Research Centre for Satoyama Studies (Socio-Ecological Studies)

The Research Center for Satoyama Studies

About the Center

 The Research Center for Satoyama Studies was founded in 2004 as the Open Research Center for the Study of Satoyama (Satoyama ORC) to develop environmental education programs and practices, as well as a model for the coexistence of communities with nature. This was accomplished by implementing Satoyama Conservation Initiative that used the Satoyama forest in Ryukoku no Mori, adjacent to Ryukoku University’s Seta Campus, as well as the surrounding areas as the principal research site. Since then, as a research institute that integrates arts and sciences, we have been actively working toward the realization of a global society that coexists in harmony with nature by expanding the scope of our research from local Satoyama to include rural communities centered around Lake Biwa.

 The term “Satoyama” is used to refer to the fields adjacent to a village and the natural environment surrounding those fields. From a more general perspective, Satoyama could be considered as “secondary nature” or a type of “acculturated nature” because these are regions that have been maintained and used by humans for a very long time. However, problems have arisen due to the underutilization of mountain forests as the relationship between previously self-sufficient villages and their Satoyama has been lost due to modernization, i.e., due to the energy revolution (from firewood to coal to oil), the agricultural revolution (from manpower to automation; from fallen leaves to chemical fertilizers), the expansion of the market economy, and the changes in the industry structure and people’s lifestyles. On the other hand, in the developing countries around the world, factors causing environmental problems are globalization and marketization, and over-cutting and over-utilization of forests that once supported self-sufficient village economies.

 Natural environments that have coexisted with humans are referred to as “secondary” as opposed to “primary” if they are “wild” and untouched by humans. Recently, it has become clear that the ability to conserve and sustainably use “secondary nature” will play a significant role in resolving global-scale environmental problems. The importance of Satoyama in the development of a sustainable society has now been internationally recognized with the introduction of initiatives, such as “The International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative” (or simply “The Satoyama Initiative”) at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10); thanks to the efforts of the Japanese Ministry of the Environment and the United Nations University.

 We, the Center’s researchers, hope to play a leading role in building societies that coexist in harmony with nature and are sustainable by conducting research that will contribute to the solution of global environmental problems.

Message from the Center’s Director

Natural environments, which are the subjects of study at the Research Center for Satoyama Studies, are referred to as “secondary” natural environments, i.e., those affected by human activity. This terminology creates the impression that natural environments are less important than wild “primary” environments and are not required to be protected. However, we know that secondary natural environments are significantly involved in the global spread of infectious diseases, such as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infection that we are facing today, and climate change, which has caused numerous natural disasters in recent years. Recent COVID-19 pandemics are believed to have resulted from humans coming in contact with unfamiliar animals in developing countries, as the secondary natural environments acting as a buffer zone between humans and the wild has shrunk due to rapid urbanization and development. Today, the sustainability of the relationship between humans and nature is at stake. The problems related to secondary natural environments typified by the degradation of Satoyama demand that humans reconsider their relationship with nature and establish new, healthier ways of coexistence. We, the Center’s researchers, hope to contribute to the realization of more sustainable societies worldwide by exploring new and better ways of relationship between humans and nature.

Center Director
The Research Center for Satoyama Studies
Ryukoku University