The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan
The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan was founded in 2005,when Japan was in the process of municipal amalgamation to reform financial condition. Municipalities had to find a way to survive. The idea to form Japanese association was spring from the hearts and minds of those in villages and towns who wanted to protect their natural and social capital as their intangible resources, though it was not directly linked to economic value, such as their culture and traditional sceneries that had been passed on by their ancestors for hundreds of years. By 2010, our association was officially approved to become one of the members of the Most Beautiful Villages in the World as the first country in Asia.
Our Mission and Goal
Japan has experienced rapid economic growth in twentieth century, but behind the scene, its traditional community and the value were vanishing silently, especially in rural areas. Our mission is to protect thescenery and living heritage of the beautiful areas that we would never be able to retrieve once lost, and to sustain them for the future generations. We support self-sustaining economy in villages through the promotion of social, cultural, and economic activities.Our strategy for fostering the economic independence of financially weak villages is twofold; (1) increasing income by long-stay tourism appealing charm of the region, and (2) decreasing outflow of disbursement from villages by local re-circulating economy among food, housing and energy, which helps creating job opportunities and thus prevent depopulation.
Criteria and Quality
Visiting European villages and watching castles and stone houses makes you feel as if you were in a piece of impressionist’s artwork. Unfortunately, because Japan has long history of wood culture, Japanese traditional buildings are wooden and have not been well preserved. We struggled at first to find our beauty in selecting local resources. However, it was a meaningful process, as it made our criteria of beautiful village spontaneouslyoriginal. We found that our uniqueness lies in diversity. Japan is a country small in size but long in shape, spanning more than 3,000km from north to west. This geographical characteristic fostered much diversity in culture from region to region. We decided to place an emphasis on this diversity, in recognition of its intangible value. Thus, we set the criteria of beauty by considering three aspects: hereditary property, an unspoiled landscape of farming, and a regional culture that has been nurtured through the ordinary lifestyle of the residents. Villages should be qualified for listing by having at least two of those resources based on Quality Check Sheet.
Diverse Culture as the Beauty of Japanese Villages
Here are some essences of beauty. Hereditary property means not only castle and temples, but also ordinary houses maintained by region’s unique aesthetic.An example is the “funaya” in Ine, Kyoto, a series of traditional fisherman’s houses that looks like they are floating on the sea, which date from the mid-Edo period. We also finda farming landscape to be valuable, as well as magnificent view of nature, because it shows you ancestor’s devoted effort beyond the scenery. In mountain area, such as Kamikatsu in Shikoku and Hoshino in Kyushu, the beautiful “tanada”, terraced rice fields arranged in a staircase pattern on steep slope, will surely amaze you. Some tanada have started an owner system for the purpose of conserving the landscape or fostering repeaters, which we account as a great way to realize the coexistence of the rural and urban cultures.
It is also a great joy to find regional culture and to be immersed in it. There are many kind of traditional performing art that have been enjoyed and have endured in our villages. For instance, you might be surprised to find you can enjoy one of the most famous Japanese traditional performing arts, known as “Kabuki” in a small mountainous village of Oshika. There are also villages that welcome you into traditional Japanese houses with thatched roof and hearth on the floor in Nakagawa and Nagiso. You can even craft a traditional straw hat by hand, or enjoy local mountain vegetables and wild game meat shot by your host family for dinner through farm-stay program.
There are no fancy sushi shops, elaborate technology or animation, but you may find the calm atmosphere makes you feel at home, and you can get unique cultural experience not revealed to visitors, as it was too common in the villages. We cherish the value of those ordinary lives that have not been in the limelight, butwovenby time to endure across the years. TIC, and environmental qualities, as well as its efforts to make the most of its territory (aesthetic development, management of visitors’ flows, town planning tools…).
Based on the on-site evaluation report and the photographic presentation, the Quality Committee decides to admit or reject the application.
While this selection method is extremely rigorous – less than one classification application out of five is favourably accepted – it has really proved to be necessary for the villages and the network to remain credible in the promise of excellence they make to the wider public.
Because listing is not an end in itself, periodic re-evaluations are conducted every six years. Today the national-scale network includes 56 villages.