The Original Japanese Landscape Is Being Lost

Bears start to live in deserted villages in Hokkaido

This year, riverbeds and big parks with forests were often closed in our hometown. It was not because of the COVID but because of bears. There are two kinds of bears in Japan: brown bears and black bears. Brown bears are a related species of grizzly bears. They are much bigger than black bears, and inhabit only here Hokkaido in Japan. Making matters worse, our hometown is surrounded by mountains, and many rivers are stretching inside. Bears come out of the mountains and move freely along the rivers. It’s not so unusual, but I think this year is abnormal. You may guess it is because of a food shortage due to the destruction of nature, but it is not. Some experts say it is because of increasing deserted villages.

Villages worked as a buffer zone

Japan is small in area, and mountain areas account for 70%. Along almost all the mountains, there were villages that worked as buffer zones between the habitats of humans and animals. As the population is declining, many villages have been deserted and inhabited by animals. The major industry in villages is agriculture, and abandoned fields and rice paddies are a paradise for animals. This is the reason why there’s an increase in the opportunity of encounter and conflict with bears nowadays. They have finally regained their lost territory. You may see it that way, but the paradise will come to the end soon because the ecosystem of the buffer zones will be destroyed by the absence of humans.

For some more years, crops may spontaneously grow even in the abandoned fields but will die out sooner or later. Water creatures in the paddies are gone, and so are their predators. Another major industry in such villages is forestry. In the abandoned forests, undergrowth like low-striped bamboo will drive out young trees producing animal feed like nuts and acorns, because the bamboo has much higher fertility especially in such brush areas. The deserted villages will lose biodiversity and become inhabitable even for many animals. Over-cutting leads to deforestation, but abandonment of cultivation also destroys the forest. In that sense, our furniture making by the forest is a last defense against deforestation in this depopulating country. We have no other choice but to continue our involvement once intervening in nature. In other words, as Erich Fromm said, we are a part of nature.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.

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