Research Program 1

Societal Transformation under Environmental Change

PL Photo
Program Director

SUGIHARA Kaoru

RIHN

Trained in Japan (Doctorate at the University of Tokyo), I have held positions at the History Department of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, the Graduate School of Economics, University of Tokyo, and the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (Japan). My research concerns the history of intra-Asian trade and labor-intensive industrialization in the last two centuries. I am currently working on the economic and environmental history of Monsoon Asia in long-term perspective. I also act as Vice-Chair of the Future Earth Committee of the Science Council of Japan.

Program Researchers
MOROTA HiroakiProgram Researcher
YAMAMOTO AyaProgram Research Associate
YANAKA HirokoProgram Research Associate

This program aims at providing realistic perspectives and options to facilitate the transformation towards a society that can flexibly respond to environmental changes caused by human activities such as global warming and air pollution, as well as to natural disasters.

To demonstrate the fundamental significance of global environmental sustainability for human society, we need to make the links between environmental change and natural disasters, and social issues such as livelihood, inequality, social security and conflict, intellectually explicit, and reinforce them in the real world. RIHN’s Societal Transformation under Environmental Change research program contributes to this task.

The Program follows two lines of inquiry. The first conducts research on Asia’s long-term paths of social and economic development in relation to climate change and environmental history. Such studies offer historical understandings of the human-nature interface, and evaluate each region’s political and economic conditions and cultural and social potentialities in comparative perspective. For example, postwar development of the industrial complex along Asia’s Pacific coast was made possible by the combination of imported fossil fuels and utilization of rich local resources of land, water and biomass. Industrial development in the region produced both rapid economic growth and at times severe environmental pollution and degradation. It is important to recognize the causes and consequences of these historical processes in their own light, as well as for their significance to future societal change and policy deliberations.

The Program’s second line of inquiry examines the kinds of motivations that affect people’s livelihood, by working closely with various stakeholders in local society in Asia. Our project based in Sumatra’s tropical peat swamp forest, for example, has identified four principal kinds of motivations—local livelihood; profit of local farmers and agricultural and industrial enterprises; local and centrally-based governance; and conservation measures implemented by governments, NGOs and international institutions—and examines how they can best be coordinated to promote sustainability at the village level. Research also helps implement policies at local, national and international levels. This ongoing project, which cooperates with local universities, companies and officials, has already contributed to the development of regional and national policies to control peatland fires, which became a significant environmental issue in Indonesia and beyond.

This program coordinates a variety of research projects along these lines in order to develop a perspective that helps direct research and social transformation in Asia.

Recent land development activities in some parts of tropical peatlands have led to unpreceded scales of forest fire incidents, which are a serious health threat to people of local areas and neighboring countries. This photograph shows a peatland fire in Riau Province, Sumatra Island, Indonesia.

Recent land development activities in some parts of tropical peatlands have led to unpreceded scales of forest fire incidents, which are a serious health threat to people of local areas and neighboring countries. This photograph shows a peatland fire in Riau Province, Sumatra Island, Indonesia.

Village tax account in 1736 AD at Honkatada village, Shiga county, Ohmi state

Village tax account in 1736 AD at Honkatada village, Shiga county, Ohmi state

A normalized account of estimated rice yields based on village tax accounts among three villages around Lake Biwa and tree-ring cellulose oxygen isotope ratios taken in central Japan during the 18th century. These data demonstrate that flooding was the most significant factor negatively affecting rice yields in the area at this time.

A normalized account of estimated rice yields based on village tax accounts among three villages around Lake Biwa and tree-ring cellulose oxygen isotope ratios taken in central Japan during the 18th century. These data demonstrate that flooding was the most significant factor negatively affecting rice yields in the area at this time.

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Research Program 2

Fair Use and Management of Diverse Resources

PL Photo
Program Director

NAKASHIZUKA Tohru

RIHN

Tohru Nakashizuka has been studying forest ecology, biodiversity and ecosystem services at the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, Kyoto University, and Tohoku University. At RIHN, he is to coordinate the projects on wise and fair use of diverse resources.

Program Researchers
KOBAYASHI KunihikoProgram Researcher
SHIBATA ReiProgram Researcher
KARATSU FukikoProgram Research Associate

Global environmental problems are related each other. Studies concentrating on single issue are not effective, and those consideration inter-linkage of multiple resources involving stakeholders are essential to approach the problems. Recently, nexus structure among energy, water and food became a hot issue, though we need more comprehensive understandings taking into account other issues such as ecological resources which provide ecosystem services and cultural resources to attain sustainable society. Production, circulation and consumption of resources should be discussed in wide range of special scales with involvement of various stakeholders. Sustainable use of resources require fair and wise systems and proper indices to manage these processes.

In particular, transformation from traditional socio-economic or human behaving systems to the new systems which pay more attentions on renewable natural resources which have been sometimes externalized from traditional economics is a key. Asian systems are experiencing rapid change in economics, urbanization and populations, though partly keeps traditions to manage resources in sustainable way, which associated with relatively rich humanospere and cultural background in this region. Thus, the studies on such Asian experience of resource use may give important suggestions on future sustainability in the world.

The RIHN projects up to now have accumulated information and suggestions necessary for this transformation, though there remains some parts with less information (ex. Resources such as energy, or enterprises as global stakeholders, etc.). In this program, we tries to explore wise and fair management system to cope with multiple-resource, by multiple-stakeholders, in multi-spatial scales by encouraging new projects including such new and lacking aspects with innovative ideas by young scientists. The conditions necessary for transforming values and human behavior will be discussed and we try to propose new appropriate indices and institutions for fair resource management.

Agricultural land in India

Agricultural land in India

Logging of tropical rain forest in Malaysia

Logging of tropical rain forest in Malaysia

PPalm oil factory in Malaysia

Palm oil factory in Malaysia

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Research Program 3

Designing Lifeworlds of Sustainability and Wellbeing

PL Photo
Program Director

SAIJO Tatsuyoshi

RIHN

Tatsuyoshi Saijo (4th from left) specializes in designing social systems that promote sustainability and equity without inhibiting individual incentive. His interest is in developing the field of “Future Design”, one that links the happiness and wellbeing of current generation to that of future generations.


More than 60% of the world’s population resides in Asia and the regions surrounding it. Over a third of global economic activity occurs there. Within these places lies an incredible diversity of cultures, histories, societies, economies, livelihoods, and ecologies. Asia is also affected by myriad global and local environmental issues, such as population increase, air, water, soil, and coastal pollution, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity loss. At the same time, growing wealth disparity, social isolation, rising levels of poverty, and the disappearance of traditional culture and knowledges are emerging.

Within these processes, the combination of migration between the countryside and cities, and rural depopulation with urban concentration is accompanied by rapid socio-cultural change, resource over-use, and the deterioration of the natural environment. Both urban and rural lifeworlds are disintegrating rapidly. Consequently, by reconstructing the lifeworld concept and highlighting the reciprocal linkages between rural and urban spaces, Program 3 designs lifeworlds of sustainability and wellbeing and co-creates concrete pathways for their realization.

In these same places, diverse world-views and experiences of the ways in which humanity and nature can exist have accumulated. Pre-existing, yet latent, diverse socio-cultural elements, such as livelihood styles, lay knowledge, conflict resolution strategies, and the vitality of the people themselves can be called upon to address problems and help to chart a course toward possible future societies. Program 3 builds upon these experiences and knowledges of human-nature interaction to propose concrete changes needed to achieve a sustainable society.

Through the transformations and frameworks leading to sustainable urban and rural lifeworld design, the existing economic systems, markets, and political decision making systems will also require fundamental shifts in the way they are conceived. However, Program 3 will not investigate top-down approaches to system change, but will work with local residents, government officials, companies, citizen groups and other various stakeholders to propose sustainable alternatives and gauge their feasibility.

In order not to run the risk of developing proposals that are only applicable to specific regions or sites, Program 3 will aim for research results that are generalizable, but retain their diversity.

The varieties of fruits and vegetables for sale at the market in Kanchanaburi reflect Thailand’s changing society

The varieties of fruits and vegetables for sale at the market in Kanchanaburi reflect Thailand’s changing society

Socialization of composting type toilet in Burkina Faso. Photo by Dr. ITO Ryusei

Socialization of composting type toilet in Burkina Faso. Photo by Dr. ITO Ryusei

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