Common Resources and Public Lands in the Taming of the Kurobe River, 1920-1970

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"The completion in 1963 of Japans 186-meter Kurobe No. 4 Dam served for many as occasion to celebrate the culmination of a decades-long process of taming the unruly Kurobe River of Toyama Prefecture for the greater public good. As mainstream accounts from this time of rapid economic growth construed it, the dam not only allowed electric utility companies to exploit the full hydroelectric potential of the Kurobe watershed, but it also promised a future of mass tourism in an alpine river valley that only mountaineers dared enter before the midtwentieth century. Today, Kurobe No. 4 is one of Japans largest energy projects and a tourist draw that lures one million visitors annually to the heart of Ch?bu Sangaku National Park. Behind this transformation of the Kurobe Valley into an "envirotechnical" system and popular destination lay a history of contending visions for water use that emerged after the areas earliest hydroelectric development in the 1920s. Debates revolved around fundamental questions relevant to studies of the commons: Whose, and what kind of, resource was the river? Who stood to benefit from the channeling of river water through dams toward national economic growth? Was the natural scenery of the upper Kurobe Valley a common cultural resource demanding state protection and the creation of national parkland? If so, how strict would such protection need to be? Finally, how would downstream valley residents, who used the river for irrigation, make their voice heard while outside interests maneuvered to dam it or cordon it off inside 'public' national parkland? This paper will provide some of the first research in English on these mid-century debates, and it will reveal the complex negotiations required as planners and developers attempted to harness the Kurobe and repurpose it to serve the modern nationstate."



watersheds, dams, parks, land tenure and use, IASC