Speaking with a Hello Woods Forest Producer Ryuichiro Sakino

Hello Woods as a satoyama-style ecosystem

Hello Woods is a forest of about 42 hectares in the mountains surrounding the track comprising a satoyama-style ecosystem that Honda, along with many others, has worked to restore over a period of 10 years. This restoration is a complex task: for example, if the trees aren’t occasionally cleaned and pruned, the branches completely shield the ground from the sun, preventing acorns that have fallen to the earth and seeds carried by wind and birds from growing, even if they are able to germinate. Therefore, we perform maintenance work to allow sunlight to reach the ground. That’s not to say that we want to open up the forest floor to unlimited sunlight—striking the right balance is important. You have to ensure that the great cycle of nature is not compromised. It’s pleasant to see the tops of the trees bathed in sunlight and blowing gently in the wind, but that’s only possible because they are supported by the trunk and ground. In this way, we work with Honda associates to maintain Hello Woods.

I like to say that there are two kinds of nature: distant nature and nearby nature. By distant nature, I mean wild nature. These are places of great wilderness, located far away from where people live. Change occurs slowly over the course of thousands of years, and people should not enter recklessly. On the other hand, nearby nature refers to the natural world that lies close at hand to the places we live—in other words, it is exemplified by the satoyama-style ecosystem. Our forest at Hello Woods is just such an ecosystem, a natural setting in which people have lived since ancient times. This is exactly why Honda saw the land as more than just a site for its track and elected to create Hello Woods next to the track. People have enjoyed the bounty of nature in these woods since the Jomon period (about 10,000 to 400 BCE), and successive generations of local residents have protected them over the centuries. Honda now plays the role of protecting the forest, and we also open the site to visitors so that they can enjoy “mountain work” like cutting down and transporting trees as a recreational activity.

Creating value by combining seeming opposites

The juxtaposition in close proximity at Twin Ring Motegi of seeming opposites in the form of a track where state-of-the-art motorcycles and cars race and a natural satoyama-style ecosystem in which people have lived since the Jomon period fosters new realizations. Even elementary school students probably feel the contradiction when they hear the sound of those engines racing in the middle of the forest. Most people associate nature with the sound of birds singing or the sound of a stream. But at Hello Woods, the piercing sound of engines can be heard along with the sound of wind passing through the trees. In short, seeming opposites have a unique ability to foster new realizations.

For example, trains and cars are usually taken for granted in our world. Accustomed to an environment where electricity and water flow on demand, modern men could not live if he or she were to deny the civilization that produced him or her. Twin Ring Motegi provides an opportunity to think about what kind of relationship you'll have with nature even as you enjoy the lifestyle afforded by civilization. If we are to coexist with nature, we must strike balance in how we use it; if our relationship with nature is all take and no give, that relationship won’t last long. This forest is inhabited by northern goshawks, and the paddies where farmers are raising pesticide-free rice near its entrance are home to large numbers of mole crickets, giant water bugs, dragonflies, and water beetles. Some 2,500 species of plant and animal life have been confirmed to live in these mountains.

Ryuichiro Sakino
Forest Producer, Hello Woods

Visitors can view how soil is created at the Tower of Life at Hello Woods

Visitors can see how the tops of the trees form a thick layer of foliage from Canopy Tower

Prompting new realizations in children by developing a satoyama-style ecosystem

When we were little, we gained a variety of experiences in the course of playing and helping out with household chores. However, today’s children gain information without actually doing anything themselves—they gain experience with their minds rather than their hands. Based on my experience, I think it’s critical that children learn the minimum amount of knowledge and ability necessary for life by the time they are about 10.

A children’s camp at Hello Woods (for kindergartners)

However, there is no shortage of children today who are completely lacking in this type of knowledge and experience. They simply expect that whatever they need will be provided for them.

Here at Hello Woods, we teach children how to start a campfire. At first we give them a package of 30 matches. One boy who was accustomed to playing video games most of the time struck a match and then did nothing more once it burned out. I was shocked to see this. Other children, not understanding how to start a fire, kept trying until they had used all 30 matches. The boy neither had the experience of actively trying to do something himself nor the joy of achieving his goal.

At our camp, the kids go a day or two without food until they can start a fire. They have difficulty doing so until they get used to how it’s done. Once they’re truly perplexed about how a fire can be started, we teach them how to do so by spinning two pieces of wood against each other. This is even harder. By the second day of failing to start a fire, these kids were hungry and exhausted, and they began to throw themselves to the ground and give up. But this was also a moment of progress. All of a sudden, one of the children began going around convincing everyone that they could start a fire if only they would cooperate. That child was the boy who had given up at first. Once he had convinced everybody to work together to achieve their goal, they had a fire going in no time.

A program that teaches fourth through sixth graders about playing and learning

This success with the fire was the result of treating children seriously. Children understand when they’re being treated seriously. The same goes for the staff. The events I’m describing occurred during our one-month Captain Kid Forest Camp. The final program involved hiking 30 kilometers from Hello Woods to Oarai Beach on the Pacific Ocean while carrying all the necessary camping supplies. On the way, one of the kids wasn’t able to go any further. He was trying to keep up, but he found that he couldn’t get his legs to move any more and sank down to the ground. When I tried to get our support vehicle to give him a ride so it wouldn’t mess up the rest of our schedule, a female staff member became angry, accusing me of contradicting what I always tell the staff by throwing the child a lifeline for reasons related to my own convenience. It was then that the other children began walking, taking turns carrying the child who had stopped on their backs. Some kids could only carry him for 20 meters, others for 500 meters, but in every case, their behavior was the result of having lived together for 30 days. This camp is now in its ninth year, and the reason we have been able to continue it is that each session brings an experience like this one.

It’s easy to conclude that Hello Woods is all about protecting and fostering nature, but in reality there's a lot more to it than that. This unique Honda program strives to provide an opportunity for children to tap their inner strength to live as good human beings through the creation of a satoyama-style ecosystem.

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