Local Environmental Movements: A Comparative Study of the United States and Japan

By Pradyumna P. Karan; Unryu Suganuma | Go to book overview

Chapter 15
The Grassroots Movement
to Preserve Tidal Flats
in Urban Coastal Regions in Japan
The Case of the Fujimae Tidal Flats, Nagoya

Akiko Ikeguchi and Kohei Okamoto

The preservation of biodiversity has become one of the major objectives of environmental movements in various countries. Among ecosystems, tidal flats, along with tropical forests and coral reefs, are major targets for preservation. In Japan, tidal flats are common geomorphic features along the Pacific Coast. The action of river and tide continuously reshapes them, creating diverse habitats supporting a wide variety of living organisms. Since the 1990s, the preservation of biodiversity on the tidal flats has motivated Japanese local environmental movements. Recently, the national government and local administrations have become increasingly involved in environmental conservation or restoration projects.

The value of tidal flats in Japan depends on the way in which they are viewed. For example, they can be seen as necessary to smallscale coastal fisheries, much marine life either depending to some extent on them as habitat or preying on species that do. They can be seen as relatively easily reclaimed land that can be devoted to farming or industry. And they can be seen as possessing scenic or aesthetic value. Coastal development can focus on any of these values, and over the years the environmental movement has worked hard to bring its alternative values to public attention, realizing some degree of success in affecting government policy.

The early, postwar conservation movement in Japan was mainly concerned about the value of tidal flats as natural resources supporting the coastal fishing villages. It had little success in mobilizing the public, however, and, thus, made little headway until the 1970s, when the impact of pollution was brought home by the emergence of Minamata disease. Several lawsuits brought at that time against chemical companies and the national government on behalf of Minamata patients contested the development of the coastal environment and did lead to change in environmental policy, most notably the establishment of the national environmental agency.

Since the 1980s, another type of environmental movement, one contesting the value of biodiversity and favoring development, has arisen, influenced by similar developments in the West. This movement mobilized people nationwide but was especially influential in urban coastal areas, which favored reclamation because of the business that would be attracted. With reclamation, fishing villages declined and, with them, grassroots support for the fishing industry. There are, however, urban dwellers who value biodiversity over development. And it was such people who spurred the environmental movement to save the Fujimae Tidal Flats in Nagoya (see figure 15.1). The movement was the first case in Japan in which a reclamation project was contested on the grounds of biodiversity. It is a useful subject of study in that it provides insights into how Japanese environmental

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