This article explores human-nature relationships in the context of two national parks in Japan. For this essay, we focus on Towada-Hachimantai National Park. Through interviews with various people who live and work in the park, the author explores the relationships these people have with the area. The people interviewed are: nature guide Shuhei Murakami, park ranger Mizuki Yamasaki, fish breeder Yoshimi Kobayashi, and finally Kazushi Sato, chairman of a ryokan located in the park.
The subjects of this article, parks and nature reserves, are quintessential examples of “green” spaces. We take the view that Towada-Hachimantai’s “greenness” can be understood as both an untamed and a cultivated nature.
The article represents Japanese people as being very much intertwined with the untamed environment of Towada-Hachimantai Park because of a close physical connection. Japan’s national parks are described as a “mix of the untamed and lived-on – and everything in between”. Humans live in close proximity to wild nature because many private settlements were absorbed into government-defined park boundary lines, resulting in a significant portion of the population living within “nature”. The article also shows that the people who work at Towada-Hachimantai have a close emotional connection with nature. Yamasaki states that Japanese people grow up with a close connection to nature, and “don’t think of nature as a separate place from where [they] spend [their] daily lives”. Murakami says that when he stands in the presence of the park’s beech trees, “[t]he entire forest had this gentle feel to it”.
On the other hand, the environment of Towada-Hachimantai Park is also represented as a resource that is manipulated and exploited by these same workers in the name of environmental preservation. Boosting the appeal of Towada-Hachimantai as a tourist destination is shown to be the primary incentive for an active emphasis on protecting fragile alpine flora. There is also a focus on managing the human element of the park by restoring park trails and preventing traffic jams.
Overall, the article supports the idea that Japanese people’s perceptions of nature are diverse (Kalland & Asquith, 1997). To visitors, Towada-Hachimantai’s nature is a source of spiritual comfort and healing (Fukiji, 2015) where visitors relax in an idealised furusato landscape to recover from the weariness of urban life (McMorran, 2014). This is different from the love that the people who make a living off Towada-Hachimantai have for the park. While they appear to have a close physical and emotional connection to wild nature, they also value it as a resource to be exploited for profit.
The love that the park workers have for Towada-Hachimantai Park is complex. However, we believe that they largely take an anthropocentric view towards the park’s nature, where the value attributed to nature is not so much an intrinsic one as what it can do for people (Kalland and Asquith, 1997). For example, we can see this through Kobayashi’s role as fish breeder. His role is to breed only a single type of fish – the kokanee – to stock Lake Towada. He does this only because the species lures gourmands to the area’s eaters and fishing enthusiasts to the lake. Ultimately, the fish are a resource used by humans.
We think that the breeding of kokanee may also be considered a sustainable practice, since doing so protects the kokanee population whilst balancing economic purposes such as tourism. However, since “sustainability” is ambiguous and can be easily appropriated (Kirby, 2011), people can readily frame fish breeding as a positive compromise between economic development and environmental preservation. This is even if, in reality, priorities lie more on promoting economic growth through tourism.
Word Count: 598 words
Asquith, P. J., & Kalland, A. (1997). Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives. Curzon Press.
McMorran, C. (2014). A Landscape of “Undesigned Design” in Rural Japan. Landscape Journal, 33(1), 1-16. https://doi.org/10.3368/lj.33.1.1
Kirby, & P.W. (2011). Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan (pp. 160-192). Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Fujiki, K. (2015). My neighbor totoro: The healing of nature, the nature of healing. Resilience: A journal of the Environmental Humanities, 2(3), 152-157. https://doi.org/10.5250/resilience.2.3.0152