Five years after the release of the book “Satoyama Capitalism,” its co-authors spoke about the background behind its publication and shared their thoughts on the ensuing developments at a symposium in Tokyo on May 16.
The authors — Kosuke Motani, chief senior economist at the Japan Research Institute Ltd., and Kyosuke Inoue, executive producer at NHK Enterprises, Inc. — were invited to speak at the opening session of the Japan Times Satoyama Consortium symposium, under the title “Why was satoyama capitalism introduced to the world?”
Satoyama originally described woodlots adjacent to agricultural communities, but has evolved to refer to a natural environment that remains stable because of usage and maintenance by area residents. Satoumi and satokawa feature similar concepts, referring to those of seas and rivers, respectively.
Published in July 2013, the book from Kadokawa Corp. has sold more than 400,000 copies, according to the publisher, and is said to have helped popularize the idea. The concept capitalizes on natural resources in satoyama and seeks to create a sustainable society that aims to complement conventional capitalism.
Inoue began by explaining that the book was based on a series of TV programs from 2011 that he produced while he was in the public broadcaster’s Hiroshima bureau. The term “satoyama capitalism” was coined by the producer, whose unique angle came from his past experience of producing programs probing the cause of the 2008 financial crisis triggered by the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy.
“While I was still working in Tokyo, I came to wonder what monetary capitalism was all about. Through a series of related coverage for the programs, I keenly felt a sense of uncertainty,” Inoue said.
Following his transfer to Hiroshima in the Chugoku region, Inoue realized there might be things that could replace monetary capitalism. He sensed potential in people’s energetic activities, despite their communities facing population decline and advanced aging.
“As you may know, the Chugoku region is where the term ‘depopulated’ was created,” he noted. “But people there have vigorously implemented various things utilizing resources at hand. So, I felt we might be able to find fresh ideas that (could be an alternative option) to monetary capitalism.”
In creating the programs on satoyama, Inoue approached Motani, who is well-versed with local municipalities across Japan.
“I asked Motani to appear in the programs as a facilitator and commentator, as well as to play a role in picking up future-oriented themes,” Inoue said.
Focused on the relevant activities in the region, the programs featured interviews with people in the field of satoyama. They also introduced various examples in the field, including how to utilize deserted cultivated lands that would lead to creating benefits and situations surrounding the increasing number of young people moving there from urban areas.
Motani said the locally aired, six-part series, which received viewership rates of more than 10 percent, was very successful and suggested many people were impressed and profoundly affected.
“Usually, the impact ends there, but thanks to Inoue’s persistent follow-up efforts, the programs evolved into the publication,” Motani said. This enabled the concept to reach a wider audience.
Inoue noted he felt the groups of people engaged on the satoyama front and connections among them have become larger and stronger over the past five years.
“We have seen certain progress and now reached a stage where we should further promote the progress,” Inoue said.
In the meantime, Motani recalled there was much unreasonable criticism toward the book upon publication from people who obviously didn’t understand the essence of the concept.
He said some criticized him, asserting that he deceives young people and leads them to rural areas where, they claimed, they couldn’t make a living.
Responding to Motani’s comment, Inoue said the point of the book is not seeking to completely replace monetary capitalism.
Motani once said at a Japan Times lecture that this alternative capitalism is “more sustainable and resilient” and considered as “a subsystem of the modern economy.”
“While satoyama capitalists earn and spend cash, they place emphasis on nonmonetary convertible value, pursuing a better balance between dependence on money and other factors in their lives,” the renowned economist stated in that lecture.
Contrary to such strong opinions, Motani and Inoue agreed that they were surprised to receive warm receptions from the practitioners actually working in the satoyama field.
The term “satoyama capitalism” works quite well in finding common ground and establishing connections among the practitioners who might work in different fields from each other, but share a similar will and vision, according to Inoue.
As one example of the impact on the international community, Motani noted the book went on to be translated in South Korea and Taiwan, adding that he was invited to a forum on satoyama in Taiwan.
Additionally, Inoue and NHK’s group of reporters published — through Kadakowa — another book on satoumi titled “Satoumi Capital” in 2015, based on another series of programs from the broadcaster.
Wrapping up the dialogue, the two shared their thoughts on what needs to be done to further promote the concept.
Inoue stressed realizing a sustainable society is the key in dealing with various issues, including climate change and creating a healthy economy.
“We need to accurately recognize the resources on Earth, or those that humans can use, are limited,” Inoue said. He added that people need to understand that the younger generation would like to make contributions toward a sustainable society.
Meanwhile, Motani called for each individual’s effort, pointing out no single factor could solve problems.
“Don’t think that everything will be all right if you just follow satoyama or market economy principles or innovations,” he said. “The key here is to seek balance with each individual’s effort to that end within their own capacity.”
The inaugural annual symposium was sponsored by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Ministry of the Environment, the National Governors’ Association, the Japan Association of City Mayors and the National Association of Towns & Villages.
Prior to the session by Motani and Inoue, Minako Suematsu, chairperson and representative director of The Japan Times, said the newspaper hopes to be of help to the people in the world through introducing the activities of satoyama practitioners in English.
“The Japan Times has a mission to inform Japan’s satoyama, satokawa and satoumi situations in English,” Suematsu said. Efforts in these fields possibly contain hints to solving various issues that Japan and the world face, she said.
Also speaking at the onset of the symposium, Fumiaki Kobayashi, concurrently serving as the parliamentary vice-minister for Internal Affairs and Communications, and the Cabinet Office, stressed that Japan has a role to set agendas for the international community.
“Japan is said to confront various issues ahead of other countries,” said Kobayashi, who pointed out such things as decreasing population, longer-living society and overwhelming progress of technologies. “I feel Japan can set agendas in the coming new era to define what the world should aim for.”
In setting those agendas, the consortium led by The Japan Times needs to serve as a platform for satoyama practitioners and send out relevant information to the world, he added.
The four-hour symposium attracted an audience of about 140 people.
At the closing of the symposium, Masataka Ota, chief consultant at JTB Tourism Research & Consulting Co. who serves as a vice-chairman of the Japan Times Satoyama Consortium management committee, said that the consortium would further promote the activities of satoyama practitioners.