ABSTRACT Locality studies, a form of community mapping, emerged as a popular technique of sustainable development in early-21st-century Japan. Its proponents contend that by cataloging the features of their surroundings rural residents can “rediscover” dormant resources and mobilize civic energies to sustain homes hollowed by decades of persistent socioeconomic decline. Despite its empowering potential, the practice of locality studies also reflects a political climate of devolving responsibility epitomized by decentralization reforms that demand greater autonomy and self-reliance of Japan's regions. Through an ethnographic examination of locality studies and debates surrounding its practice in Japan's northeastern Tōhoku region, I argue that it embodies a politics of recognition suited to an era of state streamlining. Its diverse proponents encourage residents of Tōhoku's mountainous peripheries to convert legacies of marginalization into celebrations of cultural diversity as a way of shifting responsibility for the future of the depleted countryside onto its inhabitants.