Research Objectives

This project aims at reconsidering the notion of gcultural landscape protectionh by way of reconstructing the historical landscape change on East-Asian inland seas during the two revolutionary periods in the history of human-nature relations, i.e. Neolithisation and Modernisation, through the analyses of sustenance activities, trade and mental or cultural structures (political system, art, literature, festivals etc), climatic and topographical analysis in eight regions on the shores of Japan and East China Sea. (see picture)

The primary goals of the project are:

(1) Reconstruct the changes in the naturally and culturally conditioned spheres of landscape (geographical features, climatic change vs. sustenance activities, trade, ideologies etc) in the eight study areas during these two periods, and illustrate the mutuality of environmental and cultural change with the special emphasis on the role of cultural factors in ecological history.

(2) Explicate the functioning of inland seas as a network creating cultural and ecological unity and diversity at the same time, simultaneously binding and separating the local regions it consists of.

(3) Offer a new insight into the human-nature interactions and environmental problems by taking into account the cultural factor behind the destructive behaviour of human beings and analysing the two revolutionary periods of change in human-nature relationships that can be considered as roots of modern environmental problems. Comparing Neolithisation and Modernisation processes in given regions can give us better understanding of possible future developments and ways to avoid the aggravation of environmental issues.

(4) Reconsider the idea of gcultural landscapeh in order to put the cultural landscape protection policies into a new perspective. Considering that gcultural landscapeh has become an important issue in the governmental and international protection programs (nomination of so-called national landscape treasures in Japan, UNESCO world heritage sites), it is important to understand the cultural formation mechanisms of the protected landscape elements and the processes that sustain them.

(5) By means of a comprehensive research in East Asia, develop a new framework for integrated landscape studies that would challenge the Eurocentric views of landscape and human-nature relationships dominant in present-day academia.



Compared to Europe, landscape studies that take cultural elements into account in an equal measure with natural ones, are still rare in East Asian research initiatives. NEOMAP sees landscape as not a mere conglomerate of physical land forms but a holistic phenomenon where both the material aspects of the surrounding natural environment and the mental aspects of a given culture are equally manifested. Landscape has an immense emotional and identity value for its inhabitants that is beyond its physical dimension. Landscape can also function as a tool for cultural memory where memorable events are recorded. For its inhabitants Landscape is an experiential space, the location of their everyday activities, where decisions for altering environment can be taken out of habit, custom or aesthetical reasons that do not necessarily coincide with the logic of experts or outsiders. Thus any successful analysis of human impact on the natural environment has to take into account both the material/visual and immaterial/perceivable aspects of landscape (Keisteri 1990, Fig.1), the functions and the practices performed in a landscape (Fig.2. - dimension of practice in LS) but also the general cultural context, which endows everything with meaning. (Further background on our view of landscape is HERE)



    Different periods of time have created different layers in landscape. In our view there are two revolutionary leaps in landscape history that can be considered marker layers in landscape: Neolithisation and Modernisation. (Fig.4) As Neolithisation and Modernisation we define historical processes including following elements:



(1)   Introducing sedentary lifestyle bringing about rapid increase of population and the appearance of large scale settlements;

(1)  Beginning of urbanisation and concentration of human population in unprecedented large settlements;

(2)    Change of subsistence systems, the appearance of agriculture and reliance on a number of domesticated species;


(2)  Increased dependence on specific domesticated products and traded foodstuff; dependence of farming on traded products and investments from outside of the local communities;

(3)    Appearance of interregional trading activities introducing inter-societal division of labour and interdependence for resources and products;


(3)  Globalisation of trading activities producing inter-regional hierarchies; appearance of transport and communication facilities that increased the range of cultural interaction to an unprecedented level;

(4)    Introduction of new and complex technologies, which resulted in more intensive exploitation of the natural environment.

(4)  Introduction of new technologies, which further increase the human impact on environment.


    Both Neolithisation and Modernisation are rather sets of historical processes than universal chronological periods, therefore their exact period of occurrence has to be defined separately for each region (for NEOMAP regions see HERE). This enables us to compare similar phenomena in different cultures without being confined by standard chronological periodisations. Each of these factors alone might not have been enough for a revolutionary change in landscape but the processes of Neolithisation and Modernisation caused irreversible changes in local ecosystems and human-nature relationships.

    Most of research on landscape change tends to concentrate on the European Modernisation period, excluding the long period in human history that preceded Neolithic age (Antrop 1997; Antrop 1998; Antrop 2004, Antrop 2005a) claiming that the changes of unprecedented magnitude appeared only in Modernisation (Fig.5). Some models take landscape history back to pre-Neolithic period and try to analyse the persistence and change of the landscape elements through history (Vos, Meekes 1999; Palang et al 2004), nevertheless underestimating the magnitude of the change in transition from pre-Neolithisation foraging life-style to post-Neolithisation agrarian life-style. Ecological histories acknowledge that the process termed here Neolithisation is the fundamental root of present environmental problems (Hughes 2002, Ponting 1993), but are rather episodic in their explications. Considering the processes occurring during Neolithisation and Modernisation as the fundamental and direct roots of present environmental problems and providing the similarities between the two periods, a comparison of landscape change during these two crucial periods in human-nature relationships can give us an unprecedented insight into the emergence of the present environmental problems. To provide a model for understanding possible future developments it is important that the environmental changes be analysed through a holistic continuous phenomenon like landscape rather than sporadic episodes.



    The number of inland seas on Earth is small and only two of them are situated in the temperate zone (Fig. 7). Historically densely populated, these areas have played a major role as world-wide trading spots and collision spots for various cultures and civilisations. Inland seas play both a uniting and separating role for the cultures on its shores. (Chase-Dunn 1997) Since maritime transport was much easier compared to land transportation and made it possible to cover much longer distances, the cultural and economic contacts between the cultures in the region are extensive, creating a certain unity between the cultures. At the same time, unlike on dry land the relations where loose enough to allow for considerable cultural diversity to remain.

    The present project focuses mainly on the East Asian inland sea, i.e. the Japan Sea Rim and the East China Sea Rim (Fig. 1) shaped geologically by two great river systems: the Amur and Yellow River systems. East Asian inland sea region contains a remarkable cultural, climatic and environmental diversity ranging from the sub-boreal foraging cultures on Hokkaido and Russian Far East to the sub-tropical Oceanic cultures of the Ryukyu Islands. This allows for a comprehensive research of LS changes under most diverse cultural and climatic conditions. Throughout the research the results would be compared to those of the LS research on the North European inland seas through a series of common workshops and seminars.


research methods

    While Japan has an outstanding scholarship on landscape in the framework of historical and population geography and landscape architecture, the landscape studies that would consider the cultural elements of the landscape into account in an equal measure with natural ones, are still rare. Excellent treatises on landscape have been written by several scholars of landscape architecture, intellectual history, geography, art history, landscape archaeology, literature etc (Furukawa, Onishi 1992; Hagishima et al 2004; Higuchi 1975, 1993; Kashiwagi et al 2003; Katsuhara 1999; Kobayashi 2004; Komeie 2002; Kuraishi 2004; Kuwako 2005; Matsubara et al 2004; Mizumoto 2002; Nakamura 2001; Seikyusha 2002; Senda 1998; Shirane 1998; Usugi 2003; Yonemoto 2003) that deal also with the experiential and cultural aspect of landscape, but since most of them are the results of individual research, they are inevitably biased towards one certain discipline and do not achieve the interdisciplinary scope that can be reached by RIHN project.

    Since landscape is a holistic phenomenon which entails both a cultural and a natural side and is developed through the influence of human practices and interactions on the natural environment, a large part of landscape research has to be based on qualitative rather than quantitative research methods. No universal methodology exists yet for a trans-disciplinary research on historical landscape change. Final analysis of the current and historical landscape structures would be achieved by integration of research results of all disciplines represented in the research. As inter-disciplinary projects with parallel research groups have often problems with final synthesis of the research results (Fry 2001; Tress et al 2001, 2005), frequent seminars and workshops would be carried out among the project members to ensure information exchange in an as early stage as possible. Specific research methods would depend on each represented discipline and on the period of study (Neolithisation or Modernisation).

    As a basis for studies on both Neolithisation and Modernisation, a geographical database will be created for each region for both of the periods (as defined for that region) with available cartographical data in the form of both old and present-day maps, aerial photographs, information on the distribution and spatial structure of archaeological sites etc. Land use, settlement patterns and population dynamics would be mapped on the basis of aforementioned cartographic data, historical documents like land registers and travelogues, pollen analyses etc. Since these areas of geography are very advanced in Japan, much of this analysis has already been carried out by other scholars, therefore in some cases the analysis from reliable sources can be used instead of detailed reconstruction from original sources. Available archaeological inventories would be used for the analysis of environmental background, settlement patterns land forms in Neolithisation (pollen analysis from drilling samples, animal/human bones, the distribution and the structure of archaeological remains).

    For Neolithisation, further qualitative analysis will be carried out on the basis of archaeological data. Animal bones, seeds and wood would be used for analysis of diet, consumption, domestication processes, hunting methods and the seasonality of the lifestyle. Trading and ritual activities would be analysed through the data on excavated artefacts, animal ad human remains and settlement structures (and thereby social organisation). By way of contrastive analysis with ethnographic data and later landscape history in each of the target regions, far-reaching conclusions can be arrived at concerning the social and land organisation and the world view of a given culture.

    The analysis of landscape change in Modernisation will contain both the analysis of visual and material culture (including land use, land forms etc) and the analysis of perceived image of the landscape as represented in written descriptions and pictorial representations. Unlike with Neolithisation, a bulk of historical records can be used, e.g. documents, land records, travelogues, maps, pictorial maps, paintings, records of religious practices, literary texts, diaries etc. This calls for the application of many strategies of textual analysis like content analysis, discourse and narrative analysis, text criticism, motif analysis, rhetorical analysis etc. The analysis of the structure and function of remaining structures (buildings, roads, gardens etc) and artefacts can also be indicative of the conceptual structure of the culture and give a hint for the general organisation principles of landscape. The comparative analysis of myths and socio-linguistic evidence (words for agricultural practices, place names) between the regions and their projection on available geographical data can be considered an extremely instrumental tool in the reconstruction of environmental perception.

    Research results will be publicised through frequent workshops and seminars organised by NEOMAP, attendance/organising sessions of academic events organised by other institutions in and outside Japan (especially in Europe, where cultural landscape research is already considered a leading multidisciplinary field in itself), a publication series, and a collections of articles.


neomap as a rihn project

    It can be said that existing models of human-nature relationship have been rather simplistic (see Fig. 8), depicting humans as affluent foragers or affluent agrarians until the modern environmental crash.  In addition, these models often draw simplistic equations between abrupt changes in climate and culture (e.g. a volcanic eruption would directly cause the collapse of a civilisation). These models are by no means adequate in explaining the real complexity of environmental history, nor are they sufficient to predict possible future scenarios.

    Considering that the notion of cultural landscape has become one of the major concepts in environmental protection policy, it is important to know the mechanisms behind its emergence and especially the function of cultural systems in fashioning environment. Human beingsf impact on environment is times larger than that of any other living organism, therefore in order to define policies for sustainable development it is necessary to know the human Umwelt, i.e. the cultural systems behind humansf decisions in shaping the environment. The question is which landscape or which landscape elements are considered worthy of protection, how are these landscape historically formed and which everyday processes have been supporting them? The questions of preservation and sustainability in cultural landscapes cannot be adequately solved unless we have a full understanding of the history and the emergence mechanisms of protected elements (Antrop 2005a, 2005b; Widgren 2004). At present, biological and topological diversity are one of the main categories in designating glandscape treasuresh (Bunkacho 2003) but in order to preserve this diversity we need to know the cultural processes and values behind their formation. This question becomes extremely important if we want to avoid the division of landscape into gmuseumh and gdwellingh zones, of which the former are historically valuable and ecologically balanced and the latter are not. These issues can not be approached through the natural sciencesf perspective only.

    Using the multidisciplinary flexibility that RIHN can offer, the NEOMAP project will emphasise the role of socio-cultural systems in the functional cycle of human-nature relationships, considering that the study of the socio-cultural sphere is indispensable for the preservation of cultural landscape in the future. Because humans can act based on irrational motives (i.e. aesthetic, symbolic, or religious principles) in terms of their integration within a given environment, it is extremely important to analyse the role of culture regarding modern environmental issues without simplifying human behaviour. Focusing on two major periods in history (Neolithisation and Modernisation) that can be considered direct roots of modern environmental problems, the NEOMAP project will offer new insights into the mutuality of nature-culture relationships that would enable us to make predictions for future developments and clarify the historical background of landscape elements that have become an object of protection policy.