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Living, Protecting and Building the Future, a survey conclusion on Rediscovering the Strengths and Challenges of Takachiho Town part 3

  • On 12 May 2023, the town of Takachiho hosted the event ‘Takachiho Town Strengths and Challenges Rediscovered! A concluded information meeting of the interview survey’. This meeting was part of Takachiho’s efforts to promote its sustainable town development. The contents of the report, presentations of case studies done in town and group discussions held at the meeting are here presented in a four-part series.

 

Report on the concluding meeting of the interview survey to rediscover the strengths and challenges of Takachiho Town, part 3

■ Part 2: Case studies of Takachiho Town’s local resources and tourism initiatives

  • The town case study presentations were given by two people who are working on tourism initiatives in collaboration with local resources. This time we will introduce the presentation given by Mr Sato, Chairman of the Takachiho Town Shiitake Promotion Association.

“To encourage even one person to try it themselves through the experience.”

Kinichi Sato, Chairman, Takachiho Town Shiitake Promotion Association.

  • Currently, eight rice fields, two cows and an average of 100 000 shiitake mushrooms are being raised.
  • Sato originally worked for a construction company, but 20 years ago, when the company’s performance became difficult due to bid-rigging problems, he studied at a training centre in Oita Prefecture for about a year before starting a shiitake mushroom cultivation business at his company. After retiring from the company, he became fully engaged in shiitake cultivation. As a board member of a shiitake promotion association, Sato was approached by the town hall asking if he would be willing to hold a shiitake cultivation workshop New Year event for children, and he accepted the challenge.

‘Let’s do all that we can do’.

  • With that said, the lack of successors has been a problem.
  • It is not easy to find young people who want to try farming or shiitake mushroom cultivation. Sato decided to hold the event because he thought it would be a blessing if even just one person thought “I would like to try it myself” after undergoing the experience. And so they started accepting applications.

There were many challenges in hosting the event. In 2023, they carried out the event at the Ama-no-Iwato and Asahigaoka preschools. First of all, you have to prepare the logs, starting with the Kunugi (sawtooth oak). They adjusted 20-30 logs to proper lengths for the children and brought them to the schools. It is impossible for the children to drill holes in the logs, so they prepared the holes for them. After the drilling was finished, plastic sheet were spread out on the ground with the logs on top of it. It takes a little over two years for shiitake mushrooms to be ready for harvest. In the meantime they are normally managed in a place called a botaba. But Iwato preschool didn’t have a place to use as a botaba. So Sato took them all back home, until the the shiitake mushrooms were ready to be harvested.

In the course of this experience, Kaneko from Tourism Takachiho Go approached them to see if they would like to do a hands-on learning experience for the general public and schools, and, yes, they decided to give it a try. It was very difficult to accept the school excursion of Kyoto Girls’ Junior High School, because 150 students were coming. They cooperated with JA, dividing the 150 students into three groups. 2 groups had a tea experience in Hinokage and Gokase, and 1 group shiitake mushrooms in Takachiho. Even so, they could not take on 50 people at once, so they asked members of the Shiitake Promotion Association to take on half of the students.

However, the problems didn’t end there. The shiitake mushrooms are naturally grown, so if there were no shiitake mushrooms on the day of the visit, the hands-on learning experience would not be possible. They had a meeting with the JA and worked backwards from the day of the event to ensure that the shiitakes would grow, storing the logs in a large refrigerator and watering them in time for the day of the event. The health centre also instructed them that they could not prepare meals in advance, so they reached out to the JA women’s club, whom started to cook early in the morning on the day of the event for the kids. Even after the food was prepared, it had to be transported to various locations in Hinokage, Gokase and Takachiho. Sato really felt that everything they did was very hard work. At the end of the day, when he exchanged opinions with the students, most of them said it was their first time to pick shiitakes. Some of them didn’t even know how to eat them, and they were told that it was a great learning experience for the students.

People who want to experience shiitake cultivation come whether our shiitake mushrooms are growing or not. So Sato thought about it. There is a group called the Hyuga Shiitake Mushroom Study Group, which Sato is a member of, and the Takachiho branch manager. There are about 10 members in the group, and Sato approached them all and over drinks talked about hands-on learning and how the experience is meaningless if there are no shiitake growing. Then, in cooperation with these members, they formed a group and created a system making sure that they hold the experience at any time.

They decided to accept hands-on learning through trial and error. There are many problems which couldn’t be solved at once. In preparing for the experience, they cooperated with the members of Tourism Takachiho Go and shared what could be prepared, constantly exchanged information and held review meetings to create a checklist. We also receive visitors from abroad. Now that Corona has settled down, Sato think that many more overseas visitors will come in the future.

They will have to continue to solve problems as they arise. Known to all, there is a struggle with succession issues. If you have any good ideas on how to handle this challenge, Sato wishes to hear about it. He wishes to continue working hard with shiitake until his final days.

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