Satoyama (里山)

Satoyama is a word referring to the state in which there exists an ecosystem that is influenced by peoples in the hills and mountains adjacent to a settlement or habitat, or similar geographical conditions.

The word "Satoyama"

It first appeared in academic material in June 1759, in a document titled 'Kiso Onzaimoku-Kata' (Kiso-style Lodging) (木曽御材木方)compiled by the domain of Owari.
In this document, Satoyama was defined as 'satoyama means a mountain close to a rural settlement habitat.'

On the other hand, it can be said that Tsunahide SHIDEI, who was a teacher at the Faculty of Agriculture, Kyoto University and Kyoto Prefectural University among others, was the person who defused the concept of Satoyama through his speech and writing activities that lead to the present reevaluation of Satoyama. It is said that Shidei created the usage of the word 'Satoyama' in the context familiar to us nowadays.

History of Satoyama

The first forest where continuous human activity can be seen in Japanese archipelago dates back at least to the Jomon period. Thanks to the study on Sannai-Maruyama site, it was revealed that a group of people called Jomons living in this site, cultivated chestnut and lacquer trees in the woods close to their settlement and made use of these plants.

However, as historic period begins, Satoyama in the Japanese archipelago underwent repeated cycles of destructive exploitation and protection. The first destruction caused by the over-forestation of Satoyama became obvious in Kinai (the five provinces surrounding the ancient capital of Nara and Kyoto), and according to "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), an imperial edict to prohibit logging in the mountains such as Mount Minamibuchi and Mount Hosokawa, was issued in 676.

However, the destruction of forests had advanced, and it is thought that by the year 800, a considerable part of the forests in Kinai had been lost, and by around the year of 1000, the destruction had been extended to the forests of Shikoku region and by the 1550's, 25% of the forests in the whole Japanese archipelago had been lost.

During the administrations of Nobunaga ODA and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI (Azuchi Period and Momoyama Period (1568 - 1600)) as well as during in the Edo Period (1603-1868), the destruction of forests did not stop, and in Honshu (main island), Shikoku, Kyushu and southern Hokkaido regions, the major part of the forest exploitable by the technology available at that time had been lost. This drastic destruction was accounted for by an increased demand for construction materials owing to a nationwide population explosion and the large-scale construction of temples, shrines and castles that were carried out successively.

This means that until the 18th century, the Satoyamas in the Japanese archipelago had undergone constant over forestation (please refer to the section 'Hageyama' (treeless hill)), and Satoyama had not been used in a 'sustainable' manner. Such an extensive forest destruction not only threatened the supply of timber, but also triggered various disasters in the Japanese archipelago, including increased wildfires, intensified damage by typhoons, and frequent river flooding.

Worried about the situation, the Tokugawa shogunate decided to adopt a forest protection policy in 1666, and launched an initiative to recover and promote forest resources, setting up strict regulations towards logging and distribution. As a result of such measures, the forest resources in Japan gradually recovered, enabling the sustained logging of Satoyama.

However, this sustained state of Satoyam was threatened three times in modern age. The first crisis took place in the pre- and post-Meiji Restoration periods, when the forest of Satoyama had been rapidly lost due to widespread timber piracy and destructive logging, which broke out with the collapse of the old system. Afterwards, the vegetation of Satoyama recovered as the society stabilized, but when the Pacific War (World War II) broke out, Satoyama again underwent excessive logging due to the lack of materials, and many of the hills and mountains were left treeless around the country. It is said that a great number of big trees were forced to be cut down to provide military supplies. Recovery from the destructive exploitation suffered during the war and post war periods was not initiated until the national tree-planting campaign, which began in 1950, and started to give results.

And the third and ongoing crisis to date consists of the conversion of Satoyama into housing lands and the abandonment of satoyama. The domestic use of fuels began to shift to chemical fuels around 1955 and the fuel transition was completed around 1975, and since then, the firewood and charcoal for domestic use have disappeared except for those used for enjoyment. In addition, widespread use of chemical fertilizers and the disappearance of farm animals also decreased the economic value of Satoyama. Then, Satoyama, which lost its economic value, was converted into a housing lot one by one in the 1960's and gradually disappeared. Construction of new towns such as Senri New Town, Kozoji New Town, Tama New Town and Chiba New Town were examples of a series of large-scale conversions of the Satoyama into housing lots. Housing land development in the suburban areas was promoted to give places to live for the influent labor force in urban areas during an era of high-speed economic growth. Part of Satoyama, which escaped the conversion into housing lots, were abandoned because a major part of their utility had been lost. And lack of human commitment to Satoyama caused not only changes in vegetation (shift into a forest of climax community (community of plants which has reached a steady state) or shift into a bamboo forest by the invasion of Moso-chiku (Phyllostachys edulis)), but also contaminated it through illegal dumping of trash and industrial waste.

Usage of Satoyama

Satoyama has been utilized in various ways. It served not only as a supply source of timber, their fallen leaves and underbrush were used as manure for farmlands. Moreover, it was the easiest way to earn cash income for farmers in recent times to collect firewood and mushrooms in Satoyama by making use of their spare time. Parts of Satoyama were kept safe from logging as water catchment forests and supply sources of timber and sources of cash income in emergency situations.

An exceptional usage of Satoyama was in its use as a fuel source for salt production. Satoyama used for this purpose was called Shiokiyama (塩木山). For salt production, a great volume of fuel is required (to consecutively operate salt production during an entire year, it is necessary to consume an entire forest 75 times larger than the salt field itself as fuel), therefore, for salt manufacturers, it was a life-and-death matter to secure a Shiokiyama (塩木山). It is recorded that there had existed Shiokiyama (塩木山) since the latter 8th century as a form of Shoen (manor in medieval Japan) owned by big temples such as Todai-ji Temple and Saidai-ji Temple (Nara City). In recent years, sales of firewood as the fuel for salt production had expanded especially in the Sanyo region. In such cases, the firewood was produced in mountain villages connected with downstream salt fields by a river. Thus, the people living in a mountain village processed the trees of their Satoyama to firewood and sold it as an article of commerce in exchange for silver. This is a prime example of the fact that Satoyama was not only used to sustain the self-sufficient community economy. This way of fueling salt production continued until the early 19th century when coal began to be used, and the scarceness of the forest resources caused by over forestation, which was carried out whilst ignoring the forest reproduction speed, sometimes provoked conflicts. In addition to the consumption by the salt production industry, trees in Satoyama were massively consumed as fuels for tatara iron-making and ceramic firing.

Another peculiar usage of Satoyama was for 'Kusayama' (pasture ground). This refers to a whole hill or mountain being made up as a field under grass by purposely cutting all the trees. In recent times, since dried grass was an important manure for paddy cultivation, in order to secure the necessary amount of dried grass, sometimes a small-scale Kusayama was prepared and kept free from being re-forested. In some paddy fields, an individual Kusayama was set up, and this type was called 'Tatsuki kusayama' (attached Kusayama to paddy).

In addition to the uses mentioned above, according to Takashi UCHIYAMA, in the times before the Showa Period, there were impoverished families who had thoroughly recovered their livelihood after several years' retired stay in Satoyama, due to a self-sufficient life over the course of several years by completely suppressing the disbursement of cash (there are some cases in Ueno Village, Gunma Prefecture).

In summary, the vegetation of Satoyama was utilized as follows.

Broadleaf trees: every 10 to 20 years they were cut down with their roots left to make firewood and charcoal. As sprouts grew from the left-over roots, the trees were repeatedly utilized in the same manner for 10 to 20 years. The trees selected for replantation were broadleaf trees, such as sawtooth oak (Quercus acutissima) and Japanese oak (Quercus serrata), because they were suitable for charcoal.

Red pine woods: red pines were planted as a long-term tree because they were used for timber. Branches of red pine and low shrubs growing under the trees were used for fuel.
Ashes were spread in farms as a potassium-rich fertilizer

Other species of trees growing in the woods were also registered one by one as precious future timber and controlled by the domain or Daikan (local governor).

Underbrush was used as green manure.

Fallen leaves were also used as fuel, and the ashes were plowed as a potassium fertilizer in the field.

Most of matsutake mushrooms collected in red pine woods were sold to earn cash income. Other mushrooms and herbs with little cashability were directed towards personal consumption.

Management and ownership system of Satoyama

There were various types of Satoyama in the Edo Period: those that were owned by the government (Shogun family or domains) and excluded from use by general citizens (called Otateyama, etc); those which were privately-owned (form of iriaichi (common land)) but trees were state-owned assets and required the government's permission for logging (called Otomeyama or Goyoboku); those whose land as well as trees were privately-owned and did not required any official permission for logging (form of iriai); those which were individually-owned; and those which were owned by religious organizations and used to construct their religious facilities. In case of the trees of Otomeyama, the timber merchant or village that wanted to cut the trees had to pay the price in silver currency to the owner domain. And in many cases, even though they were privately-owned, they were subject to duties (called yamanengu (mountain tax), etc.).

As mentioned before, the stress on Satoyamas throughout the Japanese archipelago had been heavy until coal began to be used as a fuel, and to cope with this burden, each community set up its own regulations to protect the destruction of Satoyama's vegetation. These rules were called 'Muraokite (village rules)', 'Murasadame (village statute)', 'Murakisoku (village regulations)', and almost all villages had a written set rules, as far as they had Satoyama as their common land. Usage rules stated in Muraokite were precisely and strictly articulated. For example, it was common that the volume of grass allowed to be cut for manure was fixed to each household, and the mowing period (called Kuchiake (start)) was strictly set up in many villages. The penalty for people that violated the Muraokite were also determined, and in many of the cases, the violator was obliged to pay fines in silver plus the value corresponding to the volume he stole. There were also other cases, in which the violator was obliged to render a service, or if the violator was not able to pay the fines, the Gonin-gumi system (a collective responsibility system based on a neighborhood group composed of 5 persons), to which he belonged, had to assume the collective responsibility to pay the fines.

Especially in areas that had few Satoyama in proportion to the number of habitants, the management of Satoyama was extremely strict and not so much as a bunch of grass or tree branch was allowed to be carried off without permission, and those who broke the rule were sometimes subject to fair punishment.
There were villages which kept a night watch rotation to prevent the robbing of Satoyama during the evening,
Even under such strict controls, illegal logging in Satoyama frequently occurred, and when the form of Satoyama was Muramura iriai (common land of plural villages), it was jointly used by the residents of more than one village as a piece of common land, however, these villages often had confrontations over Satoyama (the dispute was called sanron (mountain dispute)).

In reality, Satoyama in recent times was far from the utopian space where communities enjoyed a harmonious coexistence with nature, but a space that would have been met with catastrophe by overuse, unless the state or community had not have prevented it by establishing a rigid control system.

Since entering the Meiji Period, the form of Satoyama's ownership started to change, and they were shifted to state-owned forests, individually-owned estates after they were fragmented, or municipal-owned forests. Among them, those Satoyama located near urban areas were sold to real-estate developers and were changed to housing lands and recreational facilities such as golf courses.

One of the problems that Satoyama faces at present is the tax burden. Although its fixed property tax is set low in comparison with that of housing or agricultural land, the inheritance tax imposed at the time of the generation change is calculated as the assessed value of the average neighboring housing land minus the land development expenses. However, in reality, even if the owner of Satoyama tried to sell the land with this value, developers tend to take advantage of the owner's weak position to bring down the price, and there are occasions where there is no purchaser and the owner has no remedy other than selling his farm lands and others by the piece, while maintaining the mountain forest that has practically no asset value (if the owner has no reserve, as he can not pay the inheritance tax, he is forced to become bankrupt).

Satoyama as iriaichi (common land, or local commons)

There is a word 'local commons,' which is a concept referring to the natural resources shared in a certain community or communities. Although Satoyama can be utilized free of charge, sometimes its physical access is allowed only to the members of the community, or is under the control of the local people.
Thus, Satoyama, which has a strong sense of local commons, tends to prevent free-rider or moral hazard problems (→see 'Tragedy of commons')

In Japan such commons are called 'iriaichi' (common land).

In modern history, there existed various forms of iriaichi (common land) such as 'Muraju iriai,' 'Muramura iriai,' and 'Hokamuramochiji iriai.'
Muraju iriai' is a form in which the common land was situated within a village and only the residents of the village had access to the land. Muramura iriai' is a form in which the common land was situated in contact with several villages, and only the residents of such adjacent villages had access to the common land. Hokamuramochiji iriai' is a form in which the residents of a village had access to a common land even though it was not adjacent to the village. In this case, an entrance fee was paid in silver currency to the owner village of that common land. Those who had right to access to the common land were able to make use of kejo (natural products) derived from the land. Kejo refers to the fauna and flora.

Satoyama that had assumed a function of iriaichi (common land), changed drastically with the Meiji Restoration. It is probable that in the process of the land-tax reform carried out by the Meiji government, some iriaichi (the common lands) lost their function and were divided into privately-owned lands that had access rights, and many of them were expropriated under the policy of the Meiji government, which promoted the registration of these as public lands if they had no proof of being common land. At that time, the Meiji government took the policy that as far as the iriaichi had clear written proof or Kohi (a oral record handed down for generations), it was exempt from expropriation, but when they had no written proof, the government would recognize the land as iriaichi only if another village adjacent to the land in question was generous with rendering an official testimony of the land. However, among these villages, there were cases in which the village requested to testify was excluded from this iriaichi after having lost a Sanron (land dispute) in the past, and therefore, from rancor it rejected or even tried to interrupt to testify that the land in question was a common land.

Anthropologist Tsuneichi MIYAMOTO reported a case of a person in Takihata, Kawachinagano City, Osaka Prefecture, who learned to read and write after reaching adolescence in order to file a suite and recover the common land which was expropriated as a public land during the Meiji Period.

For the situation of commons after the Meiji Period, please see the section 'Common Right'

Conservation of Satoyama

The main work to conserve Satoyama is encouraging the regeneration of budding, but there are also various tasks such as promoting the propagation of plants and removing bamboo that threaten the habitat of deciduous broad-leaved trees, or repairing the stone walls of terraced rice fields.

Habitat of Satoyama
Tracking back the history, the major part of Japanese Satoyama had been converted into red pine forests, or Kusayama (pasture grounds) and treeless hills by the modern ages. The autochthonous habitat was lost due to the exploitation of timber and firewood, and the removal of fallen leaves and underbrush used for the farmland manure impoverished the soil depriving it of nutrition, and allowed the dominant propagation of red pine trees that are resistant in poor soils. Moreover, as the red pine was a handy species and had a lot of usage in Japanese modern agriculture, the people selectively planted them. To prove this fact, Arioka used the drawings depicting various scenic spots of the Edo Period, in which most of the lands were painted as treeless hills and mountains locally dotted with pine trees.

However, a decline of Satoyama's economic value due to the increased use of fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers caused gradual changes in the habitat of Satoyama from its original red pine woods (as the red pine is a sun tree, the invasion of other species impedes its further reproduction). For example, in the Kanto region and surrounding areas during the latter 20th century to 21st century, there appeared forests predominated by deciduous fagaceous vegetation, such as Quercus acutissima (sawtooth oak) and Quercus serrata. The autochthonous climax vegetation in this region is evergreen broad-leaved forest, however when it is amply affected by human activity, sometimes the vegetation stabilizes as a deciduous forest, without ever reaching its full potential. In addition to these trees, even under similar conditions, an evergreen tree, Castanopsis, often makes an appearance in southern regions. Such a habitat, whose climax vegetation is destroyed due to human disturbance, is called a reciprocal habitat.

Moreover, in recent years the disordered proliferation of Moso-chiku (Phyllostachys edulis) due to the lack of control converts the deciduous forests and broad-leaf forests into bamboo forests, and the damages caused by bamboo invasion can not be ignored in the habitat of Satoyama.

In summary, Satoyama in the Japanese archipelago can be defined historically as a place where we can observe diversified habitats, such as bald mountains, grass mountains and red pine forests which are the result of extreme destruction, secondary forests which are stabilized in a form different from the inherent full range of vegetation, or bamboo forests resulting from harmful bamboo invasion, and lastly, the local autochthonous climax forests.

Discussions on the habitat of Satoyama

From a natural conservation stand point, there is a view that defines Satoyama affected by human disturbance as being a 'false forest.'
This is an idea that emphasizes the potential natural habitat. In opposition to this, there is also an idea that insists the recovery of Satoyama's value as a human-centered sustainable development model. In this idea a new concept of 'devastated copse' is introduced.

However, since the latter 20th century, a large number of Satoyama have been left completely free from human control, and in many regions they are recovering their autochthonous climax vegetations. Arioka qualifies such a situation and points out that since the beginning of the Yayoi style agriculture, there has been no period like the Heisei Period in which Satoyama is so densely covered with trees.