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Second Community Dialogue Seminar in Japan’s Tsunami Affected Tohoku Region


On 14 April 2013, Tohoku University and the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS), jointly organised the 2nd Community Dialogue Seminar for the Urato Islands (Shiogama City, Miyagi Prefecture), which were severely affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 11 March 2011. The seminar was organized in collaboration with other IPSI members including the Ministry of the Environment of Japan, CEPA Japan, the University of Tokyo and Kanazawa University and with the support of Yamagata University, Shiogama City, the Center for Research and Promotion of Japanese Islands, and e-front.

The event brought together a wide range of stakeholders – there were more than 80 participants, including 40 people from the Urato Islands. Building on the first Community Dialogue Seminar held in August 2012, which mostly focused on recovery from the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, the dialogue this time was directed towards how to move forward to revitalize the people’s communities in a sustainable and comfortable manner through multi-stakeholder collaboration.

On behalf of the organisers, Prof. Masakado Kawata from Tohoku University highlighted how the first community dialogue seminar provided impetus for the local people to take a step forward. During the last seminar, one of the keynote speakers, Ms. Arisa Nishigami, introduced cases from four different island communities as good practices of community building. Based on her presentation, local participants became interested in the case of Ama Town (Oki Islands, Shimane Prefecture), which once suffered from depopulation but has managed to revitalize the community by attracting young and motivated entrepreneurs with new and innovative ideas. This led to a visit being organized in March 2013 to Ama Town by representatives of the Urato islands as well as the fisheries cooperatives, Shiogama City and other stakeholders.

Prof. Shinji Fukushima from Yamagata University, who organised the visit together with Shiogama City, provided a comprehensive overview of the visit to Ama Town. This was followed by a report by Mr. Norikazu Abe from Shiogama City, which established a special team to implement more concrete actions to revitalize Urato after the visit. Representatives from the Urato Islands also shared their reactions to the visit. All of them were impressed and motivated after seeing the efforts in Ama with their own eyes, and realized that the Urato Islands have different, but equally advantageous potential for revitalization through affective utilization of their resources.

Ms. Motoko Kimura, who works as a community revitalization officer (i.e. a government-led initiative to revitalize satoyama and satoumi communities in Japan) in Tsushima Islands, Nagasaki Prefecture, shared her experiences working with communities that are at risk of disappearing due to depopulation. She talked about various biodiversity-friendly activities that she has conducted or has been conducting together with the communities, including the restoration of abandoned rice paddies, use of old abandoned houses in an environmentally-friendly manner, and green tourism.

The second half of the seminar was an interactive workshop facilitated by Prof. Fukushima. Eight small discussion groups were formed, each consisting of local people and other stakeholders representing a range of ages and occupations, and discussed what can be done by 1) 1 person, 2) 10 persons, and 3) 100 persons (i.e. the Urato Islands as a whole) to achieve the following objectives:

(1) Prevent further population loss

(2) Create mechanism to attract people from outside of the islands

(3) Maintain the environment to continue living on the islands

Intense discussions took place at each table, and various ideas were proposed for revitalizing the Urato Islands, including ways to increase its population – not only the number of people who actually live on the islands, but also those who come to the islands from time to time – by making full use of its people and environment (social and natural capital) as follows:

1) “Prevent further population loss”

1. What can be done by 1 person

<Natural environment> introduce visitors to the natural beauty of the islands; <Fishery and agriculture> think of unique ways to sell fishery products to increase fishers’ income; work in fields (cultivate vegetables); <Employment> continue current job; <Others> continue living on the islands; stay healthy, etc.

2. What can be done by 10 persons

<Fishery and agriculture> “sixth-order industrialization” (i.e. a Japanese term used to describe the combination of primary industries (e.g. agriculture and fishery) with secondary industries (e.g. food processing) and tertiary industries (e.g. sales and distribution); branding for value-added products; organise a morning market; organise a day-trip to enjoy Urato oysters; <Community building> encourage “spouse hunting”; utilize vacant houses; spontaneously talk to each other and visit each other’s homes; jointly run “community boats”; <Employment > provide workplace for young people; <Education> attract children from outside of the islands by offering unique education opportunities <Tourism> offer homestays; jointly run guest houses, etc.

3. What can be done by 100 persons

<Fishery and agriculture> create an environment to maintain local industries; <Employment > create new jobs to maintain population; <Education> provide special education for children; open a camping school; <Tourism> welcome
tourists; provide leisure facilities, etc.

2) “Create mechanism to attract people from outside of the islands”

1. What can be done by 1 person

<Natural environment> talk about surrounding nature; <Fishery and agriculture> expand market for the main source of their livelihoods (i.e. fishery); teach clam gathering; teach how to remove oysters from shells; teach how to process seaweed; establish new industries (new types of seaweed) including processing and marketing; open a shop to sell oysters; produce agricultural products; <Community building> take care of people who wish to move to the islands; facilitate homestays; support newcomers as well as those who return back to the islands; provide a trial living opportunity to experience life on the islands before formally moving; share goods with neighbours; provide meals to volunteers; pass down traditional ways of living; teach local dialect; <Employment> hire people for oyster farming; create part-time jobs; <Others> appeal to the mayor to improve living environment, etc.

2. What can be done by 10 persons

<Fishery and agriculture> direct sales of products from the islands; open markets to sell specialties from each of the Urato Islands; develop new oyster and seaweed products for sale; teach how to remove oysters from shells; <Community building> set up trailer houses; make the story of the islanders visible; pass down wisdom of living; pass down experiences from earthquake and tsunami; write books about Urato; welcome young people from outside of the islands; <Transportation> increase ferry services between Urato and the main land to enable people to commute to the main land for work; <Tourism> promote and advertise Urato; open a souvenir shop (“a station” of the islands); make accessories for souvenirs using locally available seashell; open an oyster restaurant; train island guides; volunteer to teach oyster farming to visitors; <Employment> provide workplace for young people; hire people to help with fishery and aquaculture (e.g. removing oysters from shells); <Attract skilled personnel> invite entrepreneurs (to expand market); invite people who can get various grants to revitalize the islands; identify a coordinator who can help allocate volunteers in the most appropriate manner (e.g. supporting fishery activities), etc.

3. What can be done by 100 persons

<Tourism> collaborate with tourism industry in Matsushima (one of the three views of Japan, located just next to the Urato Islands); attract tourists going to Matsushima; open restaurant to serve Urato’s specialties; open shops to sell local products from the islands; set up parking space for tourists; <Community building> operate a mobile shop on a boat; set up special areas with fewer restrictions on land use; <New industry> attract private sector; establish 1-billion-yen industry; <Legislation> revise the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, which has been seen as an obstacle to the islands’ development etc.

3) “Maintain the environment to continue living on the islands”

1. What can be done by 1 person

<Raison d’être> cultivate vegetable fields (to improve quality of life); stay healthy; be motivated; continue hobbies; <Community building> actively talk with others; create opportunities to gather together with others, etc.

2. What can be done by 10 persons

<Community building> set up a group of supporters (including young people living outside the islands); organise gatherings; set up an opinion box; create fun things to do, which can be shared by everyone in the islands; write books to introduce Urato life <Fishery and agriculture> create high-valued products (e.g. branded vegetables from each island) etc.

3. What can be done by 100 persons

<Community building / education> set up a place for community members to gather; create an environment, which is good for raising children; open “child-raising concierge” by grandpa and grandma (including children from outside the islands); run “open-air nursery”; provide educational support; <Welfare> establish a care home (for residents over 80 years old); have a resident doctor for Urato; open a shop to sell daily goods; <Transportation> improve access to/from the islands; increase ferry services; run ‘sea taxi’ jointly operated by islanders and local government, etc.

Compared with the first Community Dialogue Seminar, we observed more forward-looking and concrete ideas among residents about how to revitalize their communities, such as the concept of an “island station” in line with the movement to establish the Sanriku Fukko (Reconstruction) National Park. Participants from the islands appreciated the opportunity to express and exchange each other’s thoughts and ideas, which they normally keep within themselves. The Satoyama Initiative would like to continue supporting the rebuilding and revitalization of satoyama/satoumi communities built upon local nature, culture and livelihoods, while causing ideas developed through the workshop to materialize, and strengthening collaboration with the communities, local government and other stakeholders. The project’s outcomes, including the importance of “green rebuilding” to enhance ecosystem services, will be widely disseminated in Japan and beyond through a series of forthcoming meetings.