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In July 2011 my husband and I packed up our life into four suitcases (mostly filled with my permaculture books) and moved to Tokushima Prefecture on the island of Shikoku, Japan. Often described as the “bread basket” for the Kansai Region (Osaka/Kyoto), Tokushima proudly boasts a highly productive regional agricultural system, providing vegetables, fruit, meat and fish for millions throughout Japan. After a year of observation and volunteer work at local farms, I’d like to share some of my thoughts and drawings about what I like to think of as the satoyama edge.

Satoyama literally translates to village (“sato”) mountain (“yama”). However the broader connotations of the word have developed significantly over the last few hundred years. Today, through the efforts of organizations like The Satoyama Initiative, the concept of satoyama has evolved into a larger movement to conserve, protect and sustainably develop these increasingly endangered landscapes, as well as the traditional knowledge and culture that created and maintained them. Fellow blogger Alan Zulch describes satoyama, “as a place where people and nature harmoniously exist, where biodiversity flourishes, and where the human spirit and creativity thrives.” I don’t know about you, but I’d sure like to hunker down in a place like that for whatever the post-peak-oil madness has to bring.

With that definition in mind, I’d like to connect this idea of satoyama to the concept of “edge” in permaculture. As we observe and interact with the people and landscapes around us, permaculture reminds us to “use edges and value the marginal”. Edges are the nexus of interaction, connection, opportunity and abundance. Basically, this is where the party is at! But it’s a party you’ve got to seek out, one less visible, on the periphery of all the other more obvious noise and action.

As desginers, practitioners and global citizens, we need to start to look with a broader vision: What is it I’m not seeing? Who is being affected (or even marginalized) by this system? What is working behind the scenes to make this possible? Co-founder of the permaculture concept David Holmgren predicts that, “small businesses and smaller, less affluent places and ecosystems are the sources for future innovation”. As the place of highest diversity and, potentially, most productivity in the rural landscape, the satoyama edge is where we should be looking for the answers to our most pressing questions about the future design of human settlements.

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One thought on “What is the satoyama edge?

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