Dragonflies flitter to and fro over a small paddy of rice plants, their grains heavy and yellow in the sun. A school of medaka swim in a stream that flows alongside the paddy and into a pond farther away. In the tall grass, grasshoppers leap aimlessly away from shuffling feet. Children listen intently to a lecture as they follow with their eyes, grasp with their hands the activity of life all around them.
These scenes might appear to be an ecology class held out on the edge of town, but no: what you are observing is part of the tour at Honda's Hamamatsu Factory in central Japan.
Since 2007, associates at Hamamatsu Factory's Aoi Plant, where automobile transmissions are produced, have been cultivating on the factory grounds a natural habitat inspired by satochi and satoyama, the Japanese terms given to rural communities that engage in sustainable agriculture and forestry. Named “Community Forest for the 21st Century,” this habitat was put on the factory’s tour itinerary in February 2012, and since then local school children have been coming here to learn about the environment.
Marina Uchiyama works for the Administration Department and is community liaison and a factory tour guide. Engineer Shigehiro Kamiya of the Facilities Management Department oversees management of the Community Forest and guides the Community Forest tours. "Tours at Hamamatsu Factory are tailored to excite people and stir their emotions," said Uchiyama. "We included the habitat tours to show visitors that the plant doesn't just make things. It is also respectful of the environment."
Hamamatsu Factory offers guided tours of its plant facilities. To learn mor
e and make a reservation, visit the website below (Japanese language only).
● Hamamatsu Factory homepage http://www.honda.co.jp/hamamatsu/index.html
Hamamatsu Factory is not the only Honda location with a Community Forest. Every Honda factory and research center in Japan has one.
The Community Forest initiative was motivated by founder Soichiro Honda, who rejected the idea of building concrete walls that would completely block off Honda sites from their surrounding communities. In 1976, the Community Forest Executive Committee was formed to spearhead a company-wide project to plant trees around Honda factories instead of building walls. Their first task was to conduct a survey at each site.
In 1977, work got underway to plant some 250,000 saplings at factories in Kumamoto, Suzuka, Hamamatsu, and Saitama and at the proving ground in Tochigi. The trees have been growing for over 30 years since.
The forestation program was modeled after the ancient Japanese concept of a "guardian forest." These man-made forests are grown by planting a wide variety of local tree varieties that, over time, support the regeneration of native ecosystems by promoting interdependence between diverse species. Ideally, guardian forests are minimally managed and nature is left to take its course. This ensures that only those species that are most adapted to the local environment survive and flourish, creating the type of forest that had once grown there centuries or perhaps even millennia ago. Although associates at Honda factories gave their Community Forests all the care they would normally give planted trees—they watered them, pulled weeds, applied fertilizer, killed pests—once the trees had grown to a certain size they backed away and just watched the woods mature, stepping in only when necessary, such as to cut branches that had grown into adjacent properties. Today, the Community Forests at Hamamatsu Factory and other Honda operating sites across Japan have grown into magnificent ecosystems worthy of their name. The trees, some as tall as 20 meters, are a habitat for birds and small mammals. Seasonal flowers and greenery bring a sense of calm to Honda associates and local residents.
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