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Cultures, Communities and Design

The Influence and Importance of Sacred Places in Community Activities and the Coexistence between Locals and Their Environment
M. Yamamura


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Introduction of modern technologies improved productivity and economic growth in rural Japan, but significantly changed communities, and relationships between residents and the environment. In this paper the contemporary value of sacred places that have been revered over generations was examined. Residents in Suko, Saga prefecture, were interviewed, and their activities concerning a pond in which the water god Benzaiten is enshrined, were analyzed. These activities included keeping the area clean, and holding rice-farming rituals four times annually around Benzaiten, in which priests say incantations, residents pray together, with eating, drinking and interaction afterwards. Formerly, supplying water to rice paddies was challenging, but this changed during the high economic growth period when mechanically pumping groundwater became possible leading to increased water usage, but also causing the land to subside, spring water to cease, and the pond to dry up. Subsequently, converting the pond into a parking lot was occasionally proposed, but each time most locals disagreed out of fear of reprisals from Benzaiten, so the pond was kept in its dried-up state, but cleanings and rituals continued. 40 years later, with the construction of a dam, water supply stabilized, and the pond returned. Residents established a group that holds events promoting the coexistence of residents and the pond. Events involve local children and include wildlife surveys, rewilding, and candles decoration ritual in summer. After knowing the history of the pond residents gained pride in their community. The group has continued for over two decades.
The following was concluded; before economic growth Benzaiten was a strictly religious icon, however, nowadays Benzaiten connects residents with each other, and their environment. The fact that locals maintained religious rituals, even during the coronavirus pandemic, and had belief and pride in these activities, and a desire to convey them to younger generations, enabled this transition.



Mihori Yamamura is a licensed architect and Ph.D. student at the Tokyo Institute of Technology Graduate School of Decision Science. She completed a master’s course in landscape research at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in 1992. From then, her research has predominantly focused on traditional Japanese cultures with their roots in Japan’s topography and climate. Her area of expertise is in how old communities sustained traditional activities and the difficulties that new communities have in maintaining them. In the old days, traditional activities were enjoyed at annual seasonal events, nurturing in those that enjoyed them a love for their local area, and creating a harmonious coexistence between people and nature. In today’s society the continuance of these traditional events and activates faces numerous challenges. She is a lecturer at Aikoku Gakuen Junior College teaching subjects such as; ‘Theory of living environment’, ‘Home interior coordination’, and ‘The meaning of Japanese traditional seasonal events’. She also belongs to the ‘Koga Park Steering Committee’ in Ibaraki-prefecture, working with residents and the local government. Koga Park is a huge natural park in which citizens have been taking part in gardening and facility management and planning for over two decades.