Japan is facing an aging society with a low birth rate and a projected shrinking population. The average number of family members is set to decrease from 2.33 in 2015 to 2.08 by 2040, and the number of solitary households is on the increase as well . For older people to be able to live the rest of their lives in their own way in an environment that is familiar to them, municipalities and prefectures must establish an integrated community care system based on regional autonomy and independence .
In the process of community building, by promoting an integrated community care system, it is important to create a place of exchange for people. Over the past several decades, social isolation and loneliness among older adults have posed an increasingly urgent challenge because of the rapidly aging population in Japan. To remedy the situation, many communities have introduced multigenerational programs. In this situation, attention is being placed on the Chiiki no Cha-no-Ma (hereafter “Cha-no-Ma”), which have been implemented in Niigata City in Niigata Prefecture . Niigata City has a population of approximately 800,000 and it is nearly 2 hours by bullet train from Tokyo. The population ratio of individuals aged 65 years or older was 27% in 2015, varying from 25.1–30.3% among districts. Niigata is famous as a rich rice-producing area in Japan. In 1964, it suffered a huge earthquake of M7.5, which caused significant damage. However, inhabitants cooperated and rebuilt the city. “Chiiki no Cha-no-Ma” can be translated literally as “community living room.” It is not a religious or political organization but rather a place where older people and mothers with children in the neighborhood can easily stop by and spend a pleasant time with people of different age groups. In 1997, Cha-no-Ma started with monthly regional exchanges that began in local community halls. They received attention for being locations that, rather than offering special programs, allow elderly people, the disabled, and mothers who are raising children to casually stop by and spend as much time as they like. Cha-no-Ma have developed as a form of citizen-led support using meeting places and vacant homes. With cooperation from social welfare councils and the Welfare Division of Niigata City, there are 500 or more locations open and operating in Niigata as of 2018, with the involvement of specialists such as public health nurses, hospital nurses, and occupational therapists. In the 2014 revision of the “Guidelines for health activities of public health nurses in the community” , the promotion of self-help and mutual support using social capital (e.g., community-based trust, social standards, networks and society-related capital, etc.) was newly included, and the Cha-no-Ma was identified as a base for regional activities by public health nurses. Furthermore, at Cha-no-Ma, where different generations can gather, multigenerational exchange effects are expected. Multigenerational exchange means that members of different generations can be present, feel welcome, and engage in activities . Many of the effects of exchanges between generations have been shown in prior studies that focus on elderly people and children [6–11]. Moreover, Cha-no-Ma are expected to have the effect of community regeneration based on the connections between citizens through exchanges between generations, and some reports give attention to their positive effects in increasing social capital (hereafter “SC”) [12–15]. Cha-no-Ma are spaces where people from different generations can socialize and where staff including volunteers and users can interact rather than being separated, which ideally produces spontaneous multigenerational exchanges . However, the current situation is that most of the participants are older people, and therefore, there is limited scope, prima facie, for actual multigenerational activity. Today, as activities such as Cha-no-Ma are expanding nationwide, what are the devices that can be utilized to promote multigenerational exchange in a local setting? The implementation of multigenerational exchanges in after-school care clearly shows the influence of an operational system of talent acquisition and location . However, while after-school care is a government-led activity, Cha-no-Ma is a resident subject. Can an operational system influence the implementation of multigenerational exchanges? As the integrated community care system is not a nationwide approach, it needs to be carried out anew by each region . Can regional characteristics influence multigenerational exchange? It is said that SC is strengthened through the activation of civic activity and that civic activity is promoted if SC is rich . While the former has been confirmed in previous research, it has not yet been confirmed whether a rich SC has a positive influence on multigenerational exchange.
Therefore, in this study, we aim to clarify whether operational systems, regional characteristics, and SC are related to the implementation of multigenerational exchange in Cha-no-Ma. Further, we seek to clarify their relationship with the effect and challenges of Cha-no-Ma, investigating how the implementation of multigenerational exchange can contribute to community building.