Rice Harvesting Work under the Difficult Circumstances by Typhoon #19


Ecoplus conducted rice harvesting workshop on Oct. 13-14, 2019, at Tochikubo village, Minamiuonuma, Niigata. Due to the slow growth of rice in this year, we once postponedthe schedule one week and caused by typhoon #19, or “Hagibis,” we set the workshop one day later. Students and adults from metropolitan area were struggled to come struggling confused train and highway networks. At the end seven participants succeeded to participate the program.


With the heavy rain by the typhoon, the rice paddies was covered by an inch or two of water. It was quite tough condition although most of rice were not knocked down by the wind. In such condition, a high school boy, who experienced the work first time, learned and acquired how to cut straws and to bind those by a year old straws.


In the rice paddy, no chemical pesticides nor weed killers has been used for over ten years. Only organic fertilizer has been used. Because of such efforts, many weeds were covering the ground and many insects were hopping around. Sheaves of rice were hung along the bars called “Haza,” for sun dry for around 10 days. Through this, participants experienced the way of traditional rice production of the area until some decades ago.


Participants left comments like “Accumulating the experience for long years, I am still feeling that how difficult to make food is, and how important to have harmonious relation with the nature is. ” “I identified so many knowledges embedded in the harvesting works and I felt the tick accumulations of knowledge for long years.”


Apart from smartphones and convenient shops, Students learned how to live harmoniously with the nature in Yap

Yap-Japan Cultural Exchange Program 2019 was held from 13 to 25 August with nine students from Tokyo and Kansai area including one graduate student. We stayed at Maaq village, Tamil and experienced traditional and local lifestyle of Yap.



We stayed at the Men’s house which is the community house for men in the village. The villagers finished two-year long reconstruction work of the house in June. Because the old one was damaged by high waves caused by sea level rise, villagers decided to raise the ground 1 meter up and reconstructed new build using old techniques. Their new Men’s house was shining beautifully at the seaside. We were staying in the house hanging the mosquito nets and laid on the coconut frond mat that they weaved by themselves.


For the first half of the program we took time to gain the skill and knowledge for living. Weaving the bag by the coconut frond and walking around the village seeking for some food, washing their clothes with lemon, making fire, learning how to cook taro, bananas, bread fruits and fish which was kindly shared by the villagers, husking the coconuts and so on. By receiving the blessing of the rich nature of Yap and learning the way of living and kindness of Yapese, the students slowly acquired their knowledge and skills of the island.


In the middle of the program, the students experienced the daily life of Yapese by home-staying for 2 nights and 3 days. They were experienced the diversity of lifestyles in Yap by cooking, fishing, learning traditional skills, and attending mass at the church. They came back from the homestay with shining smile and kept sharing about their different experiences and their lovely family until 2 am in the midnight. 


The behavior of the students who created the “family” in Yap has been clearly changed. Each began sharing their knowledge and skills taught by their families at the homestay and enjoying “living” itself with feeling the freedom. In addition, they expressed their appreciation to the village as a “thank you activity” by cleaning weeds and picking up trash around the men’s house.


In addition, they were learning the serious problems what Yap island is facing and what the people are doing to solve those problems by joining the activities of  TRCT which is an organisation to protect the environment in Tamil area, visiting landfill site, recycling center and the local plate factory made by the beatle nuts tree’s skin. For the students who get precious “family” in Yap, what is happening in Yap is no longer somebody else’s problem.




In the last day, we held a farewell party together with the villagers and host families. The students shared what they have learned during their 10 days in Maaq village.

“Being alive is beautiful”

“I got the suggestion how to make my life happy”


At the final sharing meeting at the Narita airport, the students shared what they have learned and some people were talking about their anxiety to go back their “everyday life” in Japan with tears. The beautiful nature and the people’s wisdom and love will continue to live in their heart forever.  Reported by NAOI Saki


Michigan Students Learnt Japan in Minami-Uonuma


ECOPLUS hosted a group of students from University of Michigan from 19 to 20 May in Minami-Uonuma for their learning on the relation with environment, life and culture through experiencing rice planting, weaving and other activities.


The trip was conducted by the relation with Ms. Leslie Pincus of University of Michigan and TAKANO Takako, executive director of ECOPLUS, as a part of their 3 weeks long tour to Japan.

Drying cooked mountain vegetable, “Zenmei.”


On 19th, they strolled around the village of Tochikubo which is located on the slope of around 500 meters elevation. They were deeply impressed by the scenery of mountains covered by white snow and young green, saying “this land might be so expensive.” They also encountered an old lady who was drying mountain vegetable called “Zenmai.”


On 20th, they experienced traditional rice planting by hands. They screamed a bit while they put their bare feet in the muddy soil of the paddy but later they acquired how to plant young seedlings in line and they finished the work in three hours.

Traditional sitting loom, called “IZARI-Bata,” or いざりばた


On the last day, 21st, they came back to the city area, “Shiozawa,” to learn about the local ramie cloth called “Echigo-Zyofu,” which has over a thousand year history. Specialists from Echigo-Jofu technique preservation association demonstrated how to get fibers fro the skin of the plant, how to dye the yarn for patterns, and how to weave. Some of the students experienced actual works by their hands.


Through the three-day stay, they seem to deepen the understanding on the relation with life and nature, like getting fuels from the forest, drinking water from the spring, making the water system running around all the terraced rice paddies.

Students from Yap learned a lot in Japan, Short Videoーーヤップ島の若者招へいのビデオが出来ました

A short video was completed and we finally succeeded to set our website to host the big video file on our site.
We still miss those smiles and shining eyeballs of all students in Japan.


ヤップの若者の滞在の様子 link to daily reports



Boat tour in the shinny lagoon. 光り輝くサンゴ礁の海をゆく

ECOPLUS conducted its flagship program, Yap-Japan Cultural Exchange Program 2018 from 18 to 29 August with nine students from high school to university in Dechumur village, Tamil, Yap. Provided cooked and un-coocked food like bread fruit, taro, fishes, crabs and others, students learnt a lot of locals skills like, weaving coconuts fronds or fishing in the ocean.


Setting doors to the toilet and shower room.

The Program started 1992 and since then ECOPLUS continued the program almost every year. For Dechumur village, it was the first time to host the group.
The base of the program was the women’s house of the village. Next to the concrete building, local toilet, shower room and cooking place were set. Next to the toilet, some trees had very soft leaves called “toilet leaf,” so students used those for their daily use. It was easily degraded rather than toilet paper. Low impact was one of the key words of the program.


During a home stay, a student learn how to weave coconut frond.

One of the most impressive experiences was homestay. Each student was accepted by a different family for 2 nights. Modern economy and culture are changing Yap’s traditional lifestyle but the situations are different family by family. A host family was living in thatched roof houses under a huge tree and another host family has electric washing machine. However, family ties are quite strong in all families. During the stay, some families held a celebrating gathering. Through the stay, student impressed by the strong bond among the family members.


Having so many new experiences, like going to fish with local boys in the lagoon, hunting crabs in night time, being surprised the brightness of the moon, students safely return to Narita airport in the morning of 29 August. From students, such comments were continued. “It looks like the program is not yet terminated. We will digest so many things we learnt and those will guide us toward the our own lives for long time.”
They will work together to make an activity report of the program and will held a reporting session in late autumn.

International Symposium “Globalization and Local Community” on 21, 22 January


International Symposium, “Globalization and Local Community; Placed-Based Education for the Sustainable Future” will be held in Tokyo.

Dr. HAYWARD Bronwyn

You may send the application from here  >>>Application form

Date and Venues;

Saturday, 21 January 2017, Room 8101, Ikebukuro Campus, Rikkyo University
Sunday, 22 January 2017, International Conference Centre, Waseda University

This symposium offers an arena to discuss the topics from learning to democracy– how do we see the relationship between the expansion of globalism and the local community where people have lives, and how can we truly recognize essence from abundant information due to the digital society under which people sometimes feel as if we know everything, and how do we build up local community and society under these circumstances.

We have three keynote speakers; a political scientist from New Zealand whose research falls in children, environment and democracy under this changing world; a German architect who is working for re-birthing Japanese traditional wooden housings; and a Japanese photographer who has done many journeys including world conflicts areas.

Other participants involved in various fields are expected to attend, including “Forest Kindergarten” (a kindergarten raising children in nature), self-sufficiency life with small-scale agriculture, revitalization of the community, etc. We are looking forward to welcoming you to this event.

Special guests;

Dr. HAYWARD Bronwyn, Head of Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
Mr. BENGS Karl, architectural designer, Germany (currently living in Japan)
Mr. MOMOI Kazuma, photographer, nonfiction writer, Japan

The simultaneous translation (Jap – Eng) available for keynote speeches and panel discussion, and other form of translation may be arranged for break-up sessions

Overarching theme: Globalisation and Place-based education

Sub themes: virtual experiences, local area and school, livelihood, community and child rearing

Keynote 1: Prof. HAYWARD Bronwyn, political scientist, New Zealand
“Children and Citizenship: the global challenge in an urban century”

Keynote 2: Mr. BENGS Karl, architectural designer, Germany (resides in Japan)
“Revival of old Japanese houses – Why Japanese throw away ‘gems’ and take up gravel”

Keynote 3: Mr. MOMOI Kazuma, photographer, nonfiction writer, Japan
“Ladakh, India – traditional societies protected or vanished”

Break-up sessions (Themed seminars)

  • Session 1: What do you mean by “I understand” – in the time of virtual experiences
  • Session 2: Community and School – folding school down
  • Session 3: Economy of live and living
  • Session 4: Community and child rearing – experiences of forest kindergarten

Schedule: The timing may change on the day.

Day 1 (Jan 21) at Rikkyo University
10:00 Opening
10:10 Keynote 1
11:10 Keynote 2
12:05 – 13:15 Lunch break
13:15 Keynote 3
14:00 Introduction of the break-up sessions, and move to respective rooms
16:00 Re-union; sharing and summary
17:30 Reception (with fees)

Day 2 (Jan 22) at Waseda University
10:00 Opening, Panel discussion 1 – based on questions and issues of Day 1
12:00 – 13:30 Talking lunch – discussion with guests and other attendees, over your own packed lunch.
13:30 Panel discussion 2 – gathering topics from the lunch discussion
15:30 Summary and closure

Committee members;
Prof. ABE Osamu, Rikkyo University
Prof. ANDO Toshihiko, Saitama University
Dr. ITAGAKI Jumpei, Kobe University
Dr. KIMATA Mikio, Fellow, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies
Dr. SASAKI Toyoshi, Kurikoma Kogen Nature School
Mr. SAKUMA Norio, Nature Conservation Society for Dewa Mountains
Dr. TOYODA Mitsuyo, Niigata University
Mr. YOKOYAMA Ryuichi, Nature Conservation Society Japan
Prof. TAKANO Takako, Waseda University, Executive Director, Ecoplus

Supported by Japan Fund for Global Environment

Research Center for Education for Sustainable Development, Rikkyo University.
Center for International Education, Waseda University

Ecoplus, a registered NPO in Japan

Snow camp in the ““Snow country”

From March 26th to the 29th, 2016, ECOPLUS hosted the ““Yuki Zanmai,” or “Snow Indulgence” Camp” in Minami-Uonuma. Seven participants, all from elementary and middle schools in the Metropolitan area and Niigata enjoyed four days and three nights of living on the snow, where they all constructed their campsite entirely on their own.

Hiking on the snow toward the middle of Mt. Makihata. Gorgeous view!

This winter, we experienced an uncharacteristically small amount of snow. Despite being 600 meters above sea level, the village of Shimizu looked almost as though it was experiencing early spring.

Ordinarily, there would have been between 2 – 3 meters of snowfall by this point during an average year; instead, the area received an approximate 50 centimeters of snow this year. Due to this, we were worried that the “Snow Indulgence Camp” might not succeed, but we were blessed with good weather, and the children faced the challenge of living in the snow with a serious, sincere look in their eyes.

Children challenged to live on the snow by themselves. Making fire woods on the snow was one of the first duties.

A total of seven children was assembled of from fourth-year elementary school students to first-year middle school students. Some of the children had participated in ECOPLUS programs once or twice before, but this was their first time as a group in this area, as well as the first time holding an overnight camp on the snow. Everybody had a bit of a nervous look to him or her.

The children decided on their goals for the camp—some said, “It is important to take care of the environment,” while others said, “We hope to make friends here.” Once this was done, the Snow Indulgence Camp could begin.

Throughout the next four days, the children’s everyday necessities and personal lives were self-led. They trampled the snow underfoot in order to harden it, creating a space to raise their tents; they split wood for their fires; they melted snow for drinking water; and they made tables, chairs, cupboards for food, and even makeshift toilets entirely from snow. They even used snow to wipe their bottoms afterward!

They also used cedar leaves like sponges while washing their pots and pans. On the first day of the camp program, the children were confused about this new way of living, but they became as resilient as adults in only four days’ time.

Encountered a big hawk, Snow camp in Tochikubo

Under the gorgeous blue sky, children enjoyed the nature and life in Tochikubo.

From the 9th of January to the 11th, ECOPLUS held our program, “Experiencing Natural Mountain Life: Winter Edition”, in Tochikubo village in Niigata prefecture.

The program was aimed at elementary school children, and we had 17 participants. Thirteen of them were city kids from metropolitan area, and the other four were students from Niigata prefecture.

The weather was thankfully very calm throughout, and everybody enjoyed getting to play in the snow under the blue sky.

We started the first day with many nervous faces when we conducted the orientation. The orientation began with self-introductions and some games. Afterwards we covered important things to be careful about and to watch out for. Lastly we broke them up into two groups regarding daily responsibilities, and gave some time for the two groups to discuss things together.

From the afternoon onwards, they were waiting in anticipation to be able to play in the snow. The snow was approximately 40cm deep, and when they finally could, they eagerly changed into their snow gear.

This was actually significantly less snow than on average. Regardless, for the kids the world still seemed to be completely covered in snow. They made snow huts (these snow huts, kamakura are traditionally made by kids in mid-January), had snow ball fights, and sled. The local kids even joined them in on the fun. The sound of laughing children echoed in the village.

Children observed a big hawk, called “Kumataka” on a branch of a tree hundreds meters away.

On the second day we focused on observing nature. A local knowledgeable about the nature here accompanied us as a special guest. On the snow covered path he led us to the outskirts of the village. There we were able to get a phenomenal view of the mountains and forest. We even were able to see a very rare bird, a Tinnitus Mountain Hawk, perched on one of the mountain trees.

The kids were fascinated by the bird. After getting a telescope to confirm that it actually was a Tinnitus Mountain Hawk, we examined it for a while. For around half an hour it stayed in the same spot. When it finally flew away we could see the striped pattern of its back feathers. The kids tried to follow the bird until it disappeared from sight.

For the three days of the program, we borrowed the villageÆs assembly hall, and camped in there. The kids were responsible for cooking their own meals. For the most part, everything from cutting the ingredients, to cooking them, was done completely by them with some supervision.

On the last day, our closing event was a discussion and retrospective. While a completely new experience for many of the children, they spoke very fondly of the past three days. One kid enthusiastically said, ôSince I am an only child, it was especially fun to spend time here with lots of friendsö. Most of the other responses were quite similar.

From March 26th to the 29th, we will be holding a similar event, but this time aimed at older students. ôExperiencing Natural Mountain Life: Lingering Snow Seasonö will be open for 5th graders to high school students. We will tent over the snow for three nights and four days. We are eagerly awaiting this upcoming program.

(Translation, Victor Lane)

International Students of Waseda Summer Session learned Traditional Japan in Tochikubo

On July 3-5, 25 international students and staff from Waseda University arrived in Minamiuonuma City as part of its Summer Session, visiting Tochikubo on the 4th. ECOPLUS supported their activities.
On July 3-5, 25 international students and staff from Waseda University arrived in Minamiuonuma City as part of its Summer Session, visiting Tochikubo on the 4th. ECOPLUS supported their activities. With activities such as walking the area, visiting homes, and enjoying local food, they had a chance to learn about Japanese traditional village life.

The students were from 9 countries and area like the US, the UK, and China. They stayed with host families in Minamiuonuma for two nights. While some students could speak a little Japanese, many could not. Because they had many different backgrounds, they had varying perspectives on what they saw, heard, and felt here.

Hearing the brief explanation of the area overseeing the panoramic view from the top.
Hearing the brief explanation of the area overseeing the panoramic view from the top.

The activities in Tochikubo began at 8:45 with the participants, taken there by their host families, gathered at the top of a mountain of 700 meters. The panoramic view was shrouded in clouds, creating an almost dream-like vista.

Two interns students of ECOPLUS spoke briefly about Tochikubo, mentioning the population size and elevation as well as industries such as the ski slopes, and of course, the rice fields. As we walked down the mountain, Takako Takano, Professor at Waseda and executive director of ECOPLUS, pointed out notable plants like heartleaf, called “Dokudami,” a plant that has many medicinal properties.

An elder lady presented how to get a jute fiber from dried skin of the plant. The jute clothes were made in the area for more than 1,300 years.
An elder lady presented how to get a jute fiber from dried skin of the plant. The jute clothes were made in the area for more than 1,300 years.

After a sumptuous lunch prepared by local women, the students were divided into different groups and helped visited local homes with a variety of tasks. The group I went with weeded a garden and tasted freshly-grown cucumbers. They asked many questions and really immersed themselves in the experience.

When finished working with the villagers, they gathered again on the second floor of the community center and watched a video and a presentation by the interns about their experiences over these eight weeks in Tochikubo. The students then had some time for questions and discussion, which proved very enlightening – a student from England commented on the differences between the Japanese and British countryside, and a Chinese student said that she was surprised at the cleanliness and level of development in Japanese rural areas.

At 4:15 it was time for them to return to their host families. Through being here and interacting with people, they had the chance to genuinely experience life in rural Japan. Based on what I saw and heard, I think they had an excellent learning experience.

International Symposium, ESD and Place-Based Education, held

On 11-12 Jan 2015, International Symposium \”ESD and Place-based Education\” was held in National Olympic Memorial Youth Center, Tokyo, Japan. Guest speakers and participants both exchange ideas and opinions about outdoor education, environmental education, community, sustainability and the place.


Over 100 people attended the conference.
Over 100 people attended the conference.

Over 100 participants from students to community leaders, researchers, and practitioners attended the conference. In the afternoon of Sunday, the conference opened with keynote speeches of three guest-speakers form the world.

Prof. Pete Higgins of Edinburgh University reported the situation on “Learning for Sustainability, LfS” in Scotland. He showed a photo of canoeing class in river Spey and said it is not just for the canoeing skills. “We talked about many things, from climate change, history, geography, culture, law, or economics. He stressed the value of Place-based Education and said the planet is the place in this time.

Dr. Ihi Heke from New Zealand talked about a challenge of Maori people to reconnect their tradition and nature into learning. He pointed out that the current society is occupied by Western way of thinking. With governmental support he is setting up a curriculum based on Maori wisdom based on constellations, water and the land.

Dr. Jess Salathong from Thailand introduced some activities in ASEAN countries. He also explained cases of ESD in Thailand and said that at the base of ESD Program in Thailand, the principle, \”Sufficient Economy,\” exists. His photo of a wind turbine at the palace in Bangkok raised by the King for the promotion of sustainable development dragged attentions from the audience.

During the panel discussion followed the keynote speeches, Prof. Abe Osamu of Rikkyo University argued the relation between GLOBAL and LOCAL and audience joined the discussion.

On 12th, Mr. Suzuki Shigeo, Mayor of Kuzumaki Town, gave his speech with the title of “the power of mountainous village.” He introduced a history of a town with 6,854 people tried to find and to use what they have within the area and now the town grew to \”Milk, Wine and Clean Energy\” town. Its sufficiency on food and energy are over 100% and a new system of its high school inviting students from city area is to start this year, he said.

Then, participants separated into three sectional workshops; Life and Learning, Outdoor/Experiential Education and Place, Public Education and place, and exchanged opinions. After those, concluding session was took place and finished the conference at around 3 p.m…

Group photo, at the end of the conference.
Group photo, at the end of the conference.

Participants say; it was encouraging to hear about Scotland\’s situation, which moves the politics to LfS. / the important thing is what to put on the root of education. Maori has 24 views on the world and tries to connect them with education / Kuzumaki\’s attempt is a good stimulation for other mountainous villages. / Many participant\’s discussion from different backgrounds made the symposium full of diversity.

ECOPLUS will publish a report on March. Photos and some reports are on our facebook page.

Video of keynote speeches are available from following URL.

The panel discussion is also seen from the URL