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[ISHES Newsletter #16]Fujino Thrives with Transition Town, Community, Forest Revival, Renewable Energy, and Local Currency

2019/11/25 16:32:42


ISHES Newsletter #16
November 25, 2019

See what's new on our web site:
Copyright (c) 2019

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society, Japan


Dear Readers,

Welcome to our 16th issue of the ISHES Newsletter!
In this November 2019 issue, you will find the following articles:

- Fujino Thrives with Transition Town, Community, Forest Revival, Renewable Energy, and Local Currency

People in the mountain community of Fujino are harnessing their own creativity in Transition Town initiatives to boost local strength and resilience. Our article introduces their activities in this town, which is attracting new residents even while facing an overall decline in population.

- A new article from the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom

This time we provide an article from a column by Yoshifumi Taguchi, entitled "Tao Management: No. 2 YOH-SHIN," which has been uploaded on the web.

- Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter on sustainability issues in Japan

Does Japan's GDP really have to keep growing? Is that even possible? What do the answers to these questions reveal about changing public attitudes? Here we introduce a public opinion survey hinting that subtle changes are taking place.


Fujino Thrives with Transition Town, Community, Forest Revival, Renewable Energy, and Local Currency

By Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society

Fujino is a community in northwestern Kanagawa Prefecture. It measures 6.8 kilometers east to west and 13.5 kilometers north to south, and has a population of about 8,600 people (as of October 2019). Formerly an independent municipality, after amalgamation with Sagamihara City in March 2007, it became part of that city's Midori Ward. A landscape rich with water and greenery, Fujino is known as home to many artists and located just over an hour by train from the center of Tokyo.

In Fujino, efforts are being made to create a "transition town." The citizens are putting their own creative abilities to work and bringing forth practical proposals to increase the area's potential. The Transition Town movement is a grassroots initiative for transforming communities into participatory, livable and disaster-resilient communities. This is accomplished by through cumulative changes that are created, implemented and shared by the citizens in the community, and by forming new connections.

Like many other communities in Japan, Fujino is facing population decline, but here the number of people moving in is increasing, attracted by Fujino's Transition Town activities and other charms. So, what kinds of activities are being conducted in Fujino? In this article we introduce four of them, including efforts of the Fujino Tourist Association as secretariat to promote resettlement in the town, plus "Fujino Denryoku" electric power, "Moribu" forest care and "Yorozuya" local currency initiatives by Transition Fujino, the local organization promoting Transition Town activities.

Efforts to Attract New Residents

One of the ways resettlement is being promoted is through the Fujino Satoyama Nature Experience Tours. Via interactions with people living in satoyama (traditionally-managed landscapes between forested hills and farmlands), these tours give participants a chance to experience to their heart's content the significance and merits of the satoyama which may not be apparent at first glance. Such experiences do not lead participants to resettle right away, but they are aimed first at increasing the number of people interacting with the community.

These tours span a wide variety of experiences, from strolling through the satoyama, playing in streams, picking edible wild plants, thinning forest groves and tending vegetable fields, to preserving food, raising goats, sheep, chickens and other livestock, talking to people who have resettled there, and staying overnight in traditional farmhouses. There were just 19 participants in 2015, but the numbers have grown steadily, surpassing 100 in 2016 and reaching 414 in 2018.

As an effort to link these experiences with resettlement, the "Satomachi no Ie" (country town house) project is being undertaken. What this project aims for is the realization of a lifestyle that makes use of resources in as sustainable a manner as possible, while coexisting with nature and the environment and seeking the basis of abundance through warm relations between people, a relaxing flow of time, and ways of life that promote a calm spirit.

They set up a website called "Sato Matchi," on which they post information on vacant houses that have been reformed into fine-quality housing. Whenever they receive inquiries through the website, they consult with the tourist association for good matching, leading to signing of contracts. The number of people relocating to Fujino has been 30 to 40 per year, bringing together people who are attracted to the community by features such as the abundant nature, good access to urban centers, and the unique Transition Town lifestyle.

Fujino Denryoku

The motivation to establish Fujino Denryoku (Fujino Electric Power Company) came from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident resulting from the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011. The citizens took a new look at Fujino's resources in nature and the satoyama to consider how to shift to self-sufficient and distributed energy in which the residents themselves could participate and transition to a way of life that, while reducing energy consumption, would improve life and not require compromises. Then they launched a local initiative for self-sufficient, distributed, renewable energy.

They have held over 200 workshops on assembling small photovoltaic power generation systems that produce, store and use electricity from sunlight. Participants learn how to use tools, the roles of each component and how to connect them. In about four hours, they assemble a system to create a power source that does not rely on electric power companies. When these workshops were first started, they were aimed at people living in the Fujino area, but participants began coming from far away, so the workshops expanded nationwide.

The workshops were booming, sometimes even held simultaneously in four locations, but the number of participants declined considerably in about 2014. Even so, power outages have increased in recent years due to typhoons and severe rainstorms, so more people have begun wanting to produce electricity themselves again and interest is gradually recovering.

In addition to workshops, Fujino Denryoku provides electricity from renewable energy for festivals and events, builds renewable energy power generation facilities for offices and private homes, and constructs citizen-based power generation stations. It also researches ways of effectively using energy and shares its findings.

Moribu Forest Care

Moribu ("Forest Department" in Japanese) strives through its activities to restore forests and revive the connections between people and forests. The impetus to launch Moribu came from reports of bear sightings reaching the transition town meetings. It was thought that some kind of problems in the mountains must have been causing the bears to come down into the town, so they took the initiative to start investigating the mountains on their own.

One of Moribu's main activities, work that "even women and children can do" thin the planted forests, resulted from an acquaintance with a new resident, who introduced Yoshiharu Onishi, head of the NPO "Mori-no-Yomigaeri" (Forest Revival). He introduced a technique called kirameki (a pun on "glimmer" using the word "tree") to strip the bark from cypress and cryptomeria evergreens using a bamboo spatula. Those trees will then naturally wither away, still standing, over the course of about a year. This allows sunlight to penetrate the forest so the remaining trees can grow, and the wood from the thinned trees can support livelihoods as a sixth-sector industry (this refers to the integration of primary, secondary and tertiary industries, i.e., resources, processing, and services).

The local private owners of forested lands have gradually come to recognize Moribu's activities and started to make better use of the forests. Moribu also holds study sessions to educate people on the state of forests in Japan and worldwide. They also maintain streams and watercourses to revive the degraded satoyama environment and improve the flow of water and air, and they continue to expand their activities.

Yorozuya Local Currency

"Yorozuya" (a folk term for "general store") is a local currency in Fujino. It promotes cooperation, is backed by trust, and gets its inherent value through transactions. No paper notes are issued, but the scheme works by recording transactions and balances in passbooks kept by each participating member.

Prospective participants pay 1,000 yen to the secretariat to receive a passbook. The currency's unit is the yorozu, and members start with a zero balance. They draw up a list of items and services they can offer and what they would like others to offer. This list is shared with other members on a mailing list. They all look at each other's lists and if they see any items or services they want, they meet directly with the person offering them and negotiate a price in yorozu. Then the one providing the item or service registers a plus for that amount in the passbook, and the one receiving it, minus that amount. By signing these entries, they conclude the transaction.

All members start with zero yorozu, so even if big differences arise between their passbooks in pluses or minuses, the sum total of yorozu throughout the entire community is always zero. Even if someone has a large negative balance, they need not worry. A member in the red means a positive balance has been created elsewhere. One way of interpreting this is that people with many pluses are good at helping others and those with many minuses are good at communicating to find people with skills and enlisting their help.

With the yorozu, people can set prices without embarrassment, enabling people to try various challenges. Not only does this connect people one-on-one, but it gives rise to a culture of assisting those in need. Knowing the background of the people one is dealing with and seeing their history of transactions makes it possible to create new links from one's own network or to envision skills a person may not even realize he or she has.

When using the local currency, one comes to many realizations such as that each individual possesses different assets and that the region has abundant resources. A member's urge to contribute increases with the sense of self-esteem, and it becomes fun, so the hurdles to trying new challenges are reduced and the amount of yorozu in circulation increases. It is not the value of the numbers themselves in the transactions, but that these actions continue to multiply. In other words, what is valuable is that so many people are meeting and communicating with each other, and that is becoming an asset in itself.

"I find transition town activities appealing for their potential in leading to citizen empowerment," says Hidetake Enomoto, one of Transition Fujino's founding members. "Different ideas brought up by different people are implemented as separate efforts. There is no established leader, but a fluid leadership evolves, so if someone asks who is the leader of Transition Fujino, we reply that everyone is a leader."

Currently, there are about 30 Transition Fujino members. Sometimes they act as followers and sometimes as leaders. The transition town activities in which they strive at all times with a sense of ownership to create a virtuous cycle. With its allure of both abundant nature and access to urban centers, we will watch Fujino's activities to see how they develop.


New articles from the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom

In this section we introduce the latest articles posted on the website of the Research Institute for Creating New Paradigms based on Eastern and Western Wisdom.

This link brings you to an article from a column by Yoshifumi Taguchi, entitled "Tao Management: No. 2 YOH-SHIN."

This article looks at the importance of looking at human individuality, rather than comparing people and judging their abilities.

We hope you enjoy reading it.

Tao Management: "No. 2 YOH-SHIN"


Recommended articles from the JFS Newsletter on sustainability issues in Japan

In this regular section of each issue of the ISHES Newsletter, we recommend past articles from Japan for Sustainability newsletters. The non-profit JFS was active from August 2002 until July 2018, sending out information to the world with the aim of moving society in Japan and the world toward being more sustainable and happier.


In this issue we introduce an ongoing survey that that reveals subtle but important changes in Japanese attitudes about the economy. Is it really necessary for Japan's GDP to continue growing? Is that even possible? What changes are revealed from respondents' answers to these questions?
Fewer People Think Continued GDP Growth Necessary or Possible -- Survey Results Released


We hope you enjoyed reading our newsletter.
Thank you for your kind support.

Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society

*The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES) is an organization based in Japan that is working to build a happy and sustainable society. To this end, we need to think about happiness, the economy and society together by learning from, analyzing, and thinking about theories and cases in Japan and around the world on what happiness is and what kind of economy and society will create and support happiness.

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