Five months after the devastation of the 11 March triple disasters, Japan should look from its oceans to its shores, exploring links between mountains, forests and sea, as it faces long-term recovery. This was a key message of the Great East Japan Rebuilding Symposium held at United Nations University (UNU) Centre in Tokyo on Friday, 5 August 2011.
The symposium explored ways to rebuild affected communities by embracing the unique linkages between land and sea and re-balancing the relationship between humans and nature.
“It has been humbling every day to watch the strength and beauty of the people of Tohoku as they walk that very long journey to rebuild their communities,” said Anne McDonald, Director of UNU-IAS Ishikawa/Kanazawa Unit and moderator of the symposium.
In his keynote address, UNU Vice-Rector Kazuhiko Takeuchi explained how the practices of satoyama and satoumi could contribute much to reconstruction efforts. By “rebuiding in harmony with nature” and by “considering the links between forests, rivers and the sea, we can rebuild safe and secure communities,” he said.
The challenge of building sustainable societies involves strengthening social systems, embracing new technologies, building regional resilience and reconsidering the ideal relationship between humans and nature.
“from destruction comes revival,
from decay comes recovery”
Speakers observed that many community links had been broken by the disaster. Temporary housing arrangements had the potential to exacerbate this social “disconnect”, as existing social, kinship and neighbourly links often broke down. Participatory community involvement, involving diverse stakeholders, was therefore essential to the recovery process.
Katsuhiko Tada, a farmer from Iwate Prefecture and the President of Tada Natural Farm, drew parallels between the lessons learned from organic farming and the challenges of reconstruction. Both demonstrated the philosophy that “from destruction [comes] revival, from decay [comes] recovery,” he explained.
“I was shocked to see [around] five hundred trucks of vegetables turned away,” Tada said, referring to his concerns over the contamination of agricultural produce in and around the vicinity of the problem-struck Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
Tada said Japan was now at a “turning point in its history ”, as “for the first time, we have noticed that if we [Japanese people] have a concern, we need to speak out”.
By enriching his address with colorful first-hand farming experiences — ranging from mastering the art of Italian gelato making to turning his daikon (Japanese radish) harvest into a new form of soba noodle — Tada demonstrated that strong lessons for reconstruction could be learned from nature.
“we must rebuild for the future, rebuild maintaining the richness and diversity in society and keeping our past, our values and our traditions”
Patricio Bernal, Coordinator of the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative , explored the parallels between Chile and Japan’s experiences with tsunami. Whilst it may not always be obvious, the earth’s tectonic movements closely link Japan and Chile.
Bernal emphasized that geophysicists should collaborate more closely to develop and test more economical technologies for monitoring tectonic movements. However, local people needed to remain at the core of reconstruction efforts, as “they are the ones that live at the coast and are directly affected”.
Bernal highlighted the need to share and learn from both local and global experiences and to transfer knowledge broadly. “Increased productivity is not always best for protecting biodiversity […] we must rebuild for the future, rebuild maintaining the richness and diversity in society and keeping our past, our values and our traditions,” he said.
According to Vice Rector Takeuchi, UNU has a unique role to play in rebuilding Japan. “Many in the global community don’t yet have a full understanding of the situation”, he said.
UNU can serve as a “catalyst for developing renewable communities”, as it can bring unique perspectives to the discussion. UNU has “a very important role to play”, both in communicating information to a global audience and in helping to transfer valuable global knowledge to local communities.
The symposium was co-organized by UNU Institute of Advance Studies (UNU-IAS), the Secretariat for the International Partnership for Satoyama Initiative (IPSI) and the newly-founded Sustainable Oceans Initiative (SOI). More information is available on the UNU-IAS website.