Anyone familiar with the popular anime My Neighbour Totoro (となりのトトロ, 1988) will recall the lush, idealised landscape known in Japan as Satoyama (里山). Cushioned between the foothills of the mountains and rice paddy fields, Satoyama ecosystems are the result of centuries of local, small scale agriculture and forestry. In recent decades, the preservation of these landscapes have become central to efforts to promote sustainable living both in Japan and internationally.
In August, the JAGUAR Project (Sustainable futures for cultural landscapes of JApan and Germany - biodiversity and ecosystem services as Unifying concepts for the management of Agricultural Regions) of Justus-Liebig University (Gießen) in collaboration with the Science Council of Japan (Subcommittee for Nature Conservation and Restoration), Fukui Prefecture, DAAD (the German Academic Exchange Service), the German Embassy in Japan, and DWIH Tokyo (Deutsches Wissenschafts- und Innovationshaus Tokyo), sponsored a Satoyama Symposium and Workshop that brought together researchers from Germany and Japan. This event included public lectures in Japanese and English and a tour of the countryside of Fukui Prefecture where the participating researchers could learn more about local efforts at maintaining sustainable Satoyama landscapes.
I gave a paper entitled “Ecocritical Views on Satoyama in Japanese Popular Culture” where I introduced the discipline of ecocritism to the Japanese and German scientists present (the concept is a relatively new one in Japanese cultural studies, and little known by scientists), and discussed how nature is depicted in Japanese popular culture from romanticism of the landscape to fears of apocalypse. I concluded with a discussion of Satoyama as a Japanese “Heimat” landscape focussing in particular on My Neighbour Totoro and how the popularity of the film has led to the preservation of Satoyama landscapes through organisations such as the Totoro Forest Foundation.
In my capacity as media consultant for the JAGUAR Project, I have written this series of short articles on the highlights of our tour of cultural landscapes in Fukui Prefecture.
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