Given its centuries of success in Japan, the satoyama socio-ecological production landscape appears in many ways to be an inspiring example of how a community of people can live sustainably on the land while enjoying a meaningful and rewarding lifestyle. As we move into a new world of energy descent and relocalization, it certainly seems the Japanese experience has much to offer the rest of the world. For one thing, not only is the Japanese government the first in the developed world to recognize the value of and take steps toward the preservation of their priceless heritage, but Japan may well be the first developed nation to actually have to go down this path in a large-scale way.
Perhaps the key differentiator between satoyama landscapes and those elsewhere in the developed world (I say developed because I’m specifically excluding non-developed satoyama-style landscapes such as those in the Gamo Highlands of Ethiopia, etc., where indigenous lifeways still predominate) is that Japan has an ancient spiritual belief system, an amalgam of indigenous, Shinto and Buddhist beliefs, which recognizes humans as an intrinsic part of nature. From this worldview sprang the beliefs, values, behaviors and social and cultural arrangements that ultimately culminated in the evolution of the satoyama landscapes. Without that worldview of human embeddedness in nature, I don’t see how the landscapes and traditions and crafts would have manifest.
Looking ahead toward efforts to revitalize satoyama landscapes in the face of Japan’s depopulation and food self-sufficiency issues, to what degree is such a worldview a success factor?
As natural as it is to want to revitalize satoyama for the purposes of preserving biodiversity, and necessary to provide income through the careful integration of commercial activities such as the production and marketing of organic food, traditional crafts, etc., and environmental tourism to promote the satoyama lifestyle and values, how will these revitalized satoyama communities successfully interact with the people, structures and institutions that fall outside the satoyama value system? (the assumption being that thriving satoyama communities must have a certain set of mutually agreed upon values that help instruct their decisionmaking…what are those values exactly? the questions abound…) How does interaction and exchange occur without diluting or contaminating or violating the value-system upon which the community is based?
How is community developed and maintained when this neo-satoyama culture must necessarily interact with so much outside influence? Given that traditional cultures around the world, such as Bhutan, have been compromised in so many ways by the introduction of outside influences, these new communities will surely have to establish thoughtfully-permeable boundaries, like cells, to act as gatekeepers.
Undoubtedly, practical revitalization efforts aren’t attempting to go back in time, or become isolated satoyama islands existing entirely in isolation, but are instead aiming to grow thriving and dynamic local communities that bridge the local values with global communication and reach of certain modern technologies. How will that be achieved? What are the necessary ingredients going in? What are the expected ingredients over time? What can be learned and exported to other cultures and communities outside Japan?
As revitalized satoyama communities grow, they’ll likely be populated first by disillusioned urban ‘refugees’ who self-select to come. These early-adopters will be people who, like Oliver Wendall Holmes, are pursuing the simplicity on the other side of complexity. They’ve experienced complexity and want relief, want something more authentic, grounded, and slow. They’ll want to stay connected, however, and will bring with them certain technologies they want to keep, and discard others. They’ll likely want village life with broadband. How will this be accommodated? Will the community decide together?
The development of the underlying community fabric, woven as it is with elements of spirituality, worldview, work, family, recreation, ritual, politics, etc., is fascinating. How much of this needs to be examined beforehand to improve chances of success? And how much can be left to organically develop on its own?
I am curious to compare and contrast the satoyama cultural experience with the western Transition Movement. The founder of the latter, Rob Hopkins, is now using Pattern Language as a tool to deepen the understanding of the Transition Movement, and I think applying this same model to satoyama could be instructive.
A sports analogy comes to mind: A former professional soccer player recently told me that club teams often outperform world cup teams even though the cup teams have the top players. Why? Because the cup teams don’t have the same experience of playing together as a team, so even though the club team players are not as talented, together the depth of their community experience as a team enables them to achieve a high performance level.
Thus, while the ingredients that make up a community are important, there are intangible aspects to the underlying communal fabric that make the difference between success and failure. What are those success factors for the satoyama communities in Japan and satoyama-like communities elsewhere?