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Internationalization and the Development of Interdisciplinary Studies on Database of “Yakihata (Swidden Fields) – The SASAKI Komei collection”

Research period: April 2020 – March 2022 / Project for database enhancement (project period: max. two years)

Coordinator IKEYA Kazunobu



The two objectives for this project are as follows. Firstly, we will create an English version of the Japanese database “Yakihata (Swidden Fields) – The SASAKI Komei collection”, which is currently available to the public at Minpaku, and disseminate it internationally, in particular to English-speaking countries. Secondly, by adding photographs to the database (swidden fields of the Japanese archipelago) from East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia, where Komei Sasaki carried out his surveys, we will expand the world of swidden fields as seen by Komei Sasaki to Monsoon Asia, and help develop interdisciplinary studies of Shifting cultivation, particularly within the fields of ethnology and cultural geography.


A lot of research has been done on Japanese Shifting cultivation, most of which has been within the subject areas of early modern history, Japanese folklore studies, and human geography. However, there have barely been any papers published in English. The result of this is that there has been virtually no discussion globally of Japanese Shifting cultivation from the past to the present within the context of Japanese culture. However, from a global perspective, Japanese Shifting cultivation is unique in its variety, stretching as it does from the cold zone (“northern Shifting cultivation”) to the subtropical zone (“southern Shifting cultivation”), and its origins and method of propagation provide fascinating but as-yet unexplored topics for research.
Focusing on the Kyushu region, this project will present information in English for the first time on Japan’s selection method for Shifting cultivation areas, techniques of Shifting cultivation, the use of land, and the types of crops grown, as well as the state of Shifting cultivation culture in the modern era. At the same time, learning about Shifting cultivation in Asia (particularly Southeast Asia) will enable users to appreciate the regional characteristics of Japan’s Shifting cultivation.

Expected results

Note: Results also reveal what kind of database it would be.
The three main points we expect to achieve are as follows. Previously there has been inadequate international dissemination of domestic ethnological research into Shifting cultivation agriculture (for example, in approx. 100 issues of SES no collections of papers on Shifting cultivation have been published). With this project, we will (1) be able to disseminate information globally, and in particular, to the English-speaking world. At the same time, by learning about details of life in the mountains of the Japanese archipelago, which differs greatly from life on the flatlands, we can (2) develop a new cultural study of Japan. In recent years, Shifting cultivation within the context of circular agriculture has gained a lot of attention as an environmentally friendly form of agriculture, particularly in Japan. Knowledge (native knowledge) about this kind of Shifting cultivation can (3) provide ideas for the sustainable use of natural resources around the world, particularly in temperate mountainous regions and tropical lowland forest areas. This will enhance the social value of Japanese humanities studies.

Outcomes from 2020

1. The state of the implementation of this year’s research

・.Database Internationalization
This year, we produced an English version of the “Database of Swidden Fields - The SASAKI KOMEI collection” by translating the Japanese portions to English, which is currently available at the Minpaku. In the future, we plan to examine the individual contents of the database and make it available to the public
・Development of Academic Research
Descriptions below are for the following three areas: (1) Research Reports, (2) Publication of Literature, (3) Exhibitions.
(1) I gave a research report on the changes in swidden fields in Itsuki Village in Kumamoto at an international symposium at the University of California, Berkeley held by the Institute of East Asian Studies. We also held five study groups in Itsuki Village, the site where Sasaki Komei did most of his research. Their theme was “Shifting Cultivation and Modern Civilization,” and the subject was extended to the Monsoon Asia region. Researchers from a variety of fields presented their findings and held discussions with local residents.
(2) My theories on civilization involving food and agriculture are discussed in the book that I compiled, Food Civilization- A View through the History of Homo Sapiens, Rural Culture Association (Nobunkyo).
(3) From October to December 2020, we held a special exhibition titled “Shifting Cultivation from the perspective of Komei Sasaki: from Itsuki-mura to the world” in Itsuki Village, where Komei Sasaki did his research. During this exhibition period, we offered a gallery talk session at the venue and exchanged views with researchers and local residents.
As explained above, this research project extended world of shifting cultivation as seen by Komei Sasaki to the rest of the Japanese archipelago and beyond to the Monsoon Asia region. It also promoted academic research focusing on the ethnography and cultural geography of shifting cultivation.

2. Overview of the research results (achievements of the research objects)

The overview can be summarized in the following three areas.
(1) Research: By presenting my research on shifting cultivation at the international symposium, I learned that shifting cultivation is either on the decline or disappearing throughout the world. At the same time, I got the impression that the Japanese shifting cultivation culture is probably unique in the world in terms of cultivation techniques and other aspects. If we could, for example, build a model showing the formation, development, and decline of shifting cultivation culture in Japan, I think it would contribute to international research.
(2) Exhibition and network-building: We were able to form a new network by holding workshops in Japan during the period of the exhibition in the village where shifting cultivation was once the basic form of livelihood. This network includes researchers, governments, schools, and local residents. For example, we saw movements to reevaluate shifting cultivation, including the awareness that the periodic classification of Japanese history in school education does not match the history of the village, and the small-scale commercialization of indigenous crops grown using shifting cultivation. In fact, in late March 2021, a movement came to fruition to revive shifting cultivation in the village in which it had disappeared.
(3) Database: In the “Database of Swidden Fields - The SASAKI KOMEI collection,” which is now available, there were errors in photo captions and other elements, as pointed out by residents viewing the exhibition. We also offered support for the collection by a local museum of some of the cultural items related to shifting cultivation. In doing this, we were able to prepare basic materials on manufacturing techniques and knowledge.

3. Records disclosing achievements (publications, public symposia, sectional meetings of academic conferences, electronic media, etc.)

・H. Yatsuka, K. Ikeya, Farming practices among African hunter-gatherers: diversifying without loss of the past, Rethinking African Agriculture: How Non-Agrarian Factors Shape Peasant Livelihoods.、pp. 49-63, Routledge. (June 21, 2020), ISBN: 9781138610606
・Kazunobu Ikeya 2021 “Exhibition ‘Slash-and-Burn Cultivation Viewed by SASAKI Komei’ in Itsuki Mura”, Minpaku Tsushin Online 167, National Museum of Ethnology. (March 31, 2021)
・Kazunobu Ikeya 2020 “The Future of Food and Agriculture- The Last Slash-and-Burn Cultivation Viewed by SASAKI Komei” Gekkan Minpaku 44(7), pp.6-7, National Museum of Ethnology. (July 1, 2020)
・Kazunobu Ikeya, 2020, Slash-and-Burn Cultivationgat Viewed by SASAKI Komei: From Itsuki Mura to the World, Minpaku Anthropology Newsletter 51: 14、ISSN: 13417959、(October, 2020)
・Kazunobu Ikeya 2021 “Slash-and-burn Agriculture and Millet Cultivation in Postwar Japan” CJS-JSPS Symposium-Agroecology, Sustainable Food Production and Satoyama: Contributions of Japanese Case Studies to the Discussion of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Environmental Conservation, Organized by Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley (Online). (March 19, 2021)
・Kazunobu Ikeya (ed.) 2021 Food Civilization- A View through the History of Homo Sapiens, Rural Culture Association (Nobunkyo). (March 30, 2021) ISBN: 9784540201080
・Kazunobu Ikeya 2021 “Earth, Food and Civilization”. In K. Ikeya (ed.) Food Civilization- A View through the History of Homo Sapiens, pp. 413-422, Rural Culture Association (Nobunkyo). (March 30, 2021) ISBN: 9784540201080