Table Speech

Landscapes Embedded in Our Memories are Key to a Sound Future

January 29, 2020

Mr. Hiroshi Yagyu
Honorary President of Wild Bird Society of Japan

 I turned 83 years old this month and live and work at Yatsugatake Club located in Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture. I also serve as Honorary President of the Wild Bird Society of Japan. Staff members of Yatsugatake Club call me “Grandpa of the Mountains”. Every year, a couple of them get married and move to different parts of Japan to start a new career and life. Now, I have 68 ‘children’ across the country who call me “Grandpa”. Today, I want to talk about things that remain timeless in this ever-changing world, by looking back at the past, looking at the present and looking ahead to the future.

 I was born and grew up near Lake Kasumigaura in Ibaraki Prefecture, the 2nd largest lake in Japan. My family was a landlord, responsible for the management and conservation of “satoyama (rural landscapes)” which derives from the Japanese words for village (sato) and mountain (yama). I am really excited this term is now recognized as a common concept throughout the world. A few years ago, SATOYAMA Initiative was adopted at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) held in Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture, aimed to realize societies in harmony with nature and make socio-economic activities align with natural processes.

 I worked as a narrator for a science TV program of our national broadcaster NHK themed on how the Japanese have viewed and dealt with all forms of life as well as the force of nature. We had discussions about what constitutes satoyama among TV crew and identified the four elements: rice paddies which are home to diversified species; irrigation streams; thickets; and small villages.

 Japanese people have long appreciated a close relationship with nature in all aspects of our life that underlie our values and culture. We feel the change of seasons by different sounds of the wind, insects and birds as well as scents. I believe the Japanese are endowed with sensitive and refined five senses because our living environment was surrounded by greenery and an abundance of nature. Unlike Western building structures, there were no solid physical barriers that separated us from natural surroundings. In my early childhood, my grandparents taught me many important lessons, such as the importance of forest thinning to ensure the overall health of the forests, their peripheral ecosystems and wildlife habitats. Forest thinning allows penetration of light to reach the forest floor and increases the temperature of soil and availability of moisture and nutrients within the soil that will revitalize forest vegetation and produce a favorable habitat for wildlife.

 Please cast your mind back to your childhood, hometown and landscapes. If you take a closer look at the forests today, you will find forests of darkness and silence with no insects, flowers nor birds. This is because our government once adopted a new forest policy that had negative consequences. All trees were cut down to plant cedar, cypress and pine trees. Forest-thinning and logging were neglected, leading to an expanded area of forests with weakened soil-conserving, water-retaining and purification functions, making them susceptible to landslides and mudflows. We must not forget our grandpas used to work in the mountains taking into account and building resilience against various risks and disasters.

 “Flowers, birds, wind and moon” are the four traditional motifs that represent natural beauty in Japanese aesthetics. You can find yourself exposed to nature’s blessings if you have a chance to step out of big cities and emancipate yourself in the abundance of nature. Unlike other wild animals, birds are easy to find if you look around a little carefully. Actually over 60% of birds are migratory and travel long-distances, going beyond national boundaries. At Yatsugatake Club, you can observe how different bird species mingle together to secure a safe habitat before their breeding season. It gives you a bigger picture of how different species around the world maintain a subtle balance to stay in equilibrium and ensure biodiversity.

 The Wild Bird Society of Japan implements various projects, supported by generous donations given by individuals and businesses. In close collaboration with Nippon Paper Industries Co., Ltd., we succeeded in conserving the Blakiston’s Fish Owls, classified as an endangered species, to confirm 160 owls to be alive today. We also managed to revive the once-extinct Oriental White Storks to our provincial regions by promoting chemical-free organic farming to ensure farmlands remain rich in small creatures that the birds feed on.

 Before I close my speech, let me share a part of the lyrics from John Lennon’s song Imagine: Imagine there’s no heaven… No hell below us, above us only sky…Imagine there’s no countries… Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too.” These lines overlap with my image of birds. Our predecessors have long lived in harmony with nature through the sound management and conservation of satoyama. I believe we can pass down a sound future to future generations by recalling the landscapes embedded in our memories.