Monday, May 10, 2010

Where Children can see Totoro: Hirabari Satoyama and COP10

Website designer and book binder Takuya Kamibayashi and film director Hayao Miyazaki find similar inspiration in the Hirabari Satoyama. Miyazaki named the forest "Nagoya no Totori no Mori", or 'Totoro's Forest of Nagoya," after he joined the movement to save this wonderland of biodiversity from developers.

Hirabari Satoyma sits in the middle of a residential area, a five minutes walk from a driving school. It measures only 12 hectares, yet holds three rice fields, bamboo forests, zoukibayashi (wooded areas), and three ponds that provide water to three rice fields.

The satoyama is only 40 minutes away from the site of the tenth Conference of Parties on Biodiversity (COP10) in Nagoya. To appeal to COP10 participants to pressure developers to halt their plans that would destroy Hirabari, Takuya is creating a guide to this picturesque site of sustainable farming maintained in harmony with surrounding ecosystems. This guide will appear as an insert in the next edition of Kyoto Journal.. The special issue--one of the few pieces of English print media available to the international and Japanese audience--will be distributed to all COP10 attendees.

Eric Johnston reports in the Japan Times that shortly after the death of its owner at an advanced age, a real estate developer purchased the land and conveniently received approval to "develop the land" on the last day the mayor, with alleged ties to the real estate bidders, was still in office.

The present mayor Takashi Kawamura publicly denounces the proposed destruction of Hirabari, calling the plans an embarrassment not only to Nagoya, but also Japan. However, he has failed to raise funds to pay off developers, and in December 2009 the mayor ended up granting permission to them to proceed with their plans to demolish the satoyama. The real estate group's conception of development is contrary to sustainable development: it will destroy an ecosystem that has supported wildlife and human communities for decades.

During several trips to the area, Takuya has interviewed local citizens about the importance of Hirabari Satoyama in their lives:
When the city mayor was replaced, the development was put on hold, but last year December, it resumed. What is obvious is there are all the dirty hook-ups in back, and there actually are. With this in my mind, I interviewed Ms. Fujioka, a Nagoya resident and one of the primary members of Hirabari Satoyama Conservancy (HSC).

I asked her, "What do you want to emphasize the most about Hirabari Satoyama to the people who do not know about this place yet?"

She replied, "How fun and how much this Satoyama can offer to the local residents and especially to the kids. This Satoyama ecosystem provides not only a place to run around, but to learn how the nature relates to us. And at Hirabari Satoyama, children don't have to go far from home. They can learn right outside of their rooms."

I answered, "But there seems to be so many wrong things going on behind the scenes. Don't you want to let people know about that also?"

She replied to me that the most important thing about Hirabari Satoyama is what it means to children.

Before I was assigned to make a slip-in for Kyoto Journal COP10 issue, I didn't even know what Satoyama was. After witnessing and experiencing the nature of Satoyama, I finally understood the reasons of HSC's activities.

I saw two boys taking a walk in Hirabari Satoyama, and I asked them why they came. They simply said, "because we saw a forest and we wanted to see inside."

A mother taking her two daughters on a walk told me that it was her regular sampo (walk) course. Her daughter, Nana Kito, sang me "Nanohana no Uta' (song of the rape blossoms), and ran around to find dandelion puffballs. I thought then was that kids really can find their fun in Satoyama.

The area that kids can engage with nature now is so much smaller than that of adults. There used be urayama (backyard mountains) all over Japan. Now, kids in urban area do not have a chance to experience nature like this. That is why Hirabari Satoyama needs to be saved.

We adults cannot see Totoro; it is only visible to children.

I am now contributing to the next issue of Kyoto Journal to get more people to think what we are about to cut down. Is it only the trees, or is it more?

I hope many spectacular articles in the magazine and my slip-in will be triggers to bring more interest in environmental issues in the reader's local areas.

To find out how you can support community efforts to stop the bulldozing of Hirabari Satoyama, please visit this website:

-- Posted by Jen Teeter

1 comment:

Takuya kamibayashi said...

Hirabari Satoyama in a real danger...
29th of the last month, the developing group finally started blocking visitors' entry to Hirabari Satoyama. Inside of Satoyama, local children were growing rice inside of buckets–not inside of rice fields that actually exist inside of Satoyama. But once they started the blockade, they were forced to remove buckets. The only available location seemed to be the public pathway that actually runs inside of Satoyama, but without a clear explanation, it was also blocked. Some locals requested the city for the explanation for allowing the blockade of public road, but the city turned them away.
I also had a chance to plant rice seedlings inside of buckets, and also to tour inside of Satoyama. What I witnessed there are shining eyes of kids–finding out how their food grows, looking up at the big Totoro tree, discovering the mystery of life. Now, they have not only mystery of the nature, but also the mystery of disappearance of nature.
Hiroaki Somiya–who lives right next to this problematic land, a retired professor at Nagoya University, a coordinator of activities at Hirabari Satoyama including rice planting–cannot help wonder: "why does the nature of Nagoya city, the host of COP10, keep being destroyed? How are we, who live in the cities, supposed to understand the importance of biodiversity? Our Satoyama might be a small problem compared to really big issues, but it all relates to each other. There is no reason we can destroy small ones."