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From the Thought of Woods and Water -- Consideration on the Situation and Subject of the Natureinterface -- Katsuya Fukuoka

記事タイトル:From the Thought of Woods and Water -- Consideration on the Situation and Subject of the Nature Interface

From the Thought of Woods and Water

Consideration on the situation and subject of the Nature Interface.


Chairman of the board of directors, Foundation for Earth Environment;

Professor of Rissho University Graduate School

The Nature Interface and Worldly Profits

The human being is always an assailant to nature and sometimes a victim of nature. Too much intrusion on and exploitation of nature destroy nature itself, and the support for life is lost. Nature itself shows examples of danger of natural destruction. We always have to consider the providence of nature, understand its ecology, and cultivate a sound philosophy of nature.

We the human beings must have enough knowledge and courage to take concrete action to prevent natural destruction.

Have the Japanese people understood and loved nature better than members of other races such as Europeans or Americans have? Although 68% of Japan is covered with forests and this percentage is relatively high, mountains are steep, the flows of rivers are quick, and natural disasters often occur, for example, floods occur frequently with typhoons. Nevertheless, we continue to destroy nature by breaking mountains down and cutting trees for our own sake. Urban landscapes have lost the natural grace. There are too many cities that are artificial, disorderly, and inhumane, though they were built out of necessity. The composition of such confused cities expresses the builders' confusion of social consciousness and the pursuit of practical value, though human nature desires green recovery and green reproduction.

The character of the Japanese, who have a diverse sense of values, derives from the receptiveness to absorb much information, regardless of its origin. Japanese society was prepared to accept the principle of industrialization immediately through Confucianism or temple school (terakoya) education from the time of the Edo period. Moreover, it is also clear that the Japanese have had preeminent aptitudes for understanding things and learning new technologies. They maintained order under social compulsion. It cannot be denied that such comprehensive power of the Japanese people results in wonderful modernization and economic growth.

The diversity of the Japanese criteria for change sometimes causes division or inconsistency between each criterion. Unusual and cruel action, which is very difficult for foreigners to understand, can happen suddenly in these situations. Some of the foreigners who visit Japan sense a shadow hidden in the heart of the Japanese people, which derives from the division between each criterion. Their sudden destructive behavior may surprise those who are familiar with the fine customs of the Japanese.

The sensitivity of the Japanese to follow the natural order has been evident in their reverence for mountains and the production of woods from ancient times. It is said that ancient woodcutters (somafu) stretched a straw festoon (shimenawa) on a big tree, offered it alcohol, and prayed to the mountain god before cutting trees. Mountain worship is also a symbol of the spirit of the Japanese who lived close to nature. The spirit of protecting and cherishing mountains and trees has long been part of the Japanese tradition.

The erosion control forests seen at Tottori Sand Dunes, Shonai Sand Dunes, and other areas at the edge of the Sea of Japan also show the history of human struggles with the great violence of nature, as people try to prevent winds and to stop the movement of sand hills to protect their own lives. The history of Japanese who lived with nature became the source of vitality with which they left the precious natural resources like cypress of Kiso (in central Japan), Japanese cedar of Akita (in northern Japan), and white cedar in Aomori (in northern Japan) to future generations. They also raised beautiful forests of Japanese cedar in Yoshino, Nara Prefecture, or Kitayama, Kyoto Prefecture. However, this old and good tradition has mostly been concealed as Japanese ideology has formed.

The preservation of forests completely changed in the process of industrialization. Tradition-breaking natural destruction has occurred as a historical catastrophe resulting from the divided criterion. We cannot admit the Japanese affection for nature in the face of the catastrophe of this destructive history without becoming emotional. If we look at the situation calmly, we cannot ignore the thorough functionalism peculiar to Japanese.

People cherished nature when they lived in the forest as farmers, but once industrialization arrived and people left their fields, they stopped cherishing the forests and the benefits of nature became less important. We seem to have believed that nature has an infinite capacity to endure, or we have overestimated the progress of science and come to believe that we do not need nature any more.

Since the Japanese norm of behavior has changed in this way, it is necessary to reform fundamentally their consciousness in this global period. The Japanese people must regain their old philosophy regarding the importance of nature.

The Nature Interface and the Community Principle

The Japanese society respects worldly profits, and has changed to adjust to this type of respect. Sichihei Yamamoto, a critic, commented on this feature of Japanese society, saying, "The Japanese society is not a contract society with God like the Western European society is. There only exists the principle of the para-blood-relative group by expansion of a blood relation." According to Mr. Yamamoto, the Japanese society cherishes faithfulness to the rules decided by the group more than it cherishes faithfulness to God. The Japanese behavior toward nature was created in the context of the historical processes of such a society.

Ideologies are complicated, and religions have less influence in the Japanese society today. Here, we cannot expect people any more to love nature because they are willed to do so by God. If people's behavior continue as it has, all the forests may become deserts.

The destruction of nature is spreading without our recognition. Whether people would love nature or destroy it completely depends on the functionalism of the Japanese that organizes para-blood-relative groups. Relying only on the whereabouts of people's functionalism is just like a gamble for natural protection.

Is a bet the only way to protect nature?

The most typical Japanese natural management system in the past was the joint management system for forests, which had spread all over Japan, such as the "common forest system (iriai-rinya)" and the "forest sharing system (kyoyu-rinya)." In those systems, an autonomous order of natural management was built, in which discussion existed and shares were given on the principle of coexistence and co-prosperity. Those systems made the most of the Japanese cooperative capability. For example, people sometimes stopped using natural resources to keep their inherent power on the basis of ecological consideration and empirical philosophy for permanent use of natural resources. The Japanese talent and nature for collective management demonstrated surprising productivity in the midst of the advanced industrial management system that was in effect after World War II.

In order to manage nature as a local ecosystem in Japan or in the world, humans may have to organize a system in which people are a part of nature. We must involve nature as our living companion as we did in times past. Nature must be considered a close relation, a blood relative, so to speak, to humans. Human behavior toward nature may become moderate if such a relationship could be reestablished. Natural destruction may be prevented by placing limits on human work and treating nature carefully like our neighbor. The best solution is to aim at co-existence and co-prosperity between humans and nature.

After World War II, the community management system went through the hardships of individual division as a result of enactment of the "common forest system (iriai-rinya) modernizing law." The collapse of the common forest system (iriai-rinya) was one of the Japanese natural demolitions along with demolition of the military clique and zaibatsu demolition after World War II.

In order to protect the natural order firmly in the coming era from the ceaseless threat of capitalism and profit-motivated human works, we must recognize a para-blood relationship between humans and nature. All sources, such as forestry associations, local communities, and companies should be part of the organizing process, and local governments must play an important role as well. It is required to regard the national forest and the public forest as a part of the local community. It is also desirable that forestry laborers' unions play important roles in building the local communities.

In the summer of 1982, Daizo Kusayanagi, a critic, proposed in his television program concerning the cultural orientation in the relationship between humans and nature, that "It is the essence of forest culture that people inhabit forest, build villages there, obtain income using the ecology of the forest efficiently, and then keep protecting the nature."

Confucius said, "Politics is all up without people's trust." Politics definitely requires mutual trust between people. Love and trust are indispensable conditions for people to live together, and it is the same when one is referring to nature, namely, "Politics is all up without people's love (for nature)." People must invest in their fate by reconstructing the interface with nature, or Nature Interface, since human beings live only as a result of the natural vitality of the source of all energy.

Ethics of the Nature Interface

Recent attempts to rediscover natural existence reflect a subjectivity-driven cultural phenomenon, in which people try to retrace the past of human beings in search of more promising future directions. Such attempts, however, must not end in a simple return to past custom and practice. Instead, viable ways to renaissance must be found only through establishment of new identification of man in the face of the destruction of culture.

To achieve identification in the context of interaction between humans and nature, we need not only conceptual resolution of confrontation between humans and nature toward reintegration, but also a process of interdisciplinary integration of mental/spiritual and scientific activities, encompassing philosophy, religion, morality, economy, technology, etc.

Human activities should be conducted toward integration of these cultural endeavors. Both humanism and naturalism must be inherited as the products of human activities, so that they provide a firm standard of value for the people facing the unprecedented modern situations, as well as for future generations.

R. G. Collingwood, in his "The Idea of Nature," discussed the correlation between man and nature (i.e., culture) in three chapters: Greek Cosmology, the Renaissance View of Nature, and the Modern View of Nature.

According to his discussion, ancient Greeks perceived nature as a world of moving objects, whose movement was essentially governed by pneuma or the principle of life. Nature was a rational living organism having a mind, or it was a huge animal having a life. The vital force and wisdom of a particular land and those of living things inhabiting the land were positioned as forming specific, localized organizations of pneuma and reason.

In Greek cosmology, nature could be seen as the macrocosm and a human being was a microcosm placed in it. The concept of nature derived from the analogy of macrocosm and microcosm leads to the natural harmonization of everything in the world, including humans and god. In this view, nature and humans are not separated from each other, generally in accordance with the traditional oriental and Japanese views of nature (unity of humans and nature).

The unity of humans and nature was overthrown by Christianity, which separated God as the creator from human beings and nature as the creatures. During the Renaissance, the idea that nature is an organism having its own life was denied. Instead, nature was regarded as a system of parts, which were arranged within the systematized, designed whole. The human being was placed above nature, endowed with the ability to exercise control over nature.

The fundamental principle of the universe sought by Greeks was thought to lie in nature itself. On the other hand, Renaissance and later philosophers explained the fundamental principle of the universe in terms of the confrontation between humans and nature, using the analogy that nature was the work of God and science, machines, etc. were the work of the human being. Considered to dominate over nature, people used the power of mechanical science against nature, resulting in destruction of nature.

In the modern view of nature, according to Collingwood, nature is not recurring or stable as believed by ancient Greeks. Instead of going through cycles back to original states, nature is perpetually changing into different states, realizing new worlds. In other words, nature is progressive and variable. Nature is not a machine, but an entity that evolves continuously. Everything in nature is characterized by the propensity to maintain itself through its own activity to thrive. All structural properties of nature are demonstrated through the movement of nature, through manifestation of the functions and abilities of nature. This view is different from the mechanistic view of nature, which tries to understand nature in the same way as machines. The modern view signifies long-term dynamism of nature, based on the manifestation of natural functions in the progress of time.

From the end of the 18th century to the present, we can postulate that the views of nature have been characterized by the analogy of natural processes studied by natural science and human events subjected to historical study. It follows that we cannot answer the question "what is nature?" without answering the question "what is history?" In modern times, the key to this question should be found through the inquiry into the idea of history or, in other words, into the truth of human existence. Here lies an important reason why we need integration of natural science and social and historical sciences.

The ecology movement in the 20th century was a historically important attempt to answer this question. This movement has confronted us with serious problems concerning the historical relationship between nature and man.

Logos for Revitalization of Ecology

In the latter half of the 20th century, campaigns fought by ecologists had decisive influence over the direction of nature preservation movements worldwide. From the economic sector, the Club of Rome warned the world through the publication of "The Limits to Growth." The Green Party in Germany created waves of political reforms that swept over Europe. These and other developments are invariably related to the crises and contradictions of the modern society, symbolized by substance hazards and pollution. At the core of the thoughts of these activists are the ideals of ecology movement. Ecologists say, "Run friends, the old world is behind you!" Their movement is the counterattack to the modern society, which has lost the vitality for growth and continues to pay no attention to the grave consequences of pollution. They are making accusations against "urban planning comparable to concentration camps," "dominance of quantity at the sacrifice of quality," "alienation of human beings based on economic value," "solitude in society," "media-dominated communication culture," etc.

"The Limits to Growth" by the Club of Rome concretely illustrated how we are experiencing the real decline of the dominance of the human being over economic growth and that over nature. From the economic point of view, it is vital for us to gain profound understanding of the fact that we are actually approaching the "material limitation" every moment.

The economic development of humankind to date has been separating humans from nature and severing the communal ties between humans and nature, resulting in the establishment of the historical reality of human-dominated nature utilization and nature exploitation. The communities of human beings formed around markets, solely in pursuit of profit, promoted purposive reorganization of nature under the name of modern rationalism.

Unless we recognize human beings in the totality including nature, the unbalanced extreme progress of science and industry will lead us only to further separation.

A change in the sense of values in science has been occurring in the United States. Many people now claim that nature is not the subject to be used for productive activities, but a brake on the limitless desires of human beings and resources for remediation of pollution. Such a change in the way of thinking is an achievement of ecology-based scientific movement.

Let's turn our eyes to forests. As a system of nature, a forest contains everything that is related to the forest, in the same way as nature conceived by ancient Greeks contained everything that existed. Human beings, microcosms in nature, are contained in the expanse of the forest they live in. "Thinking in a Forest, Thinking in a Desert" by Hideo Suzuki defines a human being in a forest as being settled at a single point on earth and looking only at surrounding trees and the sky just above. A person living in a forest has little concern about survival, provided that he/she can look for food and other necessities of life in an appropriate vicinity of his dwelling. He/she can live in a world filled with life and the unity of humans and nature. The monsoon climate of Asia supported stable material cycles in forests. Buddhism originated in this environment, placing human beings in a world with transmigration of the soul and the never-ending cycle of reincarnation. The text of a Buddhist scripture, "every mountain, river, grass or tree attains Buddhahood," proclaims the identification of the forest culture of mankind on the basis of an egalitarian view of nature and stable, harmonized world of life and vitality. This indicates the essential Logos (the fundamental principle forming and governing the universe) for forests and man.

With the invention of agriculture and animal husbandry, human beings began to clear forests and utilize forests as resources for human purposes. They began to reform forests into artificial environment optimized for human use. Desertification is a result of this development, expansion of artificial forests is another.

This trend was particularly significant in western Europe, where Christianity has been believed and modern rationalism and modern science were fostered. As far back as in the early Germanic era, forms of forest utilization ranged from collection of firewood and timber to grazing of livestock. Formation of economic communities and the separation of humansw from nature were institutionalized in the form of the rules of forest use and the ownership of forests by villages. In the era of feudal lords, the exclusive possession of forests by kings and lords strengthened the characterization that the utilization and exploitation of forests were controlled by the privileged class. The establishment of economic forests germinated from the need for assurance of incomes of feudal lords. As pointed out by Josef N. Kostler, the advent of capitalism triggered indiscriminate deforestation caused by mining and smelting operations. Paper and pulp industry also continued indiscriminate deforestation for the purpose of acquiring raw materials. In addition, there was the demand for housing materials, strengthening the decisive trend toward the destruction of forests by people in pursuit of profit. Large areas of natural forests were cut down and converted to artificial forests toward the goal of profitable forest management. Forests thus became artificially-managed resources for human use. The result was the establishment of a forest culture dominated by human beings.

Desertification also took place in Asia, and destruction of nature became serious both in the East and in the West. It is true that most industrialized countries and many developing countries have been making efforts to restore forest coverage, trying to ensure the balance of tree cutting, growth and planting. However, as ecologists emphasize correctly, we are at a critical crossroads at present. Barry Commoner's "Nature knows best" is very impressive. However sophisticated the system of management may be, it is impossible to manipulate an ecosystem as exactly as we manipulate a machine. The most rational and natural way to make good use of the planet earth seems to be enhancement of the self-balancing ability of the ecosystem itself. Man has been following a grossly erroneous path by working in defiance of this divine dispensation of nature.

Bioethics (a science aiming at integration of biology and human values) shares the same ethical principles with the new philosophy of nature interface.


Katsuya Fukuoka: "Ecology Economics". Yuhikaku, 1998 (in Japanese).

R.G. Collingwood: "The Idea of Nature". Japanese translation by Yasuyuki Hirabayashi and Tadahiro Onuma. Misuzu Shobo.

Hideo Suzuki: "Thinking in a Forest, Thinking in a Desert". NHK Press, 1978 (in Japanese).

Josef N. Kostler: "Capitalism and Forestry". Japanese translation by Michio Kuroda. Nihon Ringyo Chosakai (J-FIC).

Dominique Simonnet: "L'Ecologisme". Japanese translation by Yumi Tsuji. Hakusuisha, 1980.

Yoshio Sezai: "Exploring the Civilization in the 21st Century". Kyoiku Shuppan Center, 1980 (in Japanese).

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