Lecture: Rivers and Wetlands

★ Lecturer: Professor. Tak Watanabe

Reading The River Law with Commentary by Article, Legal Framework and for River and Water management in Japan 
Author –  Supervised by River Bureau, Ministry of Construction Japan. Compiled and Commented by Toshikatsu Omachi

Reading –  Landscape Restoration A case practise of Kushiro Mire, Hokkaido
Author  – F. Nakamura, Y.S. Ahn 

ReadingForced to run straight, a Japanese river must ow twist 
Author –  Norimitsu Onishi

This week, on June 1st, Human Ecology:Rivers had our third class on Rivers and Wetlands. The lecture began with a simple question, “What is a River?” Students answered in many ways reaching to a definition, ‘a body of water flowing down hill.’ Which is very true, but where is the final destination of these rivers? The ocean,  lake or do they ever reach anywhere? Some rivers are seasonal – they could just vanish and disappear perhaps during a dry season.

Hydrological/Water Cycle was a term introduced by our professor as he explained the term with an event coming up of June 11th 2016 – A gathering of the town people of Suginami area to talk about the water cycle. The birth of Rivers were discussed: the rain soaks into the ground, becomes a river, flows ever so slowly to the ocean, evaporates and become clouds. Water circulates and are somewhat controlled by nature so rivers are suppose to flood, over flow and calm itself.

This cycle brought about the topic of Human Beings and Rivers. How does our society use rivers? Many aspects were called by students:
– Irrigation
– Transportation
– Electricity
– Recreational use
– Tourism
– Industry
Yet the highlight was sewage. Rivers are a ready made sewage system and this idea triggered the shift of image for a River.  For example, in Japan, children learned how to swim in a river. Today, swimming pools are built where children learn how to swim. Rivers are now observed as an importance of public health.

Rivers are now transformed to our conveniences as they are more accessible to human society. Rivers are now diverted, artificial waterways are created, aqueducts are built, dams are built and channelisations occur as Rivers are straightened.  The manipulation of Rivers for the convenience of human society is so engrained that in a city like Tokyo, to see a beautiful ‘natural’ River one must travel for an hour or so.

Yet, these Rivers that are changed are also somewhat ‘natural’ as it can bring back its original grace. Today, there are school and projects restore their local Rivers. Rivers had been transformed and given a new purpose in Japan from the Meiji period when the high economic growth sparked. Rivers continued to be controlled by the government through the Olympic games in the 1960’s until today. To restore nature that transformed through decades is of course difficult, but slowly, with lectures like this one, the ways in which we think about Rivers could alter its purpose and character.

So we went back again to the first question, “What is a River?” However this time, the class had to rethink the idea of ‘artificial’ and ‘natural’ what does it mean to for a River to be in its ‘Original State?’ Nature is bound to change itself, as we had discussed it is a cycle of an environment which is very fragile. What is the feature of a River, and what is the best way to comprehend its personality?


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