Satoyama and the importance of Japan’s ancestral roots
I’m very interested to know how the Jomon’s spiritual connection to nature endured and influenced the Shinto connection to the natural world, and how the Jomon legacy influenced the Japanese culture’s success at living sustainably for millennia.
I have a strong interest in how people can re-establish a connection to the natural world, to live and work in harmony with it, instead of seeing nature as something separate. I’ve long had a deep attraction to the Japanese satoyama landscapes, both from an aesthetic angle but also for the way in which the inhabitants are living “in the land” rather than simply “on the land”. They are embedded in their environment, and this depth of connection is reflected in their sense of community, their intrinsic respect for nature, their tools and artwork, and their spirituality. Whenever I visit I feel a palpable feeling of “depth”…nothing superficial or superfluous.
The Japanese government, in association with the United Nations University, has launched their Satoyama Initiative, which will be officially unveiled to the world during this October’s COP10 biodiversity conference in Aichi. I think this is a truly inspired and exciting endeavor which gives me a lot of hope.
Yet for all of the (necessary) talk about the importance of biodiversity, the “ecological services” that nature can provide, and economic benefits, I believe that the success of this endeavor will ultimately hinge on people’s underlying worldview, on re-awakening their sense of interconnectedness and interdependence with nature. Without that core belief, I don’t think people will let go of their modern Western-style consumptive lifestyle that’s so prevalent around the world today, a lifestyle that is undoubtedly unsustainable.
In essence, thinking only of what the ecological landscape can provide humans is just an extension of the ‘business-as-usual’ approach…greenwashing, really. What is called for is a new paradigm that recognizes the intrinsic value of the whole, and sees humans as an important part of that whole.
Last week I was on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, on the lush north shore of Hanalei where there are many taro fields, an indigenous staple food. I read that an old saying is that without people taro wouldn’t exist, and without taro people wouldn’t exist. It is just this interdependence that I see in the socio-ecological satoyama landscapes.
I believe the necessary worldview of fundamental interconnectedness and interdependence is ultimately a spiritual one. And it is this spiritual connection that I think is the hallmark of success for why the traditional satoyama landscapes were sustained for hundreds of years. While that spiritual sense has been co-opted in large measure by modern life, by young people’s moving to the cities, etc., I think the reestablishment of this connection to nature is a key to success of the Satoyama Initiative.
Of course, there are satoyama-like landscapes around the world, populated by indigenous peoples with strong spiritual connections to nature (e.g., the Gamo Highlands in Ethiopia), but many remain very primitive, while Japan is the only culture I know of who modernized (during the Edo period) while maintaining that spiritual connection to nature through Shintoism and Buddhism.
As Japan is the first country to de-populate in the modern age, and as we move closer to an age of increasingly expensive energy, I suspect Japan may well be the first country to set the example to the world for how to gracefully become more self-sustaining, more re-localized, more resilient. I further suspect that the Japanese people’s reconnection to their rural and ancestral roots, including their Jomon past, will play an important role.
I would love to know the influences of Jomon culture in more modern Japan’s traditional beliefs, and how Japan’s indigenous ancestors might have a role to play in Japan’s future, a future that can set an example for the world.