Japan: Tradition and Modernity
Sustainability studies on the northern island of Hokkaido
2011 Fall Intensive
September 1 to September 15
Est. lab fee: $5,000
Led by Erik Hansen
Follow the North Sea Road into the ancient future.
This field study program explores the relationships between the ecological and cultural history of northern Japan. We focus our travel on the island of Hokkaido, an area once connected to mainland Asia by land bridges. Colonization by northern plant and animal species produced biotic communities quite different from those of the main islands of Japan. Native Ainu people, who probably migrated to Hokkaido from the North, adapted to the unique landscape and developed their own cultural traditions.
Sustainable Japanese Systems includes a range of activities introducing the ecosystems and people of Hokkaido, from visits with professors and students at Hokkaido University to home-stays with families in Sapporo. We study not only patterns of the past, but also impacts of present day land use. Students explore examples of sustainable practices: managed forests, organic farms, and Zen gardens, and also investigate Japanese land use management at a wetland field research station. Throughout the course we emphasize the use of Systems Thinking tools, such as causal-loop diagramming, to help us better understand the practices we observe.
The field program concludes with travel to the northern coastal regions of the Soya peninsula. There we explore a landscape and people living adjacent to Sakhalin Island, site of Russia's fast-growing oil industry, and look at efforts by the citizens of the provincial capital of Wakkanai to gain energy independence through development of wind, solar, and hydrogen fuel cell technology. Each student is expected to identify and explore a relevant research question, keep a detailed journal during the course, and write a reflective essay upon return.