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From Würzburg into the world


Sascha Dolezal studied geography at the University of Würzburg and wrote a dissertation on Japanese shopping arcades. He can't imagine living in Japan but he highly recommends visiting the country.

Sascha Dolezal in front of the Statistical Office of Baden-Württemberg
Sascha Dolezal works as a consultant in the Statistical Office of Baden-Württemberg in Stuttgart. He is currently preparing the EU-wide 2021 population census. (Image: privat)

Which jobs do graduates from the University of Würzburg work in? To present different perspectives to students, Michaela Thiel, the director of the central alumni network, interviews selected alumni. This time, it's Sascha Dolezal's turn. Dolezal studied geography and did his PhD with Professor Jürgen Rauh. After spending some time in Japan, he is currently working as a consultant at the Statistical Office of Baden-Württemberg.

Sascha, what was the subject of your dissertation and how would you briefly describe your result? My research thesis was about Japanese shopping arcades which are facing many challenges due to new competition from supermarkets, shopping malls or online shopping as well as changing consumer habits and social developments.

What is it that fascinates you about these shopping arcades? A lot of these arcades show clear signs of decline whereas a few others are still very much alive and attractive. Against this background, I studied the factors that influence the development in positive or negative ways and the future outlook of these retail sites in Japan.

And what does their future hold? The many family-run businesses don't have a successor. Due to the lack of business succession, there is no investment in the property and both the presentation of the goods and the design of the buildings are no longer up to date. A supermarket offers a wide depth and breadth of various products "under one roof" and often at lower prices than the specialty stores in the shopping arcades. If several of these factors are combined, this quickly generates a downward spiral.

You are currently employed with the Statistical Office of Baden-Württemberg. What is your job there? I work as a consultant in the census department of the Statistical Office of Baden-Württemberg in Stuttgart. The next EU population census will take place in 2021, and similar to the last census in 2011, it will be a sample survey of around ten percent of the population. Interviews will not be conducted with selected persons but with all inhabitants of a sample address. But to be able to draw a sample, you need a database which contains all addresses with housing units. I am responsible for the quality of this database, the so-called control register, leading a team of around 16.

How exactly do you go about this task? Together we have to reconcile and adjust different data sources such as population register or survey data. Then, we identify the addresses that contain housing units out of this total stock of around three million addresses. When in doubt, we often refer to satellite images and other sources, which can be quite challenging given the number of buildings.

You spent some time of your life in Japan. What did you do there? Having many personal contacts, I visited Japan a few times already and had the opportunity to see the shopping arcades up close and was quickly fascinated by them. Once I had dived deeper into the subject, I decided to write my dissertation thesis about it. A one-year DAAD grant enabled me to do research at our partner university, Osaka Sangyo University, where I gained valuable insights and data for my project. Moreover, the Institute of Geography of the University of Würzburg organised a two-week study trip to Japan in the late summer of 2015. I have been to Japan nine times over the past few years and a few trips were just for travelling and exploring the country.

What fascinates you most about Japanese culture? Japan is a completely different world in many ways. The connection of tradition and modernity is very diverse and exciting to watch. From the very beginning, I was intrigued by how polite and respectful the Japanese people are. In no other country have I seen such mindfulness of one's environment and of society as a whole.

What challenges do foreign visitors face in Japan? In Japan, there are many taboos and things Japanese people don't like to talk about which often makes it difficult to communicate your own opinions and needs. This easily leads to misunderstandings and conflicts that are not always easy to navigate. Especially as a foreigner, it is difficult in such situations to interpret the words and gestures correctly since we are used to a more straightforward communication style and actions.

The Japanese language is probably another big challenge. Yes, that's right. Although English is taught in school, the majority of the population does not have any opportunity to practise their language skills due to the nation's island status and the homogeneity of the society. So learning the Japanese language is indispensable for foreigners wishing to stay and integrate in Japan for a longer period of time.

How did you manage living in Japan? My time in Japan was a very nice and pleasant experience, but I can't imagine living in the "Land of the Rising Sun" for several years. I miss a healthy work-life balance in Japan. A lot of overtime, few days of paid leave and long commutes to work are common. However, I can strongly recommend travelling to Japan. The country has great landscapes, interesting cities, friendly and helpful people, delicious food, and above all, punctual and reliable public transport.

What is your best memory of your time in Würzburg as a student? Generally, I liked the student atmosphere and that Würzburg is a very green city. When visiting Würzburg today, I go to the Hubland and the Ringpark as well as the banks of the Main river in the Sanderau. There are plenty of amazing walks in Würzburg and the city boasts a variety of affordable bars and restaurants to enjoy a night out. The short distances to the city centre make it very easy to meet friends also spontaneously. And I always felt safe when walking home alone at night. So I also associate a deep sense of safety with Würzburg. Of course, the tourist hotspots such as the Residence, the Old Main Bridge, the fortress or the city centre are always worth a visit, too. These places are a must-see whenever I come to Würzburg.

Thank you for the interview.

If you want to learn more about the alumni network of the University of Würzburg or to register, follow the link below.

By Michaela Thiel / Gunnar Bartsch