Commemorative Lecture at the First Asia-Pacific Water Summit by His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince of Japan

B-Con Plaza, Philharmonia Hall, Beppu City, Oita Prefecture
Monday, 3 December, 2007

Humans and Water - From Japan to the Asia-Pacific Region -

1. Introduction

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to deliver this commemorative lecture at the 1st Asia-Pacific Water Summit.

First of all, I would like you to look at this photograph (Figure 1). I took this photo when I visited Pokhara in Nepal in 1987. Women and children have come to collect water. As you can see, water barely trickles from the tap. I recall thinking to myself, “My goodness! How long will it take them to collect enough water? And most of them are women and children. What hard lives they lead!”

Then I learned that the status of women has not improved in many developing countries even today. They have still not been freed from the heavy chore of fetching water. As for the children, they spend their time collecting water instead of going to school. This is the stark reality for so many of the poor of the world. I also learned that most issues stemming from global warming significantly affect the entire global ecosystem as well as human society through the water cycle. These realizations made me deepen my interest in water, which I realized, has implications that reach far beyond my original field of study regarding water transport. In fact, water affects our lives and societies in many more ways, not only in terms of water supply and flood control but also in regard to sanitation, environment and education.

It was with this concern that I happily accepted to serve as the Honorary President of the 3rd World Water Forum in Kyoto, Shiga and Osaka in 2003. I spoke then on “Waterways Connecting Kyoto and Local Regions”, describing how water transport served the former capital city of Japan. At the 4th World Water Forum that was held last year in Mexico City, I spoke on how water had played a profound and extensive role in serving the development of Tokyo when it was known as Edo.

This time, I would like to share with you my own thoughts about water, starting from water transport on the Seto Inland Sea, which includes Oita Prefecture, by referring to the history of the relationship between water and the Japanese people, as well as more broadly to global water issues.

2. Water supporting exchange

(1) Ancient and Medieval Water Transport on the Seto Inland Sea

Oita prefecture, where this summit is taking place, lies in Northern Kyushu. From ancient times and up until the Middle Ages, the two major centers of Japan were Kinai, now the Kinki Region, where the capital such as Nara and Kyoto was located, and Northern Kyushu. Land transportation between them was conducted along the Sanyodo highway (Figure 2). There were seven highways that extended from Kinai to the rest of the country, but the Sanyodo highway and its extension to Dazaifu was the only highway designated as the “Daiji” or trunk road. Dazaifu not only served as the branch office of the government in Northern Kyushu but also was the base for foreign and military relations. The ancient Yamato dynasty always recognized the importance of Dazaifu.

The Seto Inland Sea connected the two major centers as a waterway for people and goods. Here in Oita, Kunisaki no tsu, which is thought to be located in Kunisaki City, and Sakato no tsu, which is thought to be located in Oita City, are known to have been major ports along this waterway from ancient times.

An interesting chronicle of transport and trade in the Seto Inland Sea has been preserved in a document dating back to 1445 titled 'Hyogo-Kitaseki Irifune Nocho', or 'Registration records of ships at the North Customs-post of old Hyogo Port'. Hyogo port which is called Kobe today was then owned by Nara's Todaiji Temple. The document, which consists of customs records collected from ships that entered the North Customs-post of Hyogo at that time, is considered an important historical document comparable to customs records kept in the mid-fourteenth century in Lubeck in northern Germany.

The record tells what goods were shipped from which port and how much customs duty was levied. The annual number of ships entering the North Customs-post of Hyogo was about 1,960, suggesting the prosperity of the port and its region. The main commodities traded were salt, rice and lumber-18,000 cubic meters, 4,500 cubic meters, and 11,000 cubic meters respectively.

The preeminence of salt reflects the natural characteristic of the Seto Inland Sea region, which with its abundant sunshine and little precipitation was conducive to salt production. It also speaks of the wide use of salt to preserve food, and further, that there was a large concentration of population in Kyoto and the surrounding areas. As for rice, one's eye is caught by an entry for “red rice” though in relatively small quantity. From the ship's registry it is assumed to have been produced in Sanuki, currently Kagawa Prefecture, which has suffered shortage of water from ancient times. It tells us of another blessing of exchange through waterways that drought-tolerant red rice originating in Southeast Asia was grown in Sanuki.

(2) Exchange with Asia and the world

Kinai was not only linked with Northern Kyushu, as we have seen, but also had links to Asia and the rest of the world through the Seto Inland Sea. In ancient times, envoys were sent to Tang China (Figure 3), and during the Muromachi Shogunate (14th to 16th century) Hyogo Port was the center of trade with Ming China. In addition to trade with China, trade with the Yi dynasty of Korea prospered and cotton was imported into Japan for the first time. This not only brought an enormous change to the clothing habits of the Japanese who until then wore only silk and hemp, but eventually encouraged the growth of a new industry, cultivating indigo for dyeing the material. Tokushima, in particular, which was located in the Seto Inland Sea Region, became known for the production of indigo for the whole country.

In the 16th century, we know that the Jesuit missionary Francisco Xavier reached Sakai and Kyoto via the Seto Inland Sea. During the period of Sorin Otomo, a general who ruled Northern Kyushu at that time, Oita was one of the bases for Christian missionary work. Francisco Xavier is known to have visited there. (Figure 4)

Nowadays, when transportation is predominantly by air, rail and road, we are apt to look upon the seas and rivers as barriers separating countries and regions. Historically, however, one can say that not only countries and regions but also people were linked by the seas and rivers through water transport.

3. Diversity of water's nature and role

(1) Blessings of water

Water has many other roles to play in addition to that of facilitating trade and transportation. Humans cannot live without water, and needless to say water has played a vital role in human history.

I would like you to look at this photograph (Figure 5). This is a satellite photo of Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. One sees that the city has developed along tributaries of Tuul River that runs in the south of the city.

I took this picture in the ancient city of Qaraqorum (Kharkhorin), when I visited Mongolia in August this year (Figure 6). The city was built beside Orkhon River. The little rain this year explains the dry-looking scenery in the picture, which usually looks greener. I had imagined Mongolia to be a country of steppes and desert, and I was struck to see that much as in other regions of Asia, people here too built cities along the rivers to take advantage of their blessings.

One does not have to study very deeply the world's four major early civilizations to observe that people have been able to progress with the many benefits of water. In every period and in every region, however, they could not enjoy only the blessings of water. Our history has been marked by battles for water and with water-ours and that of other peoples, too little or too much.

(2) “Shortage of water” and “Surplus of water”

Let us return to the example of the Seto Inland Sea to examine the history of our battle with water; first, its shortage. This photograph is that of Tashibu Manor that once belonged to Usa Shrine (Figure 7). The terraced paddy fields have been created by the efforts of generations of people. Drawing water from the springs on the premises of Amabiki Shrine, the water is designed to flow down from the paddies at the higher levels to those below through gently curved conduits. This beautiful landscape, one may say is the fruits of the wisdom and sweat of many generations of people.

Fortunately, the landscape of the manor is preserved for us to see. Also the whole area is preserved as an attractive historical site with representative cultural assets of Kunisaki Peninsula including Fukiji Temple, Maki Odo Temple and Kumano Magaibutsu Stone Buddha. (Figure 8)

People did not make these terraced paddy fields for the sake of a scenic view. This is the result of their efforts to most efficiently make use of the natural resources. It must not be easy to maintain the terraced paddies under these geographical conditions. However, the well maintained terraces not only brought harvests but also in times of heavy rain served as reservoirs to reduce the menace of flooding the plains below. The water drawn into the paddies penetrated the soil to enrich the downstream area's groundwater. Such human efforts resulted in a small new water cycle.

Please look at this figure (Figure 9). It shows the distribution of reservoirs in the Seto Inland Sea Region. 60 percent of reservoirs in Japan are concentrated in this region. This is a photograph of Manno Pond, an irrigation pond in the Sanuki plains (Figure 10) said to have been restored by Kukai who is known respectfully by his posthumous name "Kobo Daishi", the reverend Buddhist master. Since the pond was made in the early 8th century it is still a precious source of water in the Sanuki Plain which has suffered from the shortage of water.

This is Sayama Pond in Osaka Prefecture. It is said to have been built by Gyoki, a great Buddhist monk (Figure 11). It is also still in service, and the latest restoration work took over twenty years from 1980 to 2001. At an excavation in the restoration work, it was revealed that it can be traced back at least to the year 616, a hundred years before Gyoki's period. The survey revealed that its bank had been extended a number of times to reach what it is today (Figure 12). Gyoki is thought to have taken part in some of the restoration.

A ‘Shikiha’ method of bank building used in ancient China and Korea was also used in building and restoring the banks of Sayama Pond. This technology was brought to Japan by exchange through water transport as well. Here again we see the benefits of exchange mediated by sea.

In this way, we are managing the issue of the “water shortage” of the respective regions by continuing to benefit from the efforts of our forefathers and adding our efforts to improve on them.

Let us now turn to the issue of “surplus water”.

The oldest record regarding surplus water in Japanese history is seen in Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) written in the 8th century. We can read there that in the reign of Emperor Nintoku, Manda-no-tsutsumi embankment and Horie drainage were built to prevent flooding of Yodo River and to develop the northern Osaka Plain (Figure 13). Based on the research done on the ancient flood control and water utilization, it can be assumed that it was built in the early 5th century. Even today, Horie flows through the center of Osaka as the old Yodo River (Okawa River) and Manda-no-tsutsumi embankment retains its form in the vicinity of Osaka City, such as Neyagawa City and Kadoma City. I am amazed by the scale of imagination of our forefathers in working on two projects at once, the drain and the bank, which are 10 kilometers apart.

Land is essential for settlement and production, but it is usable only if humans provide the necessary water and manage its excess. It was said in ancient China as well as in Japan that “those who govern water govern the country”. What is meant by governing water does not mean single projects such as ensuring the supply of water and controlling floods. It should be taken to mean, instead, the broad task of managing nation building. Water Governance, I believe, is exactly what our forefathers have done, to develop our national land, by continuing to manage water comprehensively.

(3) Japanese people and water in various relations

Beyond the Seto Inland Sea Region we see how Japanese people have related to water. As mountainous areas cover four-fifth of the national land, they have an enormous impact on the water cycle of each region.

This is a photograph of Mount Chokai, which is located in the northeastern region of Honshu. (Figure 14.1, 14.2, 14.3). I was told when I climbed the mountain last year that the snow on the mountain melts and nourishes the beech trees, and its underflow moistens the fields at the foot of the mountain, and eventually it flows into the Sea of Japan and nourishes rock oysters. Rain and snow fill the river and percolate underground changing its form to nourish nature and support lives of the people engaged in agriculture and fishery. And there are those who contribute to managing and protecting water. Here again we can see how we relate to the water cycle.

In Kumamoto Prefecture, which lies to the west of Oita Prececture, forest covers 60 percent of its land and it nurtures the quality and quantity of ground-water. 80 percent of the water supply comes from groundwater. The entire water supply of Kumamoto city, known as “The Water City”, depends on underground water stored within the layer of pyroclastic flow deposit from Mount Aso (Figure 15.1, 15.2). We can see how the Japanese have related to water based on various natural conditions.

Water also deeply relates to our hearts and minds. At Todaiji Temple in Nara, our ancient capital, there is an event known as Shunie (Figure 16). Omizu-tori, water drawing, is a mystic ritual of drawing water from Wakasa Well at midnight on the 12th of March every year, which, according to the legend, comes from faraway Wakasa Bay. The ritual is said to relate to a folk custom supposed to ward off evil by drawing water before the arrival of spring. Shunie is also an epic festival of fire in which huge torches are brought into the hall, carried through the balcony and crushed on the floor. This festival of water and fire which combines the two most fundamental elements of our existence has been celebrated every year for the last 1250 years without a single interruption. This may be the result of devout feelings in the depth of people's hearts.

4. Global water issues: present and future

(1) Millennium Development Goals

Let us now turn to global water issues. If we look at the UN Millennium Development Goals which sets eight goals to be achieved by the international community by 2015, it is not an exaggeration to say that water is deeply related with each of them. For example, if we are to raise the status of women and achieve universal primary education, women and children must be liberated from water-fetching chores and be freed from the mortality caused unsanitary water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever. I am seriously concerned by the fact that one child dies every 10 to 20 seconds due to water related diseases.

Let us look at the availability of safe drinking water and the provision of basic sanitation. While there is fairly steady progress in achieving a sufficient supply of water, there is a serious delay in meeting sanitation. We can see the seriousness of conditions especially in the rural sector. This is true for the Asia-Pacific region as well (Figure 17, 18, 19).

(2) The International Year of Sanitation

As you know, next year is the International Year of Sanitation. It is hoped that adequate efforts and public education programs will be pursued in solving the water and sanitation problems which lag seriously behind other efforts. In order to promote these efforts, not only is the cooperation between countries important, but also the construction of networks between local governments that are responsible for the water supply and sanitation facilities, and civil organizations which work in the field, are necessary. Some actions have already been taken, which are expected to be emphasized by the International Year of Sanitation.

Furthermore, we may have to adopt new approaches with regard to the provision of basic sanitation facilities themselves. For example, I understand that there is an increased focus on ecological sanitation-ways to minimize the use of water and reuse human waste as fertilizer safely and effectively. This is a “bio-toilet” installed in cabins on Mount Fuji (Figure 20). I am told that such facilities have been installed in our conference site for participants to test. Although there is still more work to be done to reduce their cost, in order for them to be widely used in the developing countries, this is certainly a technological innovation with great chance of success.

(3) Global Warming

Water is very closely related to the climate change issues, which are feared to seriously threaten the very survival of the human species. Global warming is predicted to cause not only a rising sea level and greater frequency of abnormal weather patterns, but also the intensity of natural disasters and widespread droughts. In recent years, there have been increasing instances of disastrous flooding in many parts of the world, while a part of other areas suffer from worsening drought. I am deeply saddened by the enormous damage and human tragedy brought by water-related disasters in the Asia-Pacific region.

According to the IPCC 4th assessment report issued this year, serious repercussions in the Asia-Pacific region such as increased floods and snow avalanches caused by the melting of Himalayan glaciers are predicted(Figure 21). Many leaders from the Pacific area are here with us. It is feared that the island nations of the Pacific may suffer from coastal disasters such as submergence, tidal waves and erosion due to a rise of the sea level, as well as from a decreasing availability of fresh water supplies. I believe that these are important themes to be discussed in this Summit and hope that fruitful discussions will be to solve these problems (Figure 22).

5. Conclusions

I have shared with you some of my thoughts about water, such as how water supports commerce, its diversity of nature and roles, and global water issues. I hope that I was properly able to explain our experience in Japan, how we have made the best use of our terrain and its natural endowments, acquiring knowledge and experience from overseas, and striving to improve the enriching and life-giving connection between people and water.

All water issues are linked. Issues such as water supply, sanitation and flood control do not exist independently. For their resolution, we must understand their diverse nature and broadest implications, and then make continued efforts to find the best measures applicable in local conditions, by not only taking comprehensive and integrative approaches, but also by implementing them in innovative partnerships with all concerned.

I would like to conclude my presentation with a sincere wish that in its deliberations this Summit will take into consideration the rich diversity of the Asia-Pacific region and be forthcoming with proposals for the resolution of common regional issues concerning water, and thus of the global problems of which they are an inseparable part and that affect us all.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.