Conservation and Management of Cultural and Natural Resources
From:Heritap Author:Nobuko INABA  PublishDate:2024-03-18  Hits:169

The cultural heritage management system in Japan not only covers cultural heritage but also natural heritage, landscapes and intangible heritage as well. There are two parallel approaches for the conservation of landscapes: Cultural Landscape concept promoted by the Agency for Cultural Affairs and Satoyama concept promoted by the Ministry of Environment. Despite the different focus and advocators, both approaches aim at connecting local governments with local communities and heritage. Besides the approaches by government, heritage resource management researchers and neighbourhood associations also play an important role in the conservation and management of cultural and natural resources.


Fig. 1 Cultural heritage in Japan

1. Nature-culture linkages
In 1919, the Law for the Protection of Historic Sites, Places of Scenic Beauty, and Natural Monuments (史跡名勝天然紀念物保存法) introduces a comprehensive legal framework for the conservation and management of heritage in Japan. Apart from cultural heritage, designations are given to natural heritage, landscapes as well as intangible heritage based on their cultural, historical, or aesthetic value.

Natural Monuments” (天然記念物, tennen kinenbutsu) refer to properties which possess a high scientific value and which commemorate Japan’s nature, among the following types of animals, plants or geological and mineralogical features.

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Fig. 2 Natural monuments

Certain areas of natural significance can be designated as “Places of Scenic Beauty” (名勝, meishō). The criteria for the designation of places of scenic beauty includes its public popularity. For example, it was once depicted in the paintings, poems or others forms of artistic works. The following picture shows some places of scenic beauty whose sceneries were depicted in ukiyo-e (浮世絵) woodblock paintings.

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Fig. 3 Places of scenic beauty

In short, keeping natural monument concepts in the realm of a cultural heritage without being absorbed exclusively in nature conservation is an advantage of Japanese legal framework. It reminds people of the original concepts of nature and its relationship with people and culture.

In Japan, there are two parallel approaches for the conservation of landscapes. One is the Cultural Landscape concept promoted by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, the other is Satoyama concept promoted by the Ministry of Environment.

Cultural Landscapes (文化的景観, bunkateki keikan) include not only agricultural landscapes but also markets and industrial landscapes as long as they are associated with people’s livelihoods. In Japan, the decision-making authority for cultural landscape is given to the local municipalities instead of a national or regional authority because the local officers are believed to know the circumstances of the properties better.

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Fig. 4 Cultural landscapes

Satoyama (里山) is a Japan term refers to people’s settlements and their fields for livelihood with their surrounding mountain valley slopes. The International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative (IPSI), organized by United Nation University and financially supported by the Ministry of Environment (MoE) is a good example of contributing the sustainability development domestically and and internationally.

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Fig. 5 Cultural landscape concept and Satoyama Initiative

2. Resilience / Risk preparedness
Besides the landscape approaches promoted by Japanese government, heritage resource management researchers and neighbourhood associations also play an important role in improving the resilience and risk preparedness of heritage.

· Research-promoted preservation district
In Japan, there are two streams of thought to study the land: the approach from the cultural studies group - resulting as the cultural landscape designation in the cultural heritage protection field and the approach from the natural studies groups - resulting as the Satoyama Initiative project in the nature conservation field.

Based on the research movements developed by researchers from diverse disciplines, including Minzoku-gaku (民俗学) studies or Japanese native folkloristics, the preservation district system was introduced in Japan. It derived from the nation-wide movements of residents to protect their historical environment, cities, towns and villages. Municipal ordinances were established in many places and finally a new category was introduced in the law.

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Fig. 6 Preservation districts for groups of historic buildings

The decision-making authority for the preservation district system is given to the municipalities which are closest to the residents and communities. The national government remains in the role of the recognition of national importance, and it provides technical and financial support.

One exemplary survey project by Japanese researchers in architecture and agriculture fields is the Millennium-village Project, which studies on villages that appear in a 10th-century dictionary in Japan. These villages are believed to survive with valuable knowledge on the relationship between nature and civilization that people can learn from.

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Fig. 7 World Heritage: the Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama

· Role of neighborhood associations
Neighborhood associations have long been an important role in risk relief and heritage conservation in Japanese history. However, they were not legally recognized by the national system at first.

After the huge typhoon disaster in the 1950s, Japanese government started to utilize traditionally existing neighborhood associations. Several policies like Local Autonomy Law and Fire Service Act were introduced and neighborhood associations generally gained the legitimacy in local governance and contributes to the risk preparedness.

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Fig. 8 Japanese neighborhood associations

3. Institutional framework: promoting conservation at local level
The Heritage Protection Law in Japan was revised in 2018, introducing new provisions for the legal basis for municipal-level plans for the recognition (cultural resource mapping), conservation and utilization of heritage aiming at their incorporation into the wider local plans.

One of the examples of combing nature and cultural resources together is survey mapping on different themes. The following picture is a thematic resource mapping studies of heritage areas. It reflects where the forested areas are and where prehistoric people lived.

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Fig. 9 Examples of thematic resource mapping

As mentioned before, Cultural Landscape policy and Satoyama Initiative are two parallel approaches led by the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the Ministry of Environment. Despite the different advocators, both approaches aim at promoting cultural and natural resource conservation and management at the local level.

The Agency for Cultural Affairs has been requesting the local governments to develop the plan on a more interpreted approach of nature, culture, and resource management. While the Ministry of Environment works on requiring the municipalities to develop the plan on how to live in harmony with nature, building vibrant communities.

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Fig. 10 Satoyama Initiative pamphlet

The feature of including both tangible and intangible and both culture and nature in one system acts as an advantage in particular at the local level to help the communities to grasp their resources in a more comprehensive manner, linking all sorts of heritage expressions with their own natural environment.

Currently, municipalities are planning such plans on a nationwide scale. It is believed that these efforts contribute to the sustainable development of the communities, eventually addressing the current climate issues, by revisiting the knowledge and experiences accumulated through history while people lived with nature in more sustainable ways.

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