Workshop with National University of Singapore

From December 6 to 10 in 2022, we held a workshop in Kyoto city, Keihoku and Miyama with students and the lecturer who majoring in landscape architecture from the National University of Singapore, one of the top universities in Asia.

This workshop theme was to learn about thatching culture and system, satoyama environment, relationship between urban and rural areas, natural cycles from forest to sea, and possibilities in satoyama and thatching for making mental and physical health for human.

Day 1

On the 6th, we went up to “Shogunduka Mound” in Kyoto City, where Emperor Kammu and a politician, Wake-no-Kiyomaro, decided to build a new capital “Heian-kyo”, later Kyoto. We also talked about the Hata clan, which had contributed greatly to the construction of Heian-kyo and the creation of Japan as a country and system, and went to Keihoku, passing by the bases of the Hata clan, Uzumasa and Arashiyama.

The unique culture of the area including natto mochi (fermented soybean cake), the local life style, thatching culture and system, the cyclical nature of resources, and the deep relationship between rice cultivation, thatching, people’s activities, and the natural environment, as well as points that could be utilized in the future were explained by the representative.

In the evening, we stayed at a neighbor’s house in Keihoku, and the students had their first experience with a wood stove and harvesting vegetables in the field. They cooked a hot pot together with freshly picked vegetables and enjoyed the slightly cold Japanese winter very much. We also had the opportunity to listen to Mr. Lee, who lives in Wakayama prefecture with a thatched roof, renovates his house through DIY, and leads a practical, nearly self-sufficient lifestyle.

Day 2

On the 7th, we participated in a gibier tour monitoring tour organized by the local chamber of commerce, hunters, traditional Japanese restaurants, and mackerel sushi restaurants.
Students had learned about the transition and current state of the natural environment in the area.
The environment in the satoyama used to be harmonious with nature and diverse life, but after World War II, people started using propane gas, and artificial forests of cedar and cypress trees increased. Some of the students were greatly saddened when they heard that the deer had come to be exterminated.

Although deers and foxes have been historically the sacred beasts for some shrines in Japan, it is the fact that they have been regarded as animal pests and had to be exterminated nowadays. However, after listening to the hunter’s story, we learned that hunting is a culture that has continued since the Jomon period. The practice of taking only what is necessary, with gratitude, has been practiced since ancient times. However, rather than excessively and unnecessarily taking life, we as human beings are required to think of ways to prevent this from happening, and to do so. As our predecessors once had continued, as a matter of course. It is very unfortunate that Japan, a country that has long built a civilization that coexists with nature in terms of architecture, civil engineering, urban planning, social systems, animal damage, etc., has conversely become a country that does not coexist with nature on a global scale, and it is something that we want to change.

After that, we visited a house with a thatched roof and listened to a story about the difficulties and advantages of living in a thatched house and took aerial photos of the surrounding environment with a drone. It was very touching to see how the students and the owner of the house communicated with each other through their hearts even though they did not speak the same language.

After that, we had the opportunity to listen to a story and interact with a person who has inherited the history and culture of Keihoku, harvested thatch himself, farmed rice fields, kept chickens, and continued to live a lifestyle that blends the traditional and the modern. Singapore is a city-state that continues to develop more than Tokyo, with top-down politics and management by the government. It does not have activities and natural environments like satoyama, but one of the students wanted to live in a satoyama in Japan. Japan is full of diversity, history, and culture in each region, and traditions such as thatch, continues which the students find very attractive.

Day 3

On the 8th, we harvested thatch for the local thatched house in Keihoku. We taught them how to cut thatch, and the way everyone concentrated and enjoyed doing it made us feel again the possibility of an activity that can transcend national borders. We were able to harvest more than we expected and hope to be able to use it for the owner of the thatched roof where we had visited last evening.

For lunch, we enjoyed mackerel sushi made by our neighbor’s mackerel sushi restaurant. We were secretly worried if Singaporeans would like it as we don’t think it is available in Singapore, but one student, who had been studying Japanese, said in Japanese that it was the best lunch she had ever had!
We had made the schedule with the idea of interacting with local people and experiencing local goodness as much as possible during this workshop in various ways, and we were really happy to hear their reactions back.

Afterwards, we moved to Miyama and checked into a thatched-roof inn. Everyone was excited about the stylish inn, which had an earthen floor, a sunken hearth, and we could even stay in the attic. At night, everyone was impressed with how refreshing and pleasant it was to take an opened bath in Miyama. Dinner was a feast of local delicacies. Afterwards, we enjoyed a drink around the hearth with the professor from the University of Hyogo. Everyone enjoyed a relaxing time together.

Day 4

On the 9th, we guided the group around “Kayabuki-no-Sato” which was selected as one of the UNWTO Best Tourism Village in 2021. A total of 44 villages from 32 countries across the five world regions were granted the recognition.

In the village, we explained about thatch, the formation of a typical Japanese village, its evolution, and the contrast between Miyama and Keihoku. At the museum, everyone seemed to feel comfortable in the sun on the porch.

In the evening, the students gave a presentation on what they had learned and analyzed over the past four days. They also gave ideas what they could apply to Singapore in the future, and how they had each gained valuable experience during these four days.

Afterwards, we held a party around the hearth to thank them for their hard work. The representative was very happy to receive a jacket from the National University of Singapore as a gift from the students.

We strongly thought that we would like to continue to be active in connecting with people overseas and communicating the good qualities of Japan from the outside.

Day 5

On the 10th, we enjoyed the relaxed breakfast and disbanded as soon as we checked out of the inn. We heard their future plans from students. It was very impressed time to work together with students from Singapore with great stimulation and inspiration this time.

We hope we can continue to hold workshops where people from Japan and abroad can gather, learn, exchange, think about the future, and create it, with people from various universities and fields of expertise.

We would like to thank the many people who cooperated with us!

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