Resource extraction and landscape transformation in Otaki

Eric John Cunningham
Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University Department of Anthropology, University of Hawai‘i

Today, many of Japan’s rural areas are in a state of crisis. Rapid depopulation, lack of capital investment, and the withdrawal of government assistance have left rural communities with few options; many have amalgamated with neighboring municipalities under a program meant to simplify the national bureaucracy. Those communities that have been unwilling or unable to amalgamate have, for the most part, been left on their own to maintain basic services while trying to find sustainable paths into the future. The situation has left these communities economically and politically disadvantaged, as well as environmentally and socially vulnerable. The historic presence of these asymmetric relationships has ensured that the phenomenon of extraction of both natural and human resources from rural communities has been a common occurrence during the formation of capitalist modes of production in modern Japan. In this paper I use data collected since October 2007 to examine this phenomenon at the local level in the mountain village of Otaki. By briefly outlining a history of resource extraction I argue that Otaki’s socio-natural environment has been transformed, both materially and ideationally, into a “resource landscape”. Furthermore, I suggest that this transformation has implications for the long-term viability of Otaki’s socio-natural environment, which embodies a long history of human-nature interactions. I conclude, that in Japan the ongoing loss of human communities like Otaki is causing unprecedented ecological shifts. Finally, I propose that new ideological, social, economic, and political structures capable of empowering residents to reclaim

local landscapes might provide a starting point for developing new arrangements for better management of socio-natural environments. A history of resource extraction in Otaki has restructured the area, both materialistically and ideationally, into a “resource landscape” whose value is determined at external locations, often in terms of flows of goods and materials. This is not to say that Otaki’s landscape holds no intrinsic value, rather I argue that resource extraction has resulted in the concealing and reworking of these intrinsic values for people both inside and outside the landscape. Tracing a brief history of resource extraction will help illuminate the process of transformation in the Otaki landscape. Heavy resource extraction in the Otaki region began in the sixteenth century when Toyotomi Hideyoshi seized forestlands to secure timber for monumental construction projects, such as Inuyama Castle. Throughout the Edo Period, Otaki’s forests were controlled by powerful clans and elites as sources of timber. Cutting appears to have been at times intense. However, during this period reforestation techniques were also advanced in order to combat erosion and ensure future stocks of timber. While these efforts helped to maintain forests, trees used for reforestation activities tended to be pine varieties for timber production, rather than broadleaf varieties that provide crucial ecological services (Totman 1989). Thus began a long-term trend of conversion away from natural mixed forest to human-managed forest dominated by timber varieties, such as hinoki, sawara, (both cypress varieties) and later karamatsu (a larch variety). With the restoration of the Meiji Emperor in 1868, the majority of forestland in Otaki became the property of the imperial family. Regulation of forest resources was tightened and restrictions against forest utilization by local residents were strengthened. Beginning in December of 1889, a network of forestry offices was set up in the Kiso Valley to manage cutting activities and protect against illegal incursions. Timber was an essential resource to the modernist projects undertaken by the government of the new Japanese nation-state. As a result, forests in Otaki and elsewhere began to be heavily exploited. From 1913 a series of forest rail-lines began being constructed in the Kiso Valley, allowing for a greater volume of trees to be taken from the deepest parts of the mountains

(Morishita 1998). Heavy cutting continued in Otaki until the end of WWII. The phenomenon of bald mountains, known as hageyama   は げ 山 , garnered a response from Japan’s newly formed democratic government and it’s rinyakyoku 林 野 局 , or forestry office. Reforestation became a priority, yet the stubborn use of timber varieties for replanting continued. Karamatsu, a particularly fast growing timber tree with shallow roots, was heavily planted across Nagano prefecture, creating monoculture forests with negative ecological repercussions, such as habitat loss, hillside instability, and a loss of overall biodiversity. In addition to its rich forest resources, because of its location in a deep valley on the southeastern slope of Mt. Ontake, Otaki is also valued for its water resources. Accordingly, the village is also home to two major dams. The first, Miura dam, is a hydroelectric dam completed in 1945 to supply energy to the Kansai Region. The reservoir created by the dam flooded 280 hectares of forestland. The second dam, Makio, was completed in 1961 as a part of the Aichi-yousui 愛 知 用 水 project, undertaken to supply drinking and agricultural water to residents in Gifu prefecture and Aichi prefecture’s Nagoya metropolitan area. The dam’s construction displaced 645 residents from 137 homes and flooded 247 hectares of Otaki’s most scenic and agriculturally productive land. Together, these two dams are capable of holding 137,216,000 cubic meters of water. In addition to the heavy exploitation of Otaki’s natural resources, the area’s human resources have also been significantly depleted. Though I hesitate to use the term “extraction” in terms of human resources, it seems clear that Japan’s modernity has brought structural changes significant enough to make population decline a serious crisis facing rural communities like Otaki. The national government was first to heavily utilize the human resources of Japan’s rural areas, doing so to support colonial projects in China and Korea. In contrast, the flow of human resources that has ensued in the latter part of the 20th century has been less intentional, but no less structured, and far more destructive. Since 1940 Otaki’s population has dropped by 78%, and currently stands at 986 people. Though it’s difficult to point to specific drivers of this population shift, major factors alluded to by many Otaki residents are the

rigidity of Japan’s national education system, which creates a lack of educational opportunity in rural communities, as well as the pooling of profitable employment in metropolitan areas coupled with a lack of industry in the countryside. Needless to say, such massive population shifts have brought about existential crises to communities like Otaki. I argue that through this history of extraction Otaki’s landscape has been transformed in a process of envisioning, embodying, and transcribing onto the physical environment a model of resource extraction and use based on a paradigm rooted in the larger political economy of the Japanese nation-state. Furthermore, I contend that this transformation to “resource landscape” has obfuscated a range of embedded historical, cultural, spiritual, ecological, and other values, subverting them to meet the needs of Japan’s larger political economy. As a result, communities located in these landscapes are at a loss in terms of what they can offer—socially, politically, and economically—to the larger nation. In addition, environmentally speaking, rural areas like Otaki are currently undergoing profound ecological change as human communities and their associated patterns of activity, which often have great historical longevity, continue to disappear from the landscape (Fukamachi et al 2001; Ichikawa et al 2006). In materialist terms, the Otaki landscape has been transformed through physical acts of resource extraction. Forest resources, for example, have for some time now been felled and then replenished with the goal of future timber harvesting, resulting in a general trend away from mixed, multi-storied forest to simpler, often single-storied forests dominated by pine varieties. It’s hard to know exactly how much forest land has been converted in Otaki, but the ecological impacts are evident. For example, numerous informants have commented that wildlife pestilence has increased considerably since they were young. The cause has been explained to me as a loss of habitat due to forest conversion, which has led wildlife closer to villages in search of food. K-san, a lifetime resident of Otaki who maintains his own forest, made the following statement: Fundamentally, because there is no food in the mountains [animals] come to the village. Yeah. And then once they remember the flavor of delicious food, it’s a matter of course that they will come again. Yeah. Without humans knowing

it they made it so that animals come. That’s what I myself think. It’s because when they plant trees in the mountains, it’s trees that can turn into money [timber trees]. So, I mean they don’t plant trees that aren’t . . . like that, you know, [they don’t plant] various kinds? I’ve always thought that, yeah. So, with this thinking that you can just do as you please with natural power and create nature the way you think, there’s no way you can do it (Personnel interview 05/21/08). Indeed, for some wildlife, such as certain troops of macaques, utilization of cultivated land has become an adaptive strategy (see Izumiyama et al 2003). This pattern of timber production has also contributed to forest fragmentation and simplification, with a resulting loss in overall species diversity (Iida & Nakashizuka 1995). Additionally, it has left many mountainsides in the Otaki region with inadequate vegetation cover to deal with the seasonal rains that are a staple of the Japanese climate. In turn, increased run-off from bare mountainsides has detrimentally impacted Otaki’s river system. Several residents have commented on changes in fish populations in Otaki’s rivers, suggesting that numbers were much more plentiful in the past. For example, Tsan, an avid fisherman and lifetime resident of Otaki commented: So, the rivers have changed a lot. I guess you’d say change. I don’t really know about water plants, but anyway the forest roads, for example, have opened up spaces [on the hillsides] more and more. So that kind of thing, um, like, road surfaces, so . . . what do you call it? Like, gravel, you know, it’s like sand; more and more comes [down]. Then, of course places the fish can’t live, like, more and more it’s like, um, places where fish live become filled (Personal interview, 05/30/08). Perhaps the most overt expressions of Otaki’s transformation into a resource landscape are the Miura and Makio dams. Both of these massive projects literally converted land that was culturally, ecologically, and economically important to Otaki residents into water and electricity resources that can be extracted and moved to external markets. It’s difficult to quantify the impact

these two dam projects have had on Otaki’s residents and the socio-natural environment. The words of S-san, a lifetime resident who was born and raised in one of the hamlets submerged after the completion of Makio Dam, spoken during a conference focused on Otaki as a source-water region, begin to give some sense of the effect the dam has had. S-san spoke of the extraordinary beauty of his hamlet and lamented that when he was young the fishing was amazing, with varieties of fish that aren’t there now. He added that there were many varieties of bugs, frogs, and such (Fieldnotes 10.24.08). In monetary terms, the Makio Dam project was worth 210,000,000 yen, which is the amount paid to the Otaki village government as compensation. This was an enormous amount of money at the time, much more than the village needed for its regular annual budget, and so the funds were put to use developing Mt. Ontake, a historically sacred mountain, as a tourism resource. The willingness of village residents and government officials to participate in the conversion to resource of Mt. Ontake, a sacred part of the Otaki landscape, points to the ideational transformations that have accompanied, and are intertwined with, material transformations. Bourdieu and others have discussed the role that actors play in creating and recreating social structures through their enactment of practices while dwelling within a particular landscape (Bourdieu 1977). Through practice, social structures, in turn, are carved onto and become manifest in the landscape—what might be labeled a “socializing” of the natural world (Bennett 1976). Conversely, the transformed material landscape gives shape, as a vessel shapes its contents, to the social lives of actors dwelling in it. In this sense, the social and ideational lives of human actors shape and become embedded in the landscape, while at the same time being shaped by the landscape, in both it’s material and ideational aspects (Ingold 1993). In Otaki, material and ideational transformations have served to limit the activities, both physical and ideological, of local actors within the landscape. We can think of this process in terms of a limiting of human activity from sections of the landscape; and conversely as a restricting of these landscapes from the sociocultural space of local residents. In other words, local actors become limited in their ability to move through, or perhaps even thinking meaningfully about, these sections of the landscape. As a result, there is a decrease in human interactions with the natural environment, accompanied by a decline in sets of environmental knowledge and customs. In Otaki, a sense of disconnection from

the national forests that make up the majority of Otaki’s land-area has been expressed to me by residents and is symptomatic of this phenomenon. When I first arrived in Otaki and began approaching residents about my research, I was often met with odd-looks when suggesting that villagers might have some claim over local forests. I was told, quite frankly, that because the forests belong to the nation, decisions concerning them were made outside of Otaki and there was little connection to the villagers’ lives (Field notes 04/23/08). This was intriguing to say the least. However, as I dug deeper I found that there is indeed a sense among some people of the stake and claim that residents have in and over local forests. However, often these sentiments are tempered by references to a long history of external control over Otaki’s forestland and the famous phrase ki-ippon-kubi-hitotsu 木一本首一つ, denoting the purported rigidity with which forests in the area have long been regulated, as if there’s nothing that can be done about it. In other words, even among those residents who recognize the asymmetric power structures that limit local participation in the governance and management of local forests, there appears to be a feeling of acceptance concerning these structures, which is legitimized through references to their historical longevity. Interestingly, this sense of acceptance and lack of entitlement on the part of many village members is contradicted by written materials (Totman 1989; Ushiomi 1968) and conversations with older residents which suggest that in the past control was much more fluid and that local people often utilized forests for a variety of resources, including firewood and building materials (Personal communication 2008). This conceptual removal of local human actors from Otaki’s forest landscapes also occurs at the institutional level, within the forest management agencies of the prefecture (rinyachou 林野庁) and the Kiso region (shinrin-kanri-kyoku 森林 管 理 局 ). Within various planning reports and public relations documents produced by these agencies, forestlands under their jurisdiction are discussed in deceivingly simplistic and universalized terms directed at (and perhaps meant to mystify?) a homogenized citizenry—Japan’s kokumin 国 民 — without giving mention to the complex sets of socio-ecological needs that exist on the ground (Chuubu-shinrin-kanri-kyoku/ 中部森林管理局 2007; Scott 1998). Also, without mentioning the human communities that live in and near national forests, the

authors define human-forest interactions as simply one use, akin to resource cycling or water storage, for which forests are managed. Local socio-ecological communities, such as Otaki, and the histories, needs, and desires of their human and non-human residents are often not an overt part of management structures. In other words, the forests are resources, the nation’s resources, and there are bureaucratic institutions tasked with managing them unilaterally as they see fit. I argue that now, in the face of a failed attempt at amalgamation and financial crisis, the contradictions of Otaki as a resource landscape, as well as the potential for local residents to reclaim and take greater stake in the landscapes, are becoming apparent. During my time in Otaki I’ve seen this potential begin to be developed by residents in a variety of ways. For example, residents have taken initiative to form a group to think about and promote historical, cultural, and ecological aspects of the Otaki landscape. The group, known as zukudaso-ouentai ず く だ そ 応 援 隊 , has organized several conferences, lectures, and other events focused on Otaki and the natural environment. The group strives to promote learning about and spending time in Otaki’s landscapes—a resocializing of the landscape, we might call it. While there has been progress made, through my role as an observer, I have also gained insights into areas where increased efforts may contribute to greater empowerment among Otaki’s residents and to the development of new arrangements for better management of the socio-natural environment. First and foremost, there is a need for greater participation by more residents in village activities. Second, it is vital that residents be recognized as primary stakeholders in Otaki’s natural environment and allowed greater participation in management decisions. This is of course and ideal that may not be realized for many years to come, but now is a good time to begin thinking about ways of bringing the ideal about. Finally, it is vital that Otaki find a way to maintain population numbers by offering incentives for younger residents to stay in the village, or to return after leaving, or by attracting new residents. Towards this end, Otaki residents are beginning to look at new, environmentally-friendly industries—mainly eco-tourism. However, I would suggest that there is also a need to look at educational practices. To this end, I am currently exploring the role of environmental education in the village’s school and working with

students to map out and explore their local landscapes more. A long history of resource extraction has had transformative effects on the landscape of Otaki, creating what I have labeled a “resource landscape”. This transformation has created a state of crisis in Otaki, which faces an ever shrinking population, a lack of viable industry, and financial hardship. The situation has implications for the long-term health of Otaki’s socio-natural environment, which is undergoing unprecedented change. Though I’ve touched on them only briefly in this paper, I argue that a new set of ideological, social, economic, and political structures for thinking about and managing rural landscapes like Otaki’s is crucial for their future health. As my ongoing research points to, a sense of crisis in Otaki has spurred new efforts on the part of residents to rediscover, recover, and reclaim landscape elements that have been obscured within the larger paradigm of Japan’s modernity. My hope is that efforts made now will be the beginnings of virtuous cycles that will contribute to a new process of transformation within Otaki’s landscape, one that ensures a more equitable and sustainable future.
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