Exploring Wisdom for Harmonization between Humans and Nature


Masayuki Takada, Professor

Department of Sustainability Studies, Faculty of Sustainability Studies
Posted Apr. 3, 2020

Faculty Profile

Professor Masayuki Takada is committed to expanding our understanding of the value of biodiversity and achieving a sustainable society where humans live with the nature.
As one of the instigators of the Japan Wetland Society, Professor Takada strives for the advancement of wetlands research.

Lifework is the Conservation of Wetlands with Rich Ecosystem Services

Ever since graduating from university I have been working consistently, but from a number of different standpoints, on environmental issues such as pollution, the global environment, and natural energy. I cherish the memories of my time working as a Hokkaido Government Employee, where I was placed in charge of pollution derived from urban lifestyle, an issue that could not be solved with previous knowledge. I started by holding an awareness-raising event titled “Seseragi School,” designed to make people aware of the importance of the water environments close at hand. In the course of dealing with many people in a process of trial and error, I developed an interest in nature and wildlife and gained a cross-sectional perspective on environmental problems.

I’m particularly interested in research on wetlands. This interest was triggered by the Sarobetsu Wetlands in Hokkaido, which I encountered when I applied for a volunteer placement as a sub-ranger, a role that involves assisting rangers in the Ministry of the Environment and interpretation activities. The word “wetland” conjures up images of damp, dark places, but almost all low-lying areas in Japan, Tokyo included, were once wetlands. The rice paddies and fishing industries that still form part of our lives today are evidence that wetlands were a familiar feature of Japanese life.

My research on wetlands focused mainly on the peatlands that are common in northern Japan. I used satellite images to extract characteristics and detect changes, and in some cases travelled to the same wetland one hundred times in a year, as I devoted my efforts to research that would identify the resilience and vulnerability of wetlands.

The natural world supports us in many ways, including providing food, regulating the climate, and reducing natural disasters. These benefits of nature are sometimes called “ecosystem services.” Most people are not fully aware of the value of these services, even if their lives depend on what nature provides us. One hot research topic recently in March 2019 shows the economic value generated by the world’s wetlands was estimated 47 trillion US dollars annually, or around 43% of the total value generated by the natural environment overall.

Humans can’t live without consuming nature, but it’s not sustainable for our consumption to outpace the speed of regeneration. As the world’s population continues to increase, it will be no easy task to come up with a way that allows future generations to live sustainably. But I keep searching from day to day, in the belief that there’s something that everyone can do to help in their own community or field of activity.

Pursuing a Career in Education to Share Knowledge from Fieldwork

In my research and practical work connected with nature and wildlife, I learned with the environment itself as my teacher. I also developed bonds with the other people involved as we advanced one another’s knowledge and looked for solutions. The path was never smooth, but the joy of discovery and inquisitive spirit of exploration gave me a great sense of reward and satisfaction. As the culmination of all my activities, I resolved to convey my many years of knowledge and experience to a next generation, and set my sights on becoming a university professor.

Wetlands research is not yet well-developed in Japan. In 2008 we launched the Japan Wetland Society, and work began in earnest on inter-disciplinary research to explore the relationships between humans and the ecosystem in terms of both the natural sciences and the social sciences and humanities. I was the chief editor of a book on Japan’s wetlands published in 2017 under the Society’s supervision.

Internationally, policies are being advanced in “green infrastructure” that makes proactive use of the ecosystem services of wetlands such as groundwater retention and water purification. These initiatives treat wetlands as multi-functional social infrastructure, providing recreational space for citizens at normal times, flood control during high water and water resources at times of emergency. For this kind of approach to develop in Japan, it is important for more people to understand the functions of nature and incorporate those functions into community planning and development. I believe that green infrastructure will be highly important in the future, especially in our cities.

Expecting Students to Develop a Capacity to Generate Ideas and Nurture Intellectual Assets

In off-campus activities in my seminars, we do fieldwork on nature in the city, focusing on Chiyoda City and its surrounds in Tokyo. The aim is for students to acquire a capacity to create their fresh ideas to uncover the attractions of nature in an urban setting and communicate them in forms that are widely accessible.

For three years beginning in 2016, using a Chiyoda Studies subsidy from the Chiyoda Ward Government, we pursued a student-led project to convey the attractions of the ward by highlighting the greenery, waterfronts, and wildlife in Chiyoda Ward. This involved conducting field surveys and producing a booklet that showcased attractive spots in the city. My students are also engaged in activities such as organizing bird-watching events and creating content for smartphone applications in collaboration with companies.

Each one of these experiences constitutes an asset of “practical wisdom” that students acquire by autonomously thinking, acting, and formulating plans for problem-solving. I hope that my students will continue to come up with all sorts of ideas, engage with numerous people, produce synergies with one another, and cultivate their intellectual assets.

Passing Small Wetlands that Support Japan’s Biodiversity on to the Next Generation

It is thought that virtually all lowland areas of Japan were originally wetlands. Japanese people turned them into rice paddies and lived for many generations there in harmony with nature. However, the great push to modernization beginning in the late 1800s led to land development that greatly altered our natural environment and resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of wetlands. It’s estimated that around 60 percent of wetlands in Japan have been lost since the early 20th century. The balance between humans and nature has been upset, and the biodiversity on which our lives originally depended has deteriorated.

One example is the drying out of peatlands. Formed by the accumulation of undecomposed vegetation, peat contains large quantities of carbon. As the peatlands continue to dry out by draining and other factors, the plant residue they contain decomposes and stored carbon is released as carbon dioxide, accelerating the process of global warming. Dry peat is easily burnable, and the large-scale fires that sometimes break out in tropical areas can raise the carbon dioxide concentration in the earth’s atmosphere as a whole.

Government-led restoration projects are now underway in many parts of Japan with a view to conserving our wetlands. Steady outcomes have been observed in many of the major wetland areas such as Kushiro mire. On the other hand, deterioration is going unnoticed in many small-scale wetlands that are not targeted for restoration because they may not be so famous, but which nonetheless have been known to local people since olden times and are crucial to the local biodiversity. I’m currently working to identify the challenges and solutions that will enable us to conserve these small wetlands.

The important key is to engage with the local people living nearby the wetlands. It would be ideal if the people who already know well about the local environment can appreciate the value of their wetlands and look after them, while government and experts provide the support needed to make their activities sustainable. It’s no easy task to bring nature back to its former state from the brink of destruction, but it’s important to pursue a process whereby local residents nurture their environment and pass it on to the next generation themselves, even if it takes time to do so.

With this in mind, I have been visiting not only the peatlands that are common in eastern and northern Japan, but also the seepage marshes that are often found in the western parts of Japan, gradually conducting field surveys on their value and the activities of local people who interact with the marshes. In the process of this research I’ve become aware of the different hydrological features of peatlands and seepage marshes, and am starting to uncover examples that may be of reference in other areas. By continuing to visit field sites and talking with many different people, I hope to identify strategies for ongoing conservation of small-scale wetlands that differ from the consensus-building mechanisms of the natural restoration councils that focus on public-works projects.

Masayuki Takada, Professor

Department of Sustainability Studies, Faculty of Sustainability Studies

Born in Hokkaido in 1958.

Graduated from the Department of Environmental Chemistry, School of Engineering at Utsunomiya University, and completed the doctoral program in Environmental Resources in the Graduate School of Agriculture, Hokkaido University. Master of Global Environmental Science, Doctor of Agriculture. Worked for think-tanks company, the Hokkaido Government, the Ministry of Environment, the National Institute for Environmental Studies, the Hokkaido Research Organization before joining Hosei’s Faculty of Sustainability Studies as a Professor in 2012. Loves touring wetlands and islands across the world, and watching of his favorite wild birds and animals.