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This presentation analyses rural depopulation in Japan and its implications by means of a case study of Niigata Prefecture and Sado Island. In the first part I present population maps to show that rural demographic shrinkage is both deepening as well as broadening to include urban centres. I focus initially on Niigata Prefecture in the national context and then discuss migratory patterns in Sado. The data show that Sado, and now Niigata Prefecture as a whole, have entered what we call a ‘double negative population disequilibrium’, whereby both the migratory and natural reproduction population contributions have turned negative. Recent evidence also indicates that Niigata City itself may also have begun to shrink. In the second part I discuss the implications of depopulation for Sado Island via extracts from qualitative interviews gathered from local residents. The research found that, despite many residents acknowledging the inevitability of continued shrinkage, some institutions and social and environmental entrepreneurs are working to establish community stability and sustainability. I conclude by suggesting that the example of Japan’s rural communities presents Japan’s regional cities with the occasion to consider life ‘beyond growth’, as their populations also begin to shrink in the years to come.