Building Sustainable Communities on a Foundation of Natural Resources: Examples from the Use and Management of Geothermal Hot Springs in Bessho Onsen Property Ward, Nagano, Japan

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"In Japan, Geothermal hot spring as common-pool resources has long been used and managed cooperatively and can not only support their users in a traditional economy but can also contribute to sustainable livelihoods in the present. The purpose of this article is to clarify the mechanism of such the collective management system of geothermal hot spring resources through the examination of the case in Bessho Onsen Property Ward in Japan, Nagano, Japan. In the property ward whose system has roots in the traditional commons (Iriai) in Japan, efficient utilization and sustainable management of the hot springs has been realized under certain rules in spite of conflicting interests among the facilities, which mainly include communal baths, communal washing areas and inns. Local residents benefit from the communal baths on a daily basis, which are open to people in and outside of the area. The communal washing area is a neighborhood facility, which is open only to the members of the users’ association among the residents of the Bessho Onsen area. Hot spring baths inside the inns are used exclusively for business purposes such as for visiting tourists. Our research makes it clear that the hot spring sources, on which different users depend, are owned by the Property Ward, and their management and maintenance, as well as water distribution, are under the overall and comprehensive management of the Property Ward. The Property Ward has been paying careful attention to preventing water depletion at the hot spring sources through scientific evaluation by specialist as well as consistent daily maintenance by the Property Ward assembly members. Our research also finds that such a way of hot spring resource management has an institutional characteristics and devises arranged by property ward. In order to deal with serious conflicts of immediate interests among the users, the Property Ward prepared a decision-making mechanism which helps toward finding a resolution to suit all concerned parties. We found evidence of the mechanism in operation in (1) the method used for selecting assembly members, which has been carried out conventionally, and in fundamental important roles of the Administrative Research Council established within the Property Ward, and in (2) the multilayered collaboration (governance) of various organizations with the Property Ward placed as the core entity."
resource management, property rights, rules, community