Collaboration among locals and settlers that creates new Satoyama livelihoods in Atsuma, Japan
AEON Environmental Foundation
OTHER CONTRIBUTING ORGANIZATIONS
Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES)
DATE OF SUBMISSION
Larch forests; The 2018 Hokkaido Eastern Iburi Earthquake; Local Venture School
Hideyuki Kubo, IGES
2. Paradox: Revitalizing the forestry by moving away from forestry
2.1 The challenge for Atsuma
“If we think only about forestry, we will not attract people. By addressing the sustainability of the town from a broader perspective, we can meet new people.” These are the words of a staff member in charge of forestry at the town government. Atsuma Town has been attracting new employment in the forestry sector through the launch of the local venture school project, but there has been a major shift in thinking and action to reach this point.
Local Vitalization Cooperator is a national program under which residents of urban areas move their residency to rural areas to engage in agriculture, forestry, fisheries, or the development of regional brands and local products. Each cooperator is supported by the program for three years. The program is expected to bring about benefits to local communities and local governments in addition to cooperators. For local communities, they can be stimulated by fresh perspectives, enthusiasm, and energy brought by cooperators. Local governments can obtain flexible ideas for regional revitalization that have never existed before. And cooperators can engage in activities that make the most of their abilities and pursue their ideal lifestyle and purpose in life.
In Atsuma, more than 20 cooperators have been engaged in agriculture, forestry, product development, marketing, and other activities, and most of them have remained in Atsuma after the completion of their activities as a local vitalization cooperator. However, in the beginning, not many cooperators decided to settle in Atsuma. The reason for this was that the town government was in charge of deciding the content of cooperators’ activities, and there were cases of people who “joined for employment motives” or “joined even though it was not what they really wanted to do.” Therefore, the town government made a 180-degree turnaround in its stance, supporting applicants to do what they really want to do. They also decided to collaborate with a group of entrepreneurship specialists to provide support to applicants from the perspective of entrepreneurship development.
This new scheme in Atsuma is known as Local Venture School (hereinafter referred to as “LVS”). In LVS, local venture candidates submit their business plans to the town government, and then receive advice from experts to brush up their plans. Candidates then present their polished plans to the town government, and their acceptance or rejection for participation in the LVS is determined. Since the LVS began in 2016, businesses in various fields such as trade, forestry, beauty therapy, design, breeding of service dogs, and lumber manufacturing have been active. A series of activities by the town government led to the securing of seven new forestry professionals. Considering that Atsuma has only about 15 forestry professionals, it can be said that a significant change has occurred in the forestry industry of Atsuma. We can see that Atsuma has realized the revitalization of the forestry sector by moving away from the idea of finding and training human resources specialized in the forestry sector, and to switching to a policy of supporting those who truly want to do something with Atsuma’s local resources.
2.2 Horse logging as a local venture and local vitalization
In Atsuma, there is an entrepreneur who has established a horse logging business. Horse logging, in which timber harvested in the forest is transported by a horse, is a traditional technique of carrying out timber that has supported Japan’s forestry industry since ancient times (see Figures 5 and 6). Since the mid-Showa period, mechanization of the logging work has led to a significant decrease in the number of people carrying out horse logging operations. Horse logging can remove trees even from steep slopes where heavy machinery cannot enter, and does not require the construction of a large-scale forestry road. It is a low-cost and environmentally-friendly forestry technology. On the other hand, because it is small-scale, it is not possible to transport a large number of logs at once, and the horses must be taken care of on a daily basis, requiring specialized training.
A horse logging business in Atsuma, launched as a local venture, is already on track. This is partly because forest roads in Atsuma are densely covered so that the horse logging operations can be carried out efficiently, and both a forestry cooperative and a local forestry company are actively working together with a horse logging business in order to vitalize the forestry industry in Atsuma. As the horse logging work became widely known, the horse business began to receive new requests such as plowing in wine yards, and interaction activities at school children’s clubs and kindergartens (see Figures 7 and 8).
Effects of the horse logging business are not limited to requests for horses. As the staff of the town government said, “By working on the sustainability of the town from a broad perspective, we can meet new people,” a variety of people from all over Japan have come to Atsuma to visit the horse logging business. These include young people interested in horse logging operations and rural life, local governments and companies looking for training sites for human resource development, and the media covering horse logging. Encounters with such new people also lead to the development of new activities in Atsuma.
3. Development of new socio-ecological landscape
3.1 Converting degraded landscape into socio-ecological landscape that nurtures Wagyu culture
From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, Japan experienced a bubble economy with rapidly rising land and stock prices. At this time, golf courses and other resort development projects were undertaken throughout the country. In Hokkaido, forests were cleared to make way for resort areas. As the bubble economy collapsed, many golf courses and resorts went bankrupt. Hokkaido had the largest number of golf course companies that went into legal liquidation.
At this time, a golf course was also constructed in the northern hills of Atsuma Town by clearing natural forests. This nine-hole golf course was temporarily opened in 2000, but due to its remote location and poor accessibility, it was closed in 2002 without completing the rest of the course. Forest vegetation never recovered on the former golf course site, leaving the clay layer exposed (see Figure 9).
Concerned about the negative impact of soil degradation on agriculture and fisheries and river flooding, the government of Atsuma Town, with the support of the AEON Environmental Foundation, began a trial reforestation project on a former golf course site, planting a total of 17,000 trees over three years from 2015 as shown below. The trees planted included local species such as yachidamo (Japanese ash), alder, doronoki, Japanese elm, and red spruce, and a total of 1,830 volunteers participated in the planting (see Figure 10).
Date of planting Number of trees planted Number of participants
June 2015 5,400 530
July 2016 6,000 600
July 2017 5,600 700
In 2020, the government of Atsuma agreed to partner with a livestock venture that operates extensive grazing in Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture, to reclaim this degraded land as pasture for Wagyu (Japanese cattle producing tender, marbled beef), and to proceed with a “Wagyu Maison” project. Maison is a concept that emerged from an experience in the Champagne region of France, where the work process of vineyard soil preparation, cultivation, harvesting, fermentation, and champagne bottling is expressed as a worldview that encompasses the natural environment and climate of the region, and the entire process is made into a coherent product. The Wagyu Maison in Atsuma is an attempt to put this into practice with Wagyu that are grazed extensively in the natural environment of Atsuma. It will be a stay-at-home type ranch, where visitors can enjoy the natural environment of Atsuma where Wagyu are nurtured, while watching Wagyu graze on the pasture grass and cultivate the soil. There, broad-leaf forests that are the natural ecosystem of Atsuma will also be integrated. Such a project cannot be created overnight, and “Wagyu Maison” aims for a grand opening in 100 years.
3.2 Cherry tree planting in Yoshino community
Thirty-six people were killed in Atsuma during the 2018 Hokkaido Eastern Iburi Earthquake, 19 of which were victims of the landslide that occurred in the Yoshino area (see Figure 12). The history of Yoshino community dates back to 1891, when four families from Otaru, Hokkaido, settled in the area. They converted the wetlands along the Atsuma river into rice fields, and built houses against the hill to shelter them from the wind. Before the earthquake, the community consisted of 13 households and 34 people. The mountains in the Yoshino area were dotted with Ezo-yamazakura cherry trees, known as “Yoshino cherry trees,” but they have disappeared due to the collapse of the hill.
In April 2019, a professional group in Nara prefecture which has continued cherry tree preservation activities in Mt. Yoshino of Nara, donated seedlings of a preserved cherry tree to Atsuma Town in a gesture of remembrance. In May 2021, the government of Atsuma Town held a tree planting event with residents and bereaved families to plant these cherry seedlings. The town government plans to make the Yoshino area a place where cherry trees are in full bloom again, just as it was in the past. In November 2021, cherry trees were planted again with the support of the AEON Environmental Foundation. In addition to the Ezo-yamazakura cherry trees that had originally bloomed in the Yoshino area, Yaezakura cherry trees were also planted (see Figure 13). Activities to revive the Yoshino area as a famous cherry blossom viewing spot are steadily underway.
Dealing with the collapsed lands due to the 2018 Hokkaido Eastern Iburi Earthquake is a major challenge for the future relationship between people and nature in Atsuma. The Atsuma Reforestation and Reconstruction Study Council pointed out specific measures such as implementation of reconstruction work in the collapsed area that requires immediate attention; afforestation in areas that can be expected to become timber plantation in the future, formulation of utilization plans for damaged trees, and creation of new relationship between forests and residents through tree planting and forest recovery observation events. Those measures requiring immediate attention are already being addressed (see Figure 14).
On the other hand, collapsed lands that can be expected to produce timber in the future are basically areas where soil has been deposited due to landslides (see Figure 15). It is not realistic at this time to plant trees and expect tree growth in slope areas where lands have collapsed and clay layers have been exposed.
4. Looking to the future
We thank Mr. Hisashi Miya, Mr. Masatoshi Nishino, Ms. Tomoko Nishino, Mr. Hideki Nonomiya, Mr. Tomohiro Niwa, Mr. Shohei Sakano, Mr.Yohei Watanabe and Mr. Masaki Hanaya for their generous cooperation to our study. We also thank the AEON Environmental Foundation for its support in conducting the survey.
AEON Environmental Foundation (2015) https://m.facebook.com/aeonkankyouzaidan/posts/695603180551160. Downloaded on 27 August 2022.
Digital National Land Information (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Japan). https://nlftp.mlit.go.jp/ksj/index.html. Downloaded on 27 August 2022.
Miya, H. (2020) Post-earthquake response in Atsuma Town with a focus on forestry and local development related projects. “Earthquake-induced Landslide Disaster 2018 Hokkaido Bold Eastern Earthquake”, Publication Committee of Earthquake-induced Landslide Disaster.
Miya, H. (2020) Forest Damage by Earthquake in Atsuma Town and Response Policies. Northern Forest Research Vol. 68.
Miya, H. (2020) Local Venture Business in Atsuma Town and Future Direction. Ganjuryoshi 2019.
Miya, H. and Nishi, Y. (2021) Policy for Restoring the Functions of Damaged Forests in Atsuma Town. Presented at Symposium on Reforestation and Forestry Reconstruction in Atsuma Town held on 3 July 2021.
Nishino Horse Logging (2022) https://www.facebook.com/people/%E8%A5%BF%E5%9F%9C%E9%A6%AC%E6%90%AC/100065056268461/. Downloaded on 27 August 2022.
Takeshi, T., Onoda, T., Honma, H., Tanaka, T. and Sugai, K. (2018) Briefing report by the Emergent mission on landslide disaster caused by the 2018 Hokkaido Eastern Iburi Earthquake. https://jsece.or.jp/branch/hokkaido/common/media/pdf/20181025tokyo_houkokukai/B_tokyo20181025.pdf. Downloaded on 27 August 2022.
Watanabe, A., Kikuchi, T., Hosozawa, M., Tachikawa, S. and Sawaguchi, I. Current situation of horse logging operations in Japan. https://www.rinya.maff.go.jp/tohoku/sidou/attach/pdf/h28_happyoushuu-34.pdf. Downloaded on 27 August 2022.