The Center for Regional Sustainability Initiatives (CRESI) was founded to conduct academic research on the sustainable management of Akita’s natural environment and traditional regional resources. It aims to:
1）apply the results of its research in a scientific manner; and
2）contribute to the region’s revitalization in a concrete and constructive way
Research is currently focused on areas within Akita Prefecture (where the AIU campus is located), although we also plan to establish a large scale research collaboration network with other universities in the surrounding prefectures and universities overseas.
Akita Prefecture is home to a unique combination of rich natural resources, fertile land and traditional rural culture. Natural resources such as the World Heritage-designated Shirakami Mountains with their forests of primeval beech trees, the well-known native Akita Cedar, and all manner of hot springs and mountain villages contribute to a relaxed, unique atmosphere. Added to this is the unique culture of the area, which includes Namahage rites, Matagi bear hunting, Kamakura snow houses, Kagura and Bangaku folk dances, and a rich tradition of folk tales and folk songs. Traditional skills such as the gathering of wild mountain vegetables, pickle-making, and the design and construction of traditional farming tools are still being maintained here, and we at CRESI believe that the culture and resources of this area should continue to be recognized not only in Japan, but also internationally.
Unfortunately, the effects of depopulation and aging, combined with a loss of identity stemming from urban expansion and a decline in agriculture, have contributed to a rapid deterioration of rural villages and traditional ways of life. We believe that developing a sustainable tourism industry within Akita and the surrounding Tohoku regions may have the potential to reverse this situation and greatly contribute to the revitalization of these rural villages.
At present, rural areas of Akita Prefecture and other prefectures in the Tohoku area are facing economic difficulties due to increasing amounts of imported food. The role of rural villages as food producers is being destroyed. Therefore, there is a need to create new possibilities through sustainable regional resource management, and to use local resources to secure secondary income employment, create new employment opportunities, foster pride and hometown passion, and promote cultural inheritance and environmental education.
In general, most regional development and revitalization projects till now have been executed without appropriate and thorough social scientific investigations. Although enormous amounts of money have been spent on constructing large-scale social infrastructure throughout Akita Prefecture, these efforts have not been able to stop the processes of depopulation and aging.
In order to sustainably use Akita’s outstanding natural, historical, traditional and living resources, and avoid any possible damage to them, it is essential that we conduct an assessment of all social, economic, and ecological factors critical to the administration of rural revitalization projects. It is also necessary to continue monitoring their implementation processes. CRESI conducts evidence-based policy research that promotes strategies for rural revitalization through multilateral collaboration with researchers within Japan and abroad, while maintaining strong ties with local administrative institutions, villages and towns.
With sustainable management of natural and cultural resources as the main long-term research goal for CRESI, there are limits to what any individual researcher can achieve in presenting an inclusive and multilateral perspective of the problems. Therefore, the institute is composed of a team of researchers with differing cultural and scientific backgrounds. By using an interdisciplinary approach combined with our variety of perspectives, we hope to contribute to the process of gaining due recognition for the natural environment and cultural resources of Akita, while aiming toward sustainable use and increased awareness of the value of the rural areas.