Rivers have been important in Japanese history. From ancient rice production and castle building, to concrete dams and the modern water infrastructure, the governance of rivers have shaped Japanese society.  While geology and climate are powerful determinants of destiny, so too are the institutions, technologies, knowledge, ethical codes, and cultures that have developed as a result of humanity’s interaction with water — perhaps the most important chemical compound for human life.  In modern times, pollution, loss of habitat, flooding, land-use change, and lack of waterfront accessibility have all contributed to the removal of rivers from everyday consciousness and public discussions.  This event will feature two talks that will discuss changes to rivers as a part of a larger social-ecological transformation in Japanese society.  

Chair: Ewa Machotka, Stockholm University, Associate Professor, Art History.


1. Takehiro Watanabe (Sophia University, Associate Professor, Anthropology), “Hydrology as Political Imaginary: Legibility of Infrastructure and the Future of Freshwater Governance in Tokyo, Japan”

As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics approaches, one emerge concern has been that of the harmful water quality of Tokyo Bay.  This issue has forced Tokyo’s vast water infrastructure — both natural and engineered, both water supply and the sewage system, and much of it hitherto unnoticed —to surface as a local environmental crisis.  This presentation examines river restoration projects in Tokyo, Japan that seek to achieve greater public engagement in the design, maintenance, and monitoring of urban waters.  With the goal of environmental remediation and biological renewal, these projects have brought attention to the fact that household wastewater pollutes the city’s waterways and that the stormwater management regime, which is the major factor in Tokyo Bay’s pollution, also induces flash floods across the city.  Maps of watersheds and sewersheds are challenging the older political jurisdictions, as non-government actors cross political boundaries and bureaucracies.  Multi-generational approaches, including ways to involve school children, as well as ideas that challenge traditional ideas about infrastructure, are also being used in community-based initiatives.  The presentation will focus on initiatives in the upper Kanda River, such as that of Zenpukuji River and Inokashira Park, which are contributing to the democratization of watershed governance and improved civic engagement with water infrastructures.

Dr. Takehiro Watanabe is Associate Professor at the Graduate Program in Global Studies and the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Sophia University. He holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University.  His research interests are studies of the natural environment, including industrial pollution, wildlife management and conservation, nature restoration, resource management, and urban ecologies. 

2. Mikiko Michelle Sugiura (Sophia University, Associate Professor, Water Resources Development), “Learning from History and Ecosystem of Gravelly River Channels in Japan: What Should Be Conserved as the "Original"?

Japan is covered with more than 60,000 rivers and 235 river basins.  Due to the characteristics in topography, climatology, meteorology and hydrology, the river ecosystems in Japan have been formed by the rapid, ample but frequently fluctuating flow of rivers.  It has been characterized by gravelly river channels (channels that look dry on the surface but have water streams beneath), which have formed due to a large amount of sediment flowing from upstream AND continuous forest exploitation by Japanese for over 1,000 years.  In terms of biodiversity, frequent change in route and volume, and even such harsh way of resource exploitation have contributed to causing natural disturbances, which has resulted in giving advantage to pioneering flora and fauna for survival.  However in recent several decades, besides climate change on a global scale, the sharply decreasing demand of domestic timber and consequently abandoned forest areas have brought a drastic change in ecosystems of Japanese rivers. Then, one question has come out: "What should be conserved as the ‘original’ ecosystem in Japan?”

Dr. Mikiko M Sugiura is Associate Professor in Center for Global Education and Discovery at Sophia University. She holds a Ph.D. and a master's degree, both in international studies, and the first B. A. in law from the University of Tokyo besides the second B. A. in comparative culture from Sophia University. Her research interests are in identifying an institutional framework for sustainable water resources management especially focusing on river water use. “Water right systems” is the major topic, and the associated issues such as drought management, environmental water rights, biodiversity conservation have been also keenly addressed.