Tokyo Satoyama Pioneers

Tokyo Satoyama Pioneers, a non-profit organization, works with children in orphanages to reclaim the underdeveloped forests of Tokyo and create a place where they can restore the true richness of their hearts by utilizing the blessings of nature. This time, we spoke with Horisaki-san, the Representative Officer of Tokyo Satoyama Pioneers. (Translator’s note: Satoyama is a term referring to a rural forest near a residential community)

Activities in Satoyama

Please tell me about your career and how you started Tokyo Satoyama Pioneers.

My love of DIY and outdoor activities led me to seek out unspoiled nature, and I discovered that my relatives owned an abandoned forest. It was 2006 when I just moved to Tokyo. After that, I paved the paths and opened spaces on my day off. It took a while, but I made progress step by step. Gradually, I was drawn more and more into the charm of sweating away to reclaiming and feeling part of nature. Eventually, I discovered that people of all ages, from children to adults, could enjoy it by engaging their family, friends, and acquaintances, and I thought it would be possible to use it to contribute more to society. As a student, I had volunteered to support children in orphanages and other places, so I drew up a plan for our activities and established in 2009 the Tokyo Satoyama Pioneers

Activities in Satoyama

What was the most difficult and good thing about launching?

As a pillar of our activities, we formulated a plan to work together with children in orphanages to reclaim the underdeveloped forest. However, for the first three years since our establishment, we have not been able to find a foster home to participate in our activities, and I had doubts about the viability of our activities. There were many members who quit during that time.

Now, in cooperation with five orphanages in Tokyo, we have established an unprecedented initiative that “kills two birds with one stone” i.e. supports environmental conservation and social welfare, which has been awarded by both the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. In addition, we have come closer to the ideal form of social welfare, in which the power of nature and volunteers is utilized to produce the maximum impact without incurring costs. Through our volunteer activities, we are making many enriching experiences of sharing high aspirations and building together with people we would never meet in our daily work or life.

How are you using the donations from FIT?

It is used for direct expenses such as materials, tools, transportation, and foodstuffs for clearing abandoned forests with children in orphanages and renovating vacant houses at the foothills.

Our base of operations is the forest in Miyama-cho, Hachioji City in the outskirts of Tokyo. In the morning, we work with children in orphanages to develop clearings and paths, and make various projects that take advantage of the natural bounty of the four seasons; at lunchtime, we gather dry wood and cook dishes in handmade stone ovens; and in the afternoon, we spend free time enjoying free time in hammocks, treehouses, zip lines, swings, making wood crafts, and nature observation. Children discover a lot in nature, connect directly with it, find themselves genuinely enjoying it, and open themselves up to others.

In addition, we spent six months renovating an abandoned 300 year-old house at the foothills which was full of garbage; with the help of children in orphanages and local people it opened in July 2023 as "Satogororin Miyama", a holiday house of an orphanage that also boasts its own forest. From now on, we will operate it as a base to practice Satoyama lifestyle, where children can come back whenever they want and enjoy the blessings of nature.

Opening of "Satogororin Miyama"

What kind of support can we provide for the activities of the Tokyo Satoyama Pioneers?

Our activities are still on a small scale. About 30 volunteer members work together with five orphanages in Tokyo and are based only in a small Satoyama and a villa at the foothills of Hachioji. About 30,000 children live in orphanages across the country, but that is only a small fraction of the children who suffer from abuse and poverty. And there are countless abandoned forests and empty houses all over Japan, many even just an hour from the Tokyo metropolitan center.

In terms of public relations, we would appreciate it if you could convey our activities as a model case, providing people with an opportunity to think deeply about social issues and how to address them, and help expand similar social contribution activities broadly and laterally.

What kind of activities do you plan to expand in the future? What is your future outlook?

We are exploring how to extend this activity to other Satoyama and orphanages, while continuing to build a hometown based in our villa in Hachioji. However, Satoyama can be maintained as Satoyama only if you can go there regularly. It is difficult for us to directly carry out and continue activities with orphanages in remote Satoyama.

Therefore, we would like to expand our activities in cooperation with various people. In particular, there are many organizations in various parts of the country that provide support for Satoyama conservation and orphanages, but they have little contact with each other due to differences in areas of interest. I would like to create opportunities for such people to interact with each other, and while sharing our experience and know-how, I would like to increase the number of likeminded people around the country who want to be seriously involved.

Finally, please send a message to anyone reading this article.

You may think that overcoming social problems is a serious challenge that requires experts to solve complex equations, but I have come to believe that is not the case at all. Rather, I believe that each of us should be able to address social issues in our own, best possible way by closely observing our environment, taking full advantage of the blessings of nature and the strengths of ourselves and our colleagues, taking adversity as an opportunity, and demonstrating our attitude of overcoming adversity while enjoying the process of trial and error, or "pioneer spirit." Let's demonstrate our pioneering spirit and work together to create a society that enriches our hearts and minds!

Group photo at the campFrom left: Representative Officer Horisaki-san (fourth), Member Fukuda-san (second) and FIT2023 Organising Committee Members Okitsu-san, Kida-san, Onishi-san and Yamamoto-san

Tokyo Satoyama Pioneers