Fukuoka High School

Academic background : Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, University of Tokyo

Research areas
Modern Art and Culture
Research keywords
modern art theory, sociology of local community, depopulation, identity

I heard that you are studying “grass-roots culture.” What does this mean?

Exhibit of grass-roots culture examples

Depopulation is progressing at a tremendous speed in local communities. I think that this is not only an economic problem but, more importantly, a hollowing of the meaning of local communities and, as an art and culture researcher, I can do something about the problem. Grass-roots culture is a culture where its materials and dispatching are closely connected with the true situation of the community where the cultural producers live. Therefore cultural production and dispatching encourage production and sharing of new images to review the situation of the community. With the production and accumulation of grass-roots culture, the community increases its profound uniqueness, becomes the foundation of the identity of its residents, and radiates images that attract people living outside the community.


What was the starting point of grass-roots culture?

It started from a simple question of whether the pattern of cultural practice, such as inviting prominent figures to enlighten local people, will contribute to local culture. In particular, with the recognition of the power of arts to completely change how we see things around us and reveal their value, local communities are promoting arts as a trump card to revitalize exhausted communities. In many cases, however, they do not start from preparing soil and sowing seeds but hastily transplant flowers that have grown elsewhere (sometimes artificial flowers!) to a place lacking adequate soil nor climate for them to grow. Apart from the interests and powers behind such moves, this kind of grafting has a risk of tearing the delicate fabric of the local culture that already exists and would disrupt the distinctive features and identity of the community. Furthermore, maintaining flowers transplanted to a place lacking soil for them to take roots and grow requires an injection of enormous amount of energy from outside and is impossible to sustain.


What is grass-roots culture?

A scene of the symposium “Era of Grass-roots Culture”

Grass-roots culture proposes to start from examining and assessing where we are and what we have now, in short, our “here, now” and “we as we are.” This is also to realize that each one of us is a cultural player who freely spreads our roots in the place where we are, absorbs the nutrition of inspiration, and produces the unique flowers of our own stories. A good example is an amateur movie produced by “Tambo de Musical Committee” of Mukawa Town, Hokkaido. In order to reflect the reality of the community where the population is declining and aging, all people appearing in the movie are old, including those playing young people. The movie did not try to discover materials unique to the region in a pedantic manner. It is titled “Ii Ji Rider (Nice Old Rider),” an adaptation of “Easy Rider” which is one of the American movies that fascinated the old players when they were young from the 1950s to the 1960s. As a result of gathering materials only from the life-sized reality of the community, the reality of the town that had been stereotyped with negative concepts such as depopulation, aging population, and merger of towns and villages are presented as having a new meaning through the development of the drama. I think that the unique power of art to change meaning is contributing to redefinition of the reality of local communities. Another good example is Bethel's House, a halfway house that accepts schizophrenic disorder as a strong point and personality. The house has developed the “Delusion Meeting” to compete on delusions in a popular festival.


What are its features?

I think it is important to know that the issue is not to turn to insular localism but to regain the ecosystem of local culture. My focus is on Hokkaido as a local region, but, at the same time, by comparing its culture with similar cultures abroad and mainstream cultures, and repeating dialogue with them, we may be able to revitalize the cultural ecosystem. In this process, players themselves deepen their understanding of historical and social meaning of their own activities of which they were not aware, or start to criticize themselves and improve their ability to convey their culture. Sometimes we researchers feel urged to examine what effects we have on them and the ecosystem of the local culture behind them, and whether our involvement is so one-sided that it could tear their fabric. Actually, repeated study meetings have given rise to productive interactions among practitioners and between practitioners and researchers beyond their positions, national boundaries and cultural differences. Compiling the results into various recommendations to be used in policies and plans for cultural practice is our future task.