One of the world's best-known conservation initiatives is the national park system. Established in the United States 140 years ago, the national park system has been implemented in about 200 countries, including Japan. Under this system, the government designates, preserves and manages national parks. Japan currently has 32 national parks.
The Chubu Sangaku National Park (Central Japan National Mountain Park) is one of the oldest national parks in Japan. Spreading across Niigata, Toyama, Nagano and Gifu Prefectures, this national park encompasses the entirety of the Hida Mountain Range (also known as the Northern Alps), highlighted by mountains over 3,000 meters in height. Characterized by diverse groups of flora by altitude, the Chubu Sangaku National Park is one of the most scenic places in Japan. The Park receives an astounding 10 million visitors a year, who enjoy many activities including taking in the natural scenery, relaxing in hot springs and climbing mountains.
The Park is cooperatively managed and maintained by a wide range of entities, including the Japanese government, municipalities, local people, companies and non-profit organizations. Chubu Sangaku National Park combines good conservation management and the utilization of natural resources, exemplifying a mutually beneficial relationship between humanity and nature.
Chubu Sangaku National Park
Modern society faces global-level environmental issues resulting from intertwining factors such as climate change, reduction of biodiversity and deterioration of ecosystem services. The proper management and maintenance of not only wild forests but also satochi-satoyama is indispensable for maintaining biodiversity that is compatible with the stability of human lifestyles. Satochi-satoyama are a secondary form of forest—a broad concept including agricultural fields, secondary forests, reservoirs and other natural assets—that grow with the help of humankind for the purpose of agricultural and forestry production activities. Recently, the conservation of satochi-satoyama has gained momentum both within and outside Japan.
A tea farm in Shizuoka next to a satoyama (1)
Accounting for approximately 40% of Japan's total land area, satochi-satoyama are important natural resources that provide both habitats for a variety of creatures and benefits from a human perspective, such as in the formation of good natural scenery and the preservation of cultural practices. The Japanese government considers satochi-satoyama to be a type of natural asset that should be passed down to future generations, thereby designating 500 satochi-satoyama locations across Japan as "satochi-satoyama important for the maintenance of biodiversity" (called "important satochi-satoyama" for short). At each important satochi-satoyama, local municipalities, volunteers, companies and others cooperate to carry out conservation projects such as ecosystem preservation and water quality conservation. Thanks to this initiative, satochi-satoyama are more widely used than before. In addition to fulfilling their core purpose of ecosystem conservation, satochi-satoyama are now serving as spaces for outdoor learning, symbols of local community revitalization and tourist attractions.
A tea farm in Shizuoka next to a satoyama (2)
A variety of research and fieldwork related to satochi-satoyama conservation is currently being conducted. For instance, the University of Tokyo offers programs such as a major in Landscape Ecology and Planning to promote the restoration of ecosystems in secondary forests, as well as the sustainable use and management of satochi-satoyama.
Biodiversity can be maintained as long as we take appropriate measures in consideration of the various issues and restricting conditions that we face. As the range and scale of human activities have expanded, humanity has experienced the emergence of numerous issues negatively affecting the environment, including irregular slash-and-burn agriculture that does not consider the natural recovery abilities of forests, the excessive logging of trees to make fuel, and large-scale wildfires frequently taking place all over the world. As a result of these issues, many forests have deteriorated or disappeared altogether. To prevent this trend from continuing, appropriate forest management is essential.
Forestry science facilitates this kind of proper forest management. Forestry science is a discipline that explores measures to ensure both forest conservation and the appropriate use of forests from physical and cultural perspectives by clarifying the functions of forests and by accumulating knowledge about the use and development of forests. This area of study covers a wide range of subjects, including forests, the wildlife and plant life found in forests, the relationships of ecosystems with the environment, finding solutions to environmental problems such as global warming and acid rain, and engaging in the appropriate utilization of forests while promoting forest growth.
The University of Tokyo Forests, managed by the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, are research forests established to provide opportunities for conducting basic and applied research on forests, trees and forestry, as well as education to students studying forests. The University of Tokyo Chiba Forest, which was founded in 1894, is Japan's first research forest and has a history of more than 100 years.
Observing a decaying Sakhalin fir in the University of Tokyo Hokkaido Forest
Currently, there are seven University Forests across Japan. They have provided spaces for fieldwork and offered specimens and data for the Faculty of Agriculture and many other entities in the University of Tokyo, as well as other universities and research institutes all over Japan. They also have promoted and supported numerous research activities carried out by students and researchers.
Studying a nurse log at the Maeyama Forest Reserve in the University of Tokyo Hokkaido Forest
Recently, to meet societal needs, the University Forests have taken on expanded roles. For example, researchers work to bring to the public the knowledge and experiences accumulated during the Forests' long history, as well as cooperate with local municipalities and communities.
By protecting nature and managing sustainability, we can protect the global environment and its limited resources. As a country that boasts one of the world's largest forest areas, Japan has to go beyond its own conservation and the appropriate use of its own forests and contribute to the international community. Research into the resources of green spaces possesses the capability of contributing to humanity and the natural environment on a global scale. This research will no doubt create and help us navigate our future.