From September 25th to 28th, many of us from FEAST HQ attended the World Social Science Forum 2018 in Fukuoka, held at the Fukuoka International Congress Center.
Since RIHN was one of the consortium partners for the Forum, it was important for the institute to have a significant presence at the event. It was also a time to show the potential of the new research programs for integrated, cross-cutting discussions of relevant themes and concepts. We were surprised to learn that all three FEAST session proposals and the Program 3 session proposal were accepted. Indeed, RIHN’s fingerprints were all over the Forum program, with nearly 10 sessions in total.
When we arrived at the venue, an army of black suited security officers blanketed every inch of the building. The first-floor entry had been converted into an airport-like scene, complete with layers of security checks and metal detectors. We later learned that Japan’s crowned prince and princess would be joining the opening ceremony later and that the security was for them. One of the unique features of academic conferences like this held in Japan are the opening ceremonies, which tend to revel in unnecessary formality, and the WSSF didn’t disappoint. Two panels composed of high-ranking bureaucrats and conference officials, all but one of them a man (prompting some to call them “manels”), were stiffly paraded on stage at which point the entire production paused for some 10 minutes to await the entrance of the crowned prince and princess. It was my first time to see the two of them in person and I was pleasantly surprised with the crowned prince’s speech, delivered in English, the content of which was by far the best of the bunch. The WSSF crowd was even treated by a brief letter of greeting from Prime Minister Abe (newly re-elected president of the Liberal Democratic Party), which was read aloud by the MC.
This session asked questions about food security and the role of nature in providing food. Enhancing food security beyond access to formal food markets will require eaters to diversify their palates and look to natural ecosystems as sources of sustenance. Active rewilding, conservation management, or the gradual under management of cultivated landscapes has enabled urban and rural ecosystems to become “wild food baskets” for consumers and producers. Norie Tamura (FEAST) started off the session by looking at how rural revitalization projects in Japan are valorizing wild foods as a way to enrich rural livelihoods. Mai Kobayashi’s (FEAST) research has revealed interesting discrepancies between Buddhist doctrine and eating wild meat in Bhutan’s quickly changing society. Max Spiegelberg (FEAST) presented data on the decline beekeeping in Japan and how consumers and policies are shaping the future of honey production. Akito Yasuda (Kyushu University) traced the history of hunting and human-nature interaction in rural Japan and argued that the current “trouble” with wild animals damaging crops has its roots in settlement patterns and loss of local nature management knowledge. Finally, Hiromune Mitsuhashi (Museum of Nature and Human Activities) presented a number of examples of small, feasible rewilding projects he has been a part of with “Collaborative Nature Restoration”.
Food has always been at the center of informal economic relationships between people in various forms of sharing and gifting. Food consumption and production can be communal activities that create closer relational ties to people, places, and nature, foster greater awareness, and increase levels of well-being. This session was a collection of cases that illustrate the potential of these broad range of activities to make up a new food economy. Ayako Kawai (Australia National University, FEAST) gave a detailed accounting of all the ways, both formal and informal, seed sharing is being done in Japan and how farmers and different groups perceive seeds and share knowledge differently. Yuta Uchiyama (Tohoku University) focused on the role of home-gardens and communal sharing in Noto Peninsula as well as how geographic indicators provide benefits for local farmers. Naomi Shimpo (Tsukuba University) introduced case studies that compared community gardens in Japan, Germany, and New Zealand and how the communities form and interact in different ways. Chris Berthelsen (A Small Lab) took the audience on a tour of delicious landscapes (including these works) and explored food-art experiments, finding enjoyment in playing with things and living beings “at hand.” Mai Kobayashi (FEAST) presented two case studies of “unmanned vegetable stands” in Tsushima and Kyoto, how such stands operate and what meaning they have for the sellers, customers, and communities in which they are located.
Unfortunately, this session was held at the same time of the Program 3 session, so I was unable to participate.
Transition towards a sustainable society is hindered by a complexity of interactions among different societal components, conflicting values and interests, a sense of resistance to change, uncertainty about the future, various strategies that conflict against one another, and difficulty in finding an appropriate intervention for every case. Thus, collaboration to catalyze such transition needs to be promoted concurrently with activities to bridge these gaps among people and institutions. This session focused on game-based methods to do that, including role-playing and simulation games, which can expand players’ imaginaries towards the future, one strategy for co-learning and bridging such gaps. Joost Vervoort (Utrecht University) presented a comparison of game-based methodologies in Japan and the Netherlands. Astrid Mangnus (Utrecht University) reported on the impact of game-based methodologies in workshops held to explore alternative sustainable food systems in Kyoto. Juhyung Shin (Ritsumeikan University) introduced the South Korean cases where the development of serious games is actively promoted. Michitaka Ohtani (RIHN) showcased the history and current issues of Serious Game Jams in Japan. Tomohiro Oh (RIHN) illustrated the production process and impacts of the RIHN produced serious game “Nexus”. Lastly, Kazuhiko Ota (FEAST) illustrated how game-based methodologies benefit non-profit organizations’ knowledge sharing and motivate college students to learn more.
Program 3 Session
Both the FEAST Project and the Sanitation Value Chain Project of Program 3 research the ways in which depopulation is affecting the sustainability and well-being of those in rural Japan. There are signs that Japan’s mix of demographic and economic contraction is the unavoidable reality for much of the developed world and that consumerism itself, the driving force behind economic growth, may be fading from view. Japan’s shrinking society represents an opportunity to reduce overall ecological impacts, rethink the values associated with wide-spread understandings of well-being, and restructure economic interrelationships to align with reduced resource consumption. Papers in this session explored the ways in which shrinking societies experiencing economic decline are enhancing sustainability and enabling new, more satisfying ways of living counter to contemporary adherence to mass consumerism and economic growth. Peter Matanle (University of Sheffield), a renowned expert on “depopulation dividends,” gave an overview of shrinking societies and how environmentally sustainable rural development might occur under conditions of accelerated demographic change. I followed up with a talk on how urban-to-rural migrants are redefining individual and community well-being amidst deteriorating condition and how alternative notions of a “good life” are being formed. Ken Ushijima (Northern Regional Building Research Institute, Hokkaido Research Organization) talked about how some remote local communities in Hokkaido are managing their sanitation systems without government help and how horizontal and vertical networks of management might be necessary in shrinking areas. Yui Takase (Ibaraki University) shifted to issues of urban land abandonment and ways in which urban nature and green space management is perceived by residents. Christoph D. D. Rupprecht (FEAST) tied up the session by asking how residents can subsist and thrive when the dominant paradigm of controlling nature in the city stops functioning—by turning to a variety of concepts, he mapped a course toward degrowth-oriented and more-than-human planning through nature stewardship.
-It was fantastic to see Kate Raworth’s keynote speech on the first day of the Forum. She used a number of props (expanding plastic ball and “rational man” doll) to communicate her message of “Doughnut Economics”—it felt a little like a high school science teacher’s presentation J.
–The Future Earth Systems of Sustainable Consumption and Production Knowledge-Action Network hosted a session on CS4-06 “Achieving Sustainable Consumption: How to Bridge “Weak” and “Strong” Approaches to Sustainable Consumption and Production in Theory and Practice.” KAN Core members Maurie Cohen (New Jersey Institute of Technology) and Magnus Bengtsson (Independent Scholar) as well as Development Team member Sylvia Lorek (Sustainable Europe Research Institute) each gave interesting talks. Maurie in particular provoked a discussion on sufficient house size that was quite interesting.
–Depopulation and shrinking were big topics at the Forum and a sister session to our Program 3 session was hosted by RIHN’s Hein Mallee on CS1-05 “Demographic contraction and post-consumerism in contemporary Japan: challenges, realities, and benefits.”
-A group of FEAST members and friends visited Fukuoka’s famous river-side yatai (food stands) for a night of drinks, oden, and grilled seafood.