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Facilities Control Department, Business Administration Division, Kumamoto Factory, Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

Etsuro Watanabe, Staff Engineer, Facilities Control Department, Business Administration Division, Kumamoto Factory

Etsuro Watanabe, Staff Engineer, Facilities Control Department, Business Administration Division, Kumamoto Factory

The Community Forest surrounding the Kumamoto Factory

The Community Forest surrounding the Kumamoto Factory

A factory nestled in nature

 The Kumamoto Factory is located almost at the midway point between Kumamoto City and Mt. Aso, an active volcano in eastern Kumamoto. It sits on a gently sloping countryside that extends from the outer rim of the Mt. Aso crater. In contrast with factories like Suzuka, Saitama, and Hamamatsu located in residential neighborhoods, the Kumamoto Factory is surrounded by forest and open fields that literally make it a factory that is one with nature.
 “Honda built a factory here in Kumamoto in 1976 partly because of the eager requests it received from the local people. But more important than that was our belief that here we would be able to build the factory that Soichiro Honda had always dreamed of,” said Fukai.
 Soichiro Honda’s ideal image of a factory was one located deep in the forest that produced a stream of products without sound or smoke. To him, Kumamoto, otherwise known in Japan as the “forest capital,” may have seemed like the perfect location.
 The Kumamoto Factory sits on a parcel of land approximately 166 hectares in size, the largest of all Honda factory sites in Japan. Fifty hectares, or approximately 30% of that area, are covered by greenery and water.
 But the most impressive part of all is the Community Forest that wraps around the outer perimeter of the factory. The factory didn’t separate itself from the local community with a concrete wall. Instead, it planted trees that would thrive in the local climate and ecosystem to create a forest. Today, the Community Forest, which was planted during the factory’s construction based on the “green belt” concept, now encircles the entire factory as a forest extending 30 meters wide and 20 meters high. Other Honda factories also have a Community Forest, but none are as big. It is so vast that a person looking onto the forest from outside would never think a Honda factory lies beyond it.
 Etsuro Watanabe, staff engineer of Facilities Department, Business Administration Division, and also Manager of the Community Forest, commented, “The Community Forests were created not only to prevent noises and smells from escaping but to help conserve ecosystems unique to each site and achieve equilibrium between the factories and their local environments. We’ve managed the forests based on the traditional Japanese concept of a “guardian forest,” which is a philosophy that leaves most of the work to nature so that the forest can grow in ways similar to a native forest.”
 Such initiatives have also been implemented at other factories. However, at other factories, things have been happening that would have been quite unimaginable in the initial planning phase.
 The trees have grown tall over the past 40 years, while surrounding communities have undergone development, giving rise to larger and larger residential areas. As a result, fallen leaves and dead branches from the Community Forest sometimes find their way into neighbors’ yards or their overgrown branches stretch out onto roads and interfere with traffic. In response, Honda has revised the “guardian forest” concept and has recently started incorporating a satoyama forest concept where people take more active care.
 But the situation is a bit different at the Kumamoto Factory.
 “We prune the upper section of the trees once every five years and the sides once a year in order to secure sunlight for farmland that lie to the north of the property. But that is about it. We don’t clear the underbrush or thin the trees at all. Even with leaves, some farmers tell us they appreciate the good fertilizer that falls off the trees onto their fields [laughing],” said Watanabe.
 This may be something unique to the Kumamoto Factory with its expansive space and surrounding countryside. It is something that can’t be copied by other factories even if they tried.
 “If humans bared their ego, nature, no matter how rich, would be lost very quickly. It would then take years and enormous amounts of manual labor to bring nature back to life. As one blessed with this nature, we believe it is our mission to maintain the environment we live in and ensure that it is passed onto the next generation,” said Watanabe.

Ryoko Ueda, Facilities Control Department, Business Administration Division, Kumamoto Factory

Ryoko Ueda, Facilities Control Department, Business Administration Division, Kumamoto Factory
Carp live in the channel where the treated effluent flows
Carp live in the channel where the treated effluent flows

Independent water quality standards help protect the 'water capital'

 As much as Kumamoto is the “forest capital,” it is also called the “water capital,” a region rich in clean water resources. However, due in part to the major social issues triggered by the Minamata disease in the late 1950s, regulations on factory effluent have been dramatically tighter here than in other prefectures since before the factory’s construction.
 “I’ve heard that, at the time, Honda’s Kumamoto Factory was the first in Kyushu to install systems that treated the nitrogen and phosphorous in industrial effluent. The facility used extremely high-level technology, so much so that other companies often came for observation,” said Ryoko Ueda of the Facilities Control Department.
 Of course today, the facilities have been modernized but the basic ways of treating wastewater remain largely unchanged. This is an indication of how strict the standards were even in those days.
 “The national government sets standards for the various substances contained in effluent. These standards are the same across the country. Additionally, there are standards that are set through negotiation with local governments. The Kumamoto Factory has agreed with the town of Ozu, where it is located, on standards that are drastically more strict than the national standards. In other words, we must manage our effluent so that it does not exceed the agreed-upon standards. But in addition to that, the Kumamoto Factory has also set its own independent standards that are half of the agreed-upon limits—in other words, twice as strict—and we monitor effluent based on those strict numbers,” explained Ueda.
 The idea is that as long as actions are taken when effluent exceeds the independent standards, the issue can be resolved before numbers exceed the agreed-upon standards.
 “It is critical that the Kumamoto Factory operate under the agreed-upon standards no matter what, because it drains its effluent directly into rivers, not sewage lines. By monitoring effluent in accordance with the highest standard among Honda factories nationwide, and one of the highest standards among companies in Japan today, we are also protecting Kumamoto, the water capital,” said Ueda.

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