According to the people who continue to protect the Shirakami forests, “You cannot know the forest without connecting with it. You cannot help the forest without knowing it.”
Knowledge of how to communicate must be acquired for people and the forest to coexist. That is how a sustainable forest is created.
The people who made Shirakami a World Heritage Site
Because the people of Shirakami knew how to connect with the forest, they were able to make Shirakami a World Heritage Site. At the time, Shirakami was said to be a “useless” forest, and road development was underway. However, people began to notice changes in the forest due to the construction. In order to protect the forest, they conducted studies to prove how the construction was affecting the forest. The research scientifically showed the world the greatness of the forest, something that the people of Shirakami had already known.
Sustainable relationship between the forest and people
In order to protect Shirakami forests , research projects are conducted in collaboration with researchers and local people. Surveys are conducted over several years, taking longer than a person's lifetime. Something that cannot be simply done by a single motivated person. As a community, the people made a resolution and system to be undertaken by a generation. The forest blesses the people and the people support the forest. There is a sustainable relationship here that supports each other.
Interaction between the people and the forest
The people of Shirakami are not unaffected by the change of time. They change how they interact with the
forest in correlation with the changes of time. They have ways of interacting from the old days, ways of
interacting that have come about with the times. We can learn about the difference in interactions between
people and the forest from here.
Thus, it is possible to learn the forgotten ways of interacting with the forest from the spirit of Shirakami, which has been passed down even with the changing of times. There are clues here as to how to live in harmony with the forest for the future.
People of the Mountain
There are people that are said to inhabit and coexist with the forest in Shirakami. Among them are characteristic mountain people called "matagi" who follow a unique culture that centers around their belief in mountain gods and distinct law.
Gifts from the mountain gods
The animals hunted are not merely prey, they are gifts from the mountain gods.
To the Matagi, hunting is a way of life. It is not a form of entertainment. As their prey are blessings from the mountain gods, the Matagi have a certain way to carve and prepare the animal. After the animal is killed it is praised, and the spirit comforted.
Then, to recompense for the loss of life everything from the fur to the internal organs is used, nothing is wasted. Emphasis is put on the act of taking an animal's life through ceremony and reflection, which is then passed along as a law to future generations. And so, Matagi never take more than what is needed. Even when collecting plants from the mountain, care is given not to uproot the plant. The amount that is taken as a gift from the mountain gods is only that amount which is needed to live. They have developed a sustainable lifestyle with the gifts of the forest.
Living at the foot of the mountain
Matagi have been living in harsh natural conditions. Misjudging the way humans interacted
with nature meant death. For this reason, the ways of how to connect with nature that were handed down as
principles became a lifestyle.
The Matagi believe in central ideas of shared ownership, regardless of the outcome of hunts they would share their food with each other. However, individualism was fierce in the mountains and the law was to protect yourself. The need for such a law was not only understood, but could also be perceived in the forest life. No matter how the times changed, the law was always above the individual, while at the same time individuals made rules for themselves with what they experienced while living in the forest. By coexisting with nature, the Matagi teach us that having both rules and individual endeavor is necessary, and it is difficult with just one or the other.
People of the Countryside
The lives of the villagers was not disconnected from the mountains, they still received blessings directly
from the mountain. They acquired relations with the mountain people in order to continually receive
blessings from the mountain.
Not only that, but by sharing the blessings of the mountain with the people of the city, relations between the mountain and city were acheived. Even though they coexisted with the mountains, they were also knowledgeable about city life. The villagers still live as a connection between the mountain and city.
People of the Town
As for city people, they do not directly enter into the forest, instead they receive blessings from the forest and maintain a relationship with the mountain through the help of the villagers. Because they do not know the forest directly, communication between the forest and the city people has changed over time. There was also a time when they wrongfully tried to use the forest. There were good and bad times of communication between the people and the forest. How does the difference in how people interact with the forest change the forest? Shirakami Forest asks us in its own way.