2005年8月23日 (火)

Rent-a-cow system keeps everyone content


Rent-a-cow system keeps everyone content


Four black wagyu Japanese cows graze contentedly on common weeds-kudzu, pigweed and overgrown goldenrod-effectively acting as "live weed eaters" in the fallow rice fields of Yanai city, on the Inland Sea coast of Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The cows are part of the city's "rent-a-cow" system for local farmers. Many of the farmers are elderly and ready to retire but do not want their fields to become overgrown with weeds and infested with pests. They fear those pests could ruin their neighbors' crops.




Hiring people to cut the weeds can be an expensive proposition, even if done through the city's "silver personnel agency," a program for retired people who want to take on odd jobs and make themselves useful to the community.

Even if "silver personnel" would undertake the job, working under the scorching summer sun would be extremely strenuous for them.


A solution to the problem of overgrown rice paddies came four years ago. Yanai Mayor Tetsuro Kouchiyama, 47, suggested during a meeting with farmers that perhaps cows could do the job. At the time, the city's shrinking farmland and declining stockbreeding industry were cause for serious concern in the farming community.

Letting cows graze in the paddies would mean eliminating the costs of labor and as well as feed-a perfectly happy solution for landowners and cattle owners alike. The local agricultural association acted on the mayor's suggestion at once. This summer, seven farming households are taking advantage of the rent-a-cow system.


The system is hassle-free. All the user has to do is corral the grazing area with two electric wires hooked up to solar batteries.

According to the city's estimates, it would take two people working two days to cut all the weeds on a 5,000-square-meter property. The bill would come to 50,000 yen, including transportation and disposal costs.

If the same job is done by two cows, however, they would eat all the weeds in about 50 days. The bill would come to around 24,000 yen, including the cost of equipment.


There is something serene and soothing about the sight of grazing cows. How pleasant it would be if such a scene were common on fallow fields around the nation. Just when I had this thought, my eyes met a cow's innocent stare.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 31(IHT/Asahi: August 15,2005)

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2005年7月24日 (日)

Tourists must not be allowed to ruin Shiretoko


Tourists must not be allowed to ruin Shiretoko


One of the senryu humorous poems that appeared in The Asahi Shimbun on Tuesday gave me a wry smile: "Drunks and merrymakers/ Stay away from the hills of Shiretoko."


 昨日、本紙の「朝日川柳」に載っていた一句に笑いを誘われた。〈飲んで騒いで丘に上るな知床の/さいたま市 岸保宏〉。笑いといっても、苦い笑いである。

Hokkaido's Shiretoko Peninsula has been named a World Natural Heritage property by UNESCO.

The senryu poem by Yasuhiro Kishi, a resident of Saitama, raises concerns about the consequences of Shiretoko's new status.

Just like Kishi, many people must have taken the news as a mixed blessing. Environmental contamination caused by sharply increasing tourist traffic has been a problem for two natural properties earlier placed on the World Heritage list: Yakushima island south of Kagoshima Prefecture and the Shirakami mountain area straddling Aomori and Akita prefectures.


The U.N. heritage convention calls for the protection of areas' cultural heritage and nature from the threat of damage and destruction, because the sites are deemed treasures of humanity.

One thing we must keep in mind is that when the Japanese government recommended that Shiretoko be put on the World Heritage list, it effectively promised to the world that it would not let the peninsula's nature be damaged or destroyed.


In the 1980s, a campaign was organized to oppose the felling of trees in Shiretoko's state-owned woodland. It marked the start of persistent conservation efforts involving many people, which finally bore fruit last week when the UNESCO World Heritage Committee designated the peninsula as a heritage site.

Japan bears heavy responsibility for continuing conservation efforts. The benefit of the designation is that it offers a chance for us to take a new look at the nature of our country from a global perspective.


The international conference to found UNESCO was held in London in the fall of 1945, following the end of World War II. In a speech, Clement Attlee, then prime minister of Britain, stated that wars began in the minds of men.


This statement found its way into the UNESCO Constitution, which famously declares in its preamble that "since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed."

What does this mean specifically? Considering what the Constitution says, the implication is clear: If wars are to be avoided, countries need to have a good knowledge of one other.

My hope is that the untouched nature of Shiretoko will become the cornerstone of peace in the minds of people.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 20(IHT/Asahi: July 21,2005)

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