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School Forests in Japan: From Cash Cow to Environmental Education

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Takemoto, Taro
Conference: Commoners and the Changing Commons: Livelihoods, Environmental Security, and Shared Knowledge, the Fourteenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons
Location: Mt. Fuji, Japan
Conf. Date: June 3-7
Date: 2013
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/8976
Sector: Forestry
Region: East Asia
Subject(s): environmental services
Abstract: "More than 3,000 schools in Japan have 'School Forests.' Many of the forests involved began as commons held by natural villages, but over the last century they have been used and abused in many ways. Today, like other surviving descendants of traditional commons, they are increasingly valued for their environmental functions. The Meiji government (1868-1912) created a new system of local government that consolidated natural villages into larger administrative units, perhaps as 'administrative rationalization' but also as a way to convert the assets of natural villages their commonly-held resources into government property. One use of forest land consolidated in this way was to create school forests, as a source of funds to finance school activities. With the creation of School Arbor Day more than a century ago as a trigger, school forests became widespread all over Japan. School forests were meant to be self-governing at first, but from the 1920s they became less important than before. Then, in 1938 when Japan went to war, the central government found school forests to be a useful tool in national mobilization. The government promoted young mens associations, originally set up to be self-governing also, as governmentally controlled entities, and promoted school forests as national resources, devising a 'Forest-Loving' campaign to convert simple hometown nostalgia into national patriotism. Since the war, Arbor Day has returned and school forests have been transformed from tools of nationalism into outdoor science laboratories and environmental resources that benefit the schools. Property rights over school forests have continued to change, due to two more waves of administrative consolidation of municipalities, harming school forests in both numbers and quality. But the latest trend is for school forests to become preserves for environmental education and conservation."

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