Japan: Satoyama focusing on rice cultivation in Noto and Kaga Regions



  • United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS); Japan Wildlife Research Center (JWRC)


  • 06/03/2012

  • REGION :

  • Eastern Asia


  • Japan (Ishikawa Prefecture)


  • This study was commissioned to be included in the publication “Socio-ecological Production Landscapes in Asia”. This chapter provides an overview of rice cultivation, woodland coppicing and other agricultural production in the Noto and Kaga regions. Along with the scale-down of the primary industries across the whole nation, those in Ishikawa Prefecture have dramatically been downsized.


  • satoyama, paddy rice cultivation, coppice woodlands, water


  • Japan Wildlife Research Center (JWRC); Kaoru Ichikawa (UNU-IAS), ed.

  • LINK:

  • http://collections.unu.edu/eserv/UNU:5448/SEPL_in_Asia_report_2nd_Printing.web.pdf

Summary Sheet

The summary sheet for this case study is available here.

Natural and Social Background

[Note: this case study originally appeared in the publication Socio-ecological Production Landscapes in Asia.]

Ishikawa prefecture consists of the Noto Peninsula (Noto region), which is located almost at the center of Honshu island on the Sea of Japan coast, and the Kaga region that lies south of Noto. The prefecture is elongated from north to south. It has a varied natural environment from the coast to high mountains, which is like a miniature version of the Japanese Archipelago. The area of Ishikawa Prefecture is surrounded by the sea on three sides. It has a warm climate despite its high latitude due to the influence of the Tsushima Current (Ishikawa Prefecture, 2011). The mean precipitation in Kanazawa city is 2,399 mm and the region has more rainfall and snowfall than other regions in Japan (Japan Meteorological Agency). Ishikawa Prefecture is home to many plants including Camellia japonica subsp. rusticana, which is suited to the climate of the heavy-snow region along the Sea of Japan, and an alpine flower, Fritillaria camtschatcensis. Large-sized forest animals such as black bears (Ursus thibetanus) and Capricornis crispus can also be seen here. Reflecting the diverse habitat environment, 430 avian species have been identified so far. In the prefecture as a whole, secondary forests account for a large percentage of the land area (Ishikawa Prefecture, 2011). In the Noto region, a small area of Fagus crenata forest can be seen on mountain peaks. However, most of the area consists of agricultural land or secondary forest/ artificial forest of Quercus serrata, etc. In the Kaga region, lowlands are mainly used for agricultural purposes. Secondary forests of Q. serrata and Pinus densiflora stretch out in hilly areas and on low mountains. Large Fagus crenata forests can be seen in areas at altitudes of 800 meters and above. In hilly areas and on low mountains in the Noto and Kaga regions, the bottom parts of valleys along small rivers are used for rice paddies, and the slopes and ridges for coppice woodlands and plantation of Cryptomeria japonica. In Japan, areas that consist of agricultural land and settlements (which have been formed through agriculture and forestry), as well as secondary forests, grassland and the reservoirs surrounding them, are known as “Satoyama” (Photo 1 and 2).

Photo 1. Paddy fields, brush and settlements in Kaga Region (Kanazawa city) (photo: Japan Wildlife Research Center)

Photo 2. Paddy fields, brush and settlements in Noto Region (Noto-jima, Nanao city) (photo: Japan Wildlife Research Center)

The population of Ishikawa Prefecture is approximately 1.17 million (2011). Of the total, the population of the Noto region is approximately 210,000 and that of the Kaga region is approximately 960,000 (Population Labour Group, Statistical Information Office, Prefectural Exchange Division, Prefectural Culture Bureau, Ishikawa Prefectural Government, 2011). The population has been declining and aging. The productive population, aged between 15 and 65, has been declining since 1995, and the total population has been continuously declining since its peak (approximately 1.18 million) in 2000. In particular, the northern part of the Noto region is facing a serious situation, showing a continuous population decline for over 40 years (Ishikawa Prefecture, 2011).

Characteristics of satoyama landscapes in Ishikawa and changes in agriculture

Paddy rice cultivation using abundant water

Ishikawa Prefecture has a relatively warm climate and high precipitation and it is abundant in water, which is suitable for paddy rice cultivation. As the region is not suitable for cultivation in winter due to snow, rice is the main agricultural produce (Japan Satoyama Satoumi Assessment, Hokushinetsu Cluster, 2010). The rice acreage in Ishikawa Prefecture in 2010 was approximately 284km2, which accounts for 6.8% of the total area of the prefecture, while 79% of the total crop cultivation area in the Noto region and 89% in the Kaga region were rice paddies (Statistical Information Office, Prefectural Exchange Division, Prefectural Culture Bureau, Ishikawa Prefectural Government, 2011).

Rice (Oryza sativa) is widely cultivated in warm regions (mainly Asia) of the world. It is one of the world’s three leading cereal crops along with wheat (Triticum spp.) and corn (Zea mays) (“Sekai yûyô shokubutsu jiten” (Yamazaki et al., 1989). There are two types of rice: paddy rice which is cultivated in paddy fields and dry rice which is cultivated in dry fields. Mostly, only paddy rice is cultivated in Japan. Paddy rice cultivation is suitable for areas that are abundant in water and hot in summer. In paddy fields that are filled with water, soil quality is well maintained and there is no erosion. Paddy rice can be continuously cultivated because it is not damaged by continuous cropping (Yamazaki et al., 1989).

Rice paddies have been developed from long ago in Ishikawa Prefecture. During the early Edo Period (mid 17th century to early 18th century), new fields were actively developed in order to stabilize the finances of the Kaga Domain. The Tatsumi Water System, one of the four largest water systems in Japan, was developed in 1632 (Japan Satoyama Satoumi Assessment, Hokushinetsu Cluster, 2010). Water is essential to paddy rice cultivation. Securing (irrigation) and adjusting of water to be used is the most important issue in developing and maintaining agricultural land. Irrigation water for rice cultivation is taken from rivers, reservoirs or spring water through ditches. In this way, water is evenly spread throughout all paddy fields, and the depth of water in the fields can be adjusted. In Ishikawa Prefecture, irrigation water in many fields is taken from rivers due to the high precipitation in the region. However, reservoirs are used for irrigation in some areas. Reservoirs in Ishikawa Prefecture play an important role as the habitat for rare insects, amphibian and avian species. They are part of the essential environment for maintaining biodiversity in the prefecture (JWRC, 2004).

The outline of the paddy rice cultivation method employed in the Noto region is as follows: (JA Hakui, Hakui Municipal Farming Promotion Committee, 2011). Like other regions in Japan, paddy rice is cultivated by planting seedlings that are grown in a rice nursery. Koshihikari, the variety that is most cultivated in Ishikawa Prefecture is seeded in late March and planted in paddy fields in early May. Once seedlings that have around three leaves each are planted, they grow rapidly increasing their number of leaves and stems. Rice ears emerge in early August and are harvested in mid September. The management of water in rice paddies is important for paddy rice cultivation. It is necessary to keep the water deep immediately after rice planting and make water shallower during the period between mid-May to mid-June during which the growth of the seedlings becomes active. In mid-June, when the number of stems per root exceeds 12, water in paddy fields is taken out to control the growth of stems, and fields are kept dry until early July. This process is known as “mid-summer drainage.” The water level is increased around the time of ear emergence, and the water is removed again in early September to harvest in dry fields. Paddy fields are maintained almost dry during the winter time. Of around 17,700 agricultural management entities in Ishikawa Prefecture, the majority (around 17,200 entities) are family-run businesses (Statistical Information Office, Prefectural Exchange Division, Prefectural Culture Bureau, Ishikawa Prefectural Government, 2011).

Changes in agriculture

Along with the scale-down of the primary industries across the whole nation, those in Ishikawa Prefecture have dramatically been downsized. The factor causing the scale-down of agriculture in Japan is the change in people’s dietary habits, including the decline in the consumption of rice and the increase in the consumption of animal products (meat, dairy products, etc.) and fat and oil, as well as the rice acreage reduction policy. The total area of agricultural land was 68,600 ha in 1965 (percentage of paddy fields: 82%). In 2006, it dropped to 44,300 ha (percentage of paddy fields: 84%), a decrease of approximately 40% over the previous 30 years (Ishikawa Prefecture, 2011).

The aging of farmers has also progressed. In 1950, the working population of the primary industries in Ishikawa Prefecture accounted for 52.6% of the total working population. However, it decreased to 6.4% by 1980 and 3.9% by 2005, showing continuous decline (Ishikawa Prefecture, 2011). Of the working population of the primary industries, the number of workers in the agriculture section decreased from approximately 230,000 (1960) to 94,900 (2006), down by nearly 40%. The number of core farmers who work full time in the farming industry has changed dramatically and totaled approximately 17,000 in 2006, which accounts for 12% of that in 1960 (approx. 140,000). Meanwhile, the percentage of core farmers aged 60 and over increased from 30.5% (1983) to 79.8% (2004), showing that the majority of farmers are the elderly (Japan Satoyama Satoumi Assessment, Hokusinetsu Cluster, 2010).

Use of woodland and its decline

Coppice woodland is an important element that makes up Satoyama, along with rice paddies. In the past, they were particularly essential for producing charcoal. The following description is based on the Nature Conservation Division, Environment and Safety Affairs Department, Ishikawa Prefectural Government (2004) and the Japan Wildlife Research Center (2004). Forests account for approximately 69% of the total land area of Ishikawa Prefecture (JWRC, 2001). In particular, Q. serrata comprises a large percentage of the area (24%) in the prefecture. Q. serrata is mainly used as the material of wood charcoal. Q. acutissima and Q. variabilis were once used in the Kaga region, and Q.crispula in the cooler Noto region. When these woods are cut down, tillers come out of the stumps. Timber can be produced continuously by thinning and growing the tillers. Demand for wood charcoal was previously high, and woods were cut down every 15 to 30 years.

The annual production volume of wood charcoal in the prefecture around 1950 exceeded 40,000 tons. However, as propane gas and petroleum oil became widely used after 1960, the production of wood charcoal dropped rapidly (Japan Satoyama Satoumi Assessment, Hokushinetsu Cluster, 2010). Although timber is still used for the bed logs of Shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes), one of the representative edible mushrooms, even it is decreasing significantly in conjunction with the increase in Shiitake mushroom production using mushroom beds and the decrease in production using raw wood (Japan Satoyama Satoumi Assessment, Hokushinetsu Cluster, 2010). In the Noto region, some coppice woodlands are used for producing wood chips for paper making. However, coppice woodlands are not used as much as they were in the past. When a high volume of wood charcoal was produced in the past, coppice woodlands were maintained by the regular trimming of trees, mowing and clearing of leaves. As a result, many Lilium japonicum and Asarum spp., and Luehdorfia japonica, which eats these plants, could be seen as they prefer a light environment. These animals and plants adapt to a lighter environment that is moderately disturbed. Therefore, they will disappear if coppices woodlands are no longer maintained and bristle with bamboo grass and evergreen broad-leaved forests.

The maintenance of coppice woodlands (trimming of trees, mowing, etc.) in the Kaga region stopped as wood charcoal production decreased. Trees grew larger and the lighter deciduous forest has been replaced by the darker evergreen forest. As the import volume of bamboo shoots increase, bamboo forests (Phyllostachys pubescens) that were planted to produce bamboo shoots are less managed, and an increasing amount of bamboo is intruding in the surrounding woodlands in some places. As a result, the number of living organisms that choose a lighter environment decreased. It is pointed out that the level of biodiversity which has previously been well maintained is inclined to decrease (Ishikawa Prefecture, 2011).

Challenges and Responses

As a specific measure taken by the government for the improvement of Satoyama in Ishikawa Prefecture, the prefecture formulated the “Ishikawa Biodiversity Strategic Vision – toward an Ishikawa Where Ibis Fly” in March 2011. In this vision, the ibis (Nipponia nippon), which is closely associated with Ishikawa Prefecture, is used as the symbol of biodiversity. Setting the medium- to long-term goal to be achieved by 2050 – “passing down Satoyama-Satoumi with abundant life and ibises to the next generation” – the prefecture aims to utilize and preserve Satoyama and Satoumi (Ishikawa Prefecture, 2011). Of the seven priority targets to be achieved by 2020, the first is the “creation of a new value for Satoyama-Satoumi” and the second is the “development of a new form of Satoyama with the participation of various entities.” The prefecture is encouraging many entities to participate in these activities by adding contemporary value to Satoyama- Satoumi. In April 2011, Ishikawa Prefecture established a Satoyama Creation Office in its Environment Department as a coordinating center for integrated measures for the utilization and preservation of Satoyama-Satoumi, and also to provide an actual operating force that could revitalize Satoyama- Satoumi by linking various entities such as companies, NPOs, education institutes and local organizations with the Satoyama landscape. Moreover, the prefecture established the “Ishikawa Satoyama Creation Fund” with a total capital of 5.3 billion yen funded by the prefecture itself and local financial institutions in May 2011, promoting the “Ishikawa Satoyama Creation Fund Project” that aims to create energetic Satoyama and Satoumi using the profits and contributions from companies (website of the Satoyama Creation Office, Environment Department, Ishikawa Prefectural Government). As a publicly-offered project, this includes support for the creation of works using the local resources of Satoyama and Satoumi (e.g. production of special local products, preproduction, model tours, etc.).

In addition, there are the efforts of higher education institutions such as those of Kanazawa University. One of the more notable activities is the Satoyama Meister Training Program (Nakamura and Kada, 2010; Noto Satoyama Meister Training Program Web site) which was established with the aim of fostering local leaders who will contribute to the revitalization of Noto by creating environmentally-friendly agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries and to develop new Satoyama Satoumi businesses. Other objectives of the program include: 1) the creation of a natural environment in which various animals and plants can coexist by revitalizing and linking together Satoyama landscape and Satoumi, 2) the creation of environmentally-friendly agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries that are essential to achieve by combining intellectual properties of universities (modern science and technology) with traditional knowledge of the area (traditional technique and experience), and 3) a detailed proposition on technology and management that could provide business opportunities.

There is also an effort called, “Kanakura School,” which is an activity conducted by an NPO in Kanakura District, Machino Town, Wajima City in the Noto region (Matsui et al., 2010; NPO Yasuragi no Sato Kanakura School Web site). The aim of their activity is to contribute to the development of the whole Noto region through seeking and transmitting true attractive aspects of Noto. The district has a history of over 500 years since the Muromachi Period, and a cluster of temples is spread in the region. The NPO is working on projects that study and put into practice the use of the unique resources of Noto, offering visits to historical places such as shrines, holding events to revitalize the Noto region, agriculture experiences, direct selling of agricultural products, management of a cafe using local produce, etc.

As stated above, the population that supports the agriculture of Ishikawa Prefecture is declining and aging. This is leading to the abandonment of management of agricultural land and woodlands, and as a result, the deterioration of biodiversity is progressing. Generally, these phenomena can be seen in many parts of Japan and an evaluation of Satoyama-Satoumi was conducted throughout the nation over four years from 2007. This is the result of applying the approach and framework of sub-global assessment that was developed in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). Discussions have been held over these regions after many people from various organizations, including research and education institutions and municipalities, sent in information during the assessment of the Hokushinetsu region (Japan Satoyama Satoumi Assessment, Hokushinetsu Cluster, 2010) and it is expected that, through such activities, the current situation and issues regarding Satoyama-Satoumi will be summarized and utilized to determine future measures.


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