Interviewee: Mr. Eiichiro Noguchi, Friends of the Earth (FoE) Japan
At present, Russia reportedly has 22% of the world's forests, which are precious habitats for rare wildlife. These areas are now endangered by deforestation and the consequential destruction of nature.
In May 2004, in partnership with FoE Japan, an international environmental NGO, Ricoh started the forest ecosystem conservation project for the northern area of the Bikin River basin in the Russian Far East.
We spoke with Mr. Eiichiro Noguchi from FoE Japan, which organizes a variety of activities, including eco-tours, about the local situation and the relationship with Japan. Mr. Eiichiro Noguchi, Director, Russian Far East Taiga (Forest) Project.
Director of Friends of the Earth (FoE) Japan
Section Chief, Corporate Citizenship Promotion Office, Ricoh
What is FoE Japan?
FoE (Friends of the Earth) Japan is an environmental non-governmental organization (NGO), founded in 1980, and was reorganized into a non-profit organization (NPO) in 2001. Its extensive activities include environmental conservation and desert greening abroad; providing assistance for forestry and nurturing forest conservation volunteer personnel in Japan; and also formulates resident-oriented community development programs. FoE Japan employs 12 regular staff, supported by a growing number of volunteer workers, both at home and abroad. Ricoh supports this NPO, which is striving for harmony between humankind and nature.
Web site: http://www.foejapan.org/en/
We tend to stereotype Russia as an iced-over country with severe weather, far away from Japan.
Exactly. The Bikin River basin* where we are working, also has severe weather in winter, but the region has four distinct seasons, and reaches 30 degrees in summer. From Khabarovsk Airport, a two-hour flight carries us to Niigata. The region is also quite close to Hokkaido. The Bikin basin taiga (forest) is the habitat of a great variety of wildlife, namely brown bears, Asian black bears, Ussuri Eurasian lynx, moose, Blakiston's fish owls, storks, hedgehogs, mink, martens, and also the Amur tiger, now designated as an endangered species. In the taiga, the Udeghes, the local minority, and many kinds of animals, including those which can not be seen in Japan anymore, live their lives freely in untouched nature - like in old-time Hokkaido. We like to call the area a "natural museum."
*The Bikin River basin stretches over about 13,000 km2 between Khabarovsk and Vladivostok (equivalent to the combined area of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama).
You organize eco-tours to the Bikin basin taiga.
We started the tours in September 2000, and have conducted about ten tours so far. The tours provide participants with opportunities to experience the vast nature of the Russian Far East taiga and learn about the culture and history of the Udeghes through spending time with them. Restricting public access is an effective way to preserve inhabited forests. The Udeghes, however, have been living in the forests from ancient times, and it came to me that eco-tours could work out to protect the traditional culture, pride, and also daily lives of the natives, as well as help preserve nature itself.
Two years ago, a woman aged 80 joined the tour from Hyogo Prefecture. She enjoyed the tour very much, saying that she was impressed by the untouched rich nature and loved the local food (jokingly confessing that the meals were much tastier than she had expected).
How do the Udeghes live?
Khrasnui Yhar, the largest village of the region, has about 600 residents, of which 400 are the Udeghes. In the eco-tours we organize, participants are able to stay and live with the Udeghes.
The Udeghes are fundamentally hunters, so they eat the meat they hunt, as well as edible wild plants, herbs, and fish. According to the accelerated racial mix - especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union - half their lives are now spent hunting and half on agricultural means to get their food, hunting as well as growing cabbages, tomatoes, potatoes, and squashes on their land. Around September, when they have the first frost of the year, all the women, children, and elderly of the village pick the potatoes, in preparation for winter. However, the men all go to the forests, saying that they are going to hunt (laughing).
If you take a look at the picture, you can be convinced that the Udeghes and the Japanese are so alike that we almost cannot tell them apart. (Picture) Although the Udeghes originally had had their own language, most of them nowadays speak only Russian.
For these activities, it becomes very important for you to communicate with them, doesn't it?
Absolutely. When we started the project, I called them collectively as the Udeghes, but the more I talked with them on each tour, the better I got to know each one of them. I guess they felt the same because now they call me Eiichiro. Only nuisance I found that it takes time to go through the village because everyone I meet asks me in for tea (laughing).
How did your cameras work for communication with the Udeghes?
The Udeghes are very fond of having their photos taken, and I used the digital camera very often because I was able to show them the photos right after I took them. I am always asked to bring the photo prints next time I visit them. Their own cameras take photos of barely acceptable quality, so they are surprised at superior quality of our photographs.
When I bring the camera along with me, I might bump it against something or drop it into water. The (Ricoh) Caplio 400G wide, which I use now, is a heavy-duty digital camera and very useful for me to make a record of the tours. I also use those photos to introduce the lives of the Udeghes to people in Japan. Digital cameras can speak louder than any words. What the photos can show is very real.