20 people enjoyed the culture and life in Tochikubo at the “ABC in a rice paddy” program.

A total of 20 people, including company workers, students, and families from various countries,visited Tochikubo, Niigata Prefecture from Tokyo metropolitan area. They enjoyed walking around the area and rice planting over the weekend.
The holiday agricultural project, ABC in a rice paddy, was held on 21 and 22 of May. It is a series of programs throughout the year, and this time, the first occasion of the year, was about rice planting.
On the first day, participants went for a walk in Tochikubo area with a villager, FUEKI Akira. From the centre of village to the top of Mt Taru, 736m, they enjoyed encounters with varieties of mountain vegetables and some rare wildlife. Although it was summer-like hot, they managed to reach the peak and one participant said \”When I stood at the top and saw how far we have come, I felt that I had achieved something\”.
After coming back from the mountain, they had a lecture and learned about the different types of rice seedlings, process of rice farming without any chemicals and pesticides, history and current challenges of rice farming in Tochikubo.


A snap from bird watching session in the early morning. Local children also joined it and enjoyed together.
A snap from bird watching session in the early morning. Local children also joined it and enjoyed together.

On the second day, early in the morning, most participants and some locals joined a bird watching session by FUKASAWA Kazuki. Despite of poor visibility due to mist and rain, his knowledge helped participants have a great time. At the very moment he talked about the sound of rare bird species, Akashobin (ruddy kingfisher), participants actually heard it. Whenever someone or Fukasawa found wildlife such as frogs, salamanders, and insects in the water, he provided an instant lecture about the features and ecosystem of them.
Rice planting began, having waited for the rain to calm down. It was well-supported by locals as participants learned a traditional way to band rice plants with straws, and planted them. They went into a rice paddy together with baskets filled with bunches of rice seedlings.


After rice planting. People from various countries participated in the program.

At lunch time, a group formed by local women called \”Kaachanz\” (Team-mothers) served miso soup with lots of local vegetables and dried fish. Everyone appreciated the soup as it warmed up their cold body from inside. Many people went into the kitchen to have the second of the miso soup.
Participants continued planting rice in the afternoon, and managed to finish the whole paddy around 2:30. They got a compliment from a local person on how straight they could plant.
Thanks to the knowledge and skills of local people, ABC in a rice paddy in 2011 has been kicked off!

ECOPLUS activities in Tohoku-Pacific Coast Earthquake

ECOPLUS is supporting the disaster relief activities of Ecotourism Japan which is going on at the disaster-stricken areas in Tohoku. Ecotourism Japan is sending volunteers in evacuation shelters around Tome city, Miyagi, to distribute aid supplies, relief goods, the other necessities of life. Disaster relief donations are accepting at the following accounts. We ask for your cooperation.

*Bank Name: Mizuho Bank, Dozaka Branch
  Account Number: normal 1093812
  Account Name: Ecotourism Japan Disaster Relief Fund

*Bank Name: Japan Post Bank
  Account Number: 00150-2-543633
  Account Name: NPO Ecotourism Japan
  Please write \”Disaster Relief Fund\” in the memo line.

As a member of Minami-uonuma Disaster Relief Volunteer Network, ECOPLUS is now distributing disaster related information and coordination among network members. We’re preparing to accept and support the victims of the disaster in Minami-uonuma. We will inform various related informations on our website and mail magazine.

Discussing the way to improve outdoor and environmental education with Professor Peter Higgins

 The seminar with Professor Peter Higgins of Edinburgh University, Scotland, was held on February 4th 2011 in Omote-sando, Tokyo, regarding the significance and the challenges of outdoor and environmental education.


Prof. Higgins lectured at GEOC using Powerpoint.
Prof. Higgins lectured at GEOC using Powerpoint.

 36 people, mainly the outdoor and environmental educators, gathered at Global Environmental Outreach Centre (GEOC) on February 4th, 2011, for the seminar with Professor Peter Higgins.

 Prof. Higgins suggested that outdoor/experiential education influences emotional growth and health for many of us. He emphasized that outdoor education in modern days has to consider social and economic structure of global society.

 He pointed out that all educators should teach that various concepts are closely linked and the world today is very complex. Learning to respond for a change and hope for the future is needed, as well as the consequences of our actions.

 Having reported the educational policy changes and the recent trend around outdoor education in Great Britain, he introduced the practical examples from Scotland, which have shifted its focus from school-based to more local and outdoor elements oriented.

 Mr. Ono who is in charge of promoting the experiential activities at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology summarized the trend among Japanese young people today linked to experiences in general. He suggested that the participation rate of elementary school students in outdoor activities are declining year by year. For example, in recent 10 years children who have swum in the sea and the river has decreased rapidly from 30 % to 10 %.

36 participants gathered at the seminar.
36 participants gathered at the seminar.

 A discussion with the participants followed the two talks by Prof. Higgins and Mr. Ono. Issues raised included the necessity for a outdoor learning training course for teachers, how to secure the financial resources for outdoor education, the importance of outdoor experiences for parents, how to train the leaders of outdoor education, etc.

 Prof. Higgins emphasized the importance of research to prove the educational effect of children’s play and the necessity of outdoor experiences for parents. Finally he commented on the significance of accumulation of study results to further improve outdoor education.

50 people attended at the educational symposium in Minami-uonuma City with Professor Peter Higgins

Professor Higgins lectured in Minami-uonuma.
Professor Higgins lectured in Minami-uonuma.

 On February 6th 2011, ECOPLUS organized educational symposium titled ‘Self reliance of the local community and the power of learning’ in Minami-uonuma, Niigata with Professor Peter Higgins of Edinburgh University, Scotland.
 The symposium, held on February 6th at the auditorium of Minami-uonuma regional development bureau, attracted 49 participants including educators, city council members, and the residents of Tochikubo and Shimizu Village. Some came over from Tokyo metropolitan area.

Participants enjoyed exchanging ideas with others.
Participants enjoyed exchanging ideas with others.

 At the first session, ECOPLUS reported the activities of TAPPO and the study result which demonstrated the educational values of rural villages based on questionnaires and interviews of the program participants as well as involved villagers. At the second session, Prof. Higgins appealed the importance of outdoor and experiential education with the practical examples from Great Britain. Then the discussion among the participants followed.

 As the study result, Dr TAKANO Takako, Executive Director of ECOPLUS, reported that the participants‘ learning was linked to agriculture, living, and history of the village, which were based on the human-nature relationships, and their learning went beyond the life philosophy and values. She pointed out that rural village itself was full of learning elements.

 Prof. Higgins commented that TAPPO’s activities are the leading models in educational movement around the world, which connects the local community with school, children with adults, and social education with school education.

 Prof. Higgins lectured about the effects of outdoor and environmental education, and the connection with the local community. He introduced the words by John Dewey, ‘Education is not a preparation for life, it is life itself’, and continued to say that, for a growth of oneself, it is necessary to learn for the heart, then for the body, and finally for the brain in that order. He explained that just a thrilled experience doesn’t require efforts, and that therefore it hardly involves the sense of responsibility. It is necessary to spend a lot of time to think and strive for oneself.

 He said experience in nature increases concentration, reduces stress, and improves a problematic behavior. He introduced a concept of green, white, blue, and dark space, and emphasized that Minami-uonuma has green space, snowy white environment, beautiful blue sky and darkness at night, which makes Minami-uonuma a perfect place for learning.

 He also pointed out that place-based education should include not only nature but culture of a place, enterprise for self-reliance, and citizenship to take responsibility for ‘something bigger than themselves’.

 Then participants were divided into 10 groups, and exchanged ideas.
 A comment by high-school student struck everyone’s heart. She said ‘I had thought the education in big cities are far ahead of ours in rural area. But as I heard today’s discussion, I am convinced that it’s not true and there are lots of advantages in rural area. I’m very proud of this place.’ There was a round of applause as she finished her words.

Life in a snow village and local wisdom

On Jan. 22th to 23rd, ECOPLUS organized the Snow Village Workshop called “Snow Shoveling and Preserved Food in a Snow Country” at Tochikubo Village, Minami-uonuma City, Niigata. Ten participants mainly from Kanto region enjoyed snow shoveling with the locals and learned the food preservation methods and cooking.
Tochikubo sees snow more than 4 meters high in winter. The participants, most of them had little experience with deep snow, helped local people remove snow around houses and learned about winter food preservation methods, passed down over generations.

Experiencing snow shoveling.
Experiencing snow shoveling.

 With the guidance from the locals, the participants learned how to use shovels and snow-dumps (A tool like a big square shovel which can take large amount of snow) and helped remove snow around houses of elderly residents. Although they struggled to use the tools at first, they seemed to be enjoying snow shoveling.
A participant with the first snow shoveling experience said ‘I was surprised to discover that snow is really heavy’.

Cooking lunch with the local women.
Cooking lunch with the local women.

 On the second day, the participants visited Mrs Kuwabara, who is the 80-year-old instructor of the day, and studied the way she stored vegetables and pickles for winter. Then divided into few groups, everyone cooked lunch taught by the local women, using preserved foods.

The participants commented in their feedback as follows.
‘I felt achievement after the snow shoveling.’
‘I learned seasoning methods by cooking together with the local women.’
‘I felt the strong link between the lifestyle of the snow country and the local food culture.’

Tilling the paddy experience (Report)

On November 6th and 7th, 17 participants from the Tokyo metropolitan area and Niigata joined the tilling the paddy session of \’ABC in a rice paddy\’. The participants included foreigners who wanted to experience autumn in a mountain village, a couple who are interested in organic farming.


\’ABC in a rice paddy\’ is the program aims to learn from traditional organic farming done by hand and wisdom, and dealing with the most preferred brand rice in Japan, \’Uonuma Koshihikari\’.

Foreign participants enjoyed tilling rice plants into the paddies.
Foreign participants enjoyed tilling rice plants into the paddies.

Tilling the rice paddy session was held on November 6th and 7th at Tochikubo with 17 participants.

On the first day, participants enjoyed the great scenery of beautiful autumn leaves in the mountains along an old path, and went on a tour to observe creatures of Tochikubo.

Participants joined the village harvest festival and enjoyed conversation with local residents.
Participants joined the village harvest festival and enjoyed conversation with local residents.

On the second day, participants saw the enormous scale of a sea of clouds as they walked down the hill to get to the rice paddy. They learned how to use a spade from a local expert and tried to till rice plants into the paddies for soil fertility. After several hours of experience, they participated in the village harvest festival and enjoyed local foods and communication with the local residents.

In the feedback, many of the participants commented about the impression of rich nature and the hospitality they received from the villagers. It seems that the participants learned many things from nature, way of life, and the culture of Tochikubo.

Once you live in a bitter winter, it grows on you. Village eating & living FINAL workshop “Winter Preservative Food

Participants experienced village life and wealth of its heart with smile of local mothers who told us life in the bitter winter.
On January 16th, 2010, Winter preservative food workshop was held in Tochikubo, Minamiuonuma-city, Nigata. 11 people from Tokyo, Nagano, and Minami-uonuma including a German family participated in the workshop. They learned and experienced winter preservative food taught by local mothers, FUEKI Imiko, FUEKI Kiyoko, and KUWABARA Ayako.

Local mothers are Introducing ingredients of preservative food.
Local mothers are Introducing ingredients of preservative food.

After self-introduction, local mothers explained Tochikubo winter life in the past when they married. There were no roads for cars, and winter was their bitter memory. As it was not easy to go shopping food, they preserved wild vegetables and crops from the field by drying and soaking in salt until Spring.

Today, although they drive and go shopping in winter, local mothers use preservative wild vegetables and crops. Participants were surprised at the variety of preservative foods and their colors.

Participants are trying a dry-preservative technique by weaving straw and hanging vegetables.
Participants are trying a dry-preservative technique by weaving straw and hanging vegetables.

In the afternoon, participants visited FUEKI Kiyoko’s house, see vegetables and pickles preserved and stored in her garage, and learned the drying technique with straw of preservative vegetables. Participants asked questions such as cooking methods and tips for wild vegetables. Local mothers pointed that nice air and comfortable community relationship are the good parts of Tochikubo living. “Though they though they came to a sever place for few years after their marriage, once you live in a place, it grows on you. They think Tochikubo is a nice place now.” they mentioned.

Participants enjoyed lunch using preservative food. Even people from near by town and village said there are not many chances to have this variety of wild vegetables and they wish to have a shop providing such preservative foods.

Participants commented in their feedback as follows.
*I often throw out foods. But, I would like to use preservative foods based on what I learned today.
*Smile of local mothers was very impressive.
*I felt that Tochikubo has rich community relationship although they do not have many things.

Due to heavy snow, the local train was not running and the workshop began 40 minute late. But, mothers laughed and said that participants have experienced real Tochikubo life!

Experience traditional rice harvesting and “Hazakake”

29 participants experienced harvesting and drying rice under the sun in Tochikubo, Minamiuonuma on October 17th – 18th.


The weather was nice. Let’s start harvesting!
The weather was nice. Let’s start harvesting!

The 5th class of “ABC in a Rice Paddy” in this year was held on October 17th – 18th with 29 people, including students, business persons and families from metropolitan area. This time, university students occupied a half of the group.

On the 1st day, participants had a lesson from local persons, Mr. FUEKI Akira and Mr. FUEKI Kensaku. Participants learned that the quality of rice is different each year with observing dried rice plants. In the lesson Fuekis also talked about the current condition of agriculture and challenges in village areas, and there were vigorous questionings.

Before the lesson, participants joined Tochikubo ecology research, which is conducted almost every month. They walked around the village and observed creatures. They felt rich ecosystem linked to the life of villagers in Tochikubo.

On the 2nd day, everybody predicted rain, but it was sunny from the morning, and they harvested rice under the blue sky.

Mr. FUEKI, Minoru, a local person, is an expert. He harvested and bound straws very quickly.
Mr. FUEKI, Minoru, a local person, is an expert. He harvested and bound straws very quickly.

In addition to workers at “Tochikubo Panorama Farm” who are helping every time, Mr. FUEKI Minoru and Mr. HIGUMA Kenkichi, both are in late 70’s, came and assisted the members. Thanks to those support, participants finished the work in about 2 and half hours.

Because it often rained before the program day, the rice paddy was really muddy. So it was difficult even to walk. But various plants and insects appeared as rice straws were being cut with sickles, and children were happy to catch flogs and “kanahebi,” or Japanese grass lizard. If we had used big machines to harvest, we couldn’t have done such things.

In the questionnaire after the program, many participants commented, “I felt rich nature in this village,” and “Communication with local people was heart-warming.” Repeating participants appreciate beautiful sceneries changing by seasons and grown relationship with villagers very much.

2nd Japan Terraced Rice Paddy Weed Art Championship

Last year the 1st Japan Terraced Rice Paddy Weed Art Championship was so successful and popular that the second one this year was held much more attractively and powerfully.

Winner was a carpenter. He drew a stone bridge at a slope in front of his house.
Winner was a carpenter. He drew a stone bridge at a slope in front of his house.

Last year the 1st Japan Terraced Rice Paddy Weed Art Championship was so successful and popular that the second one this year was held much more attractively and powerfully.

24 teams drew various letters and designs on the grass paths between rice paddies.

Various teams joined, such as the team of municipal staff, teachers and young villagers including high school students.

They worked on 18th and in the morning of 19th. The site was 30- degree sloped and three meters high.

It was raining all day long on 18th and they had to work at unstable slope. It stopped raining on 19th that their work moved on smoothly under the sun. At noon 25 pieces of work were done.

The work celebrating 130th anniversary of the founding of Tochikubo elementary school.
The work celebrating 130th anniversary of the founding of Tochikubo elementary school.

Tochikubo ELS team drew a design for celebration of 130th year that 12 students designed.

Farm market was opened at the same time. Many kinds of vegetables, such as potatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, and mini tomatoes helped warm this event up.

One of the participants said, \”At the beginning, I thought it stupid to join weeding with participating fee, but I found it fun! \”

WATANABE Seisuke, Associate professor of Nagaoka Institute of Design said, \”It is very interesting. Please continue for 10 years.\”

ECOPLUS 2009 General Meeting and Members’ Gathering

From 18:30, June 19th, 2009 Meeting Room at Tokyo Women’s Plaza, Tokyo

A total of 22 full members, observers etc. got together for the 6th ECOPLUS General Meeting on June 19.

Agenda included activity and financial reports in 2008 and the proposals of those for the next year. They were passed unanimously.

In 2008, ECOPLUS enhanced the projects in local community, and succeeded to work with new fields by promoting corroborative activities with companies and municipalities.

It was the year of Worlds School Network ends.

TAKANO, Chairperson greeted, \”The activities like ECOPLUS will be more important at the turning point of the society. More people have taken action with high consciousness consciousness against the society and we would like to contribute to build a new society with them.\”

Aim of the activities in 2009

– ECOPLUS will work on not only citizens, but also more companies, organizations,

– And municipalities in order to plant seeds for developing human resources.

– It will work for \”Global Citizenship Award\” in full scale, which was started to develop in 2005.

– It will call for organizations in Tokyo area to work together for the green education project and sustainability in Minamiuonuma.

– It will work with local people to revitalize communities in Minamiuonuma, and continue to help small businesses there succeed.