The Oriental White Stork, a government-designated special natural treasure, flies over a green paddy field. (Courtesy of Toyooka, Hyogo Pref.)

Fri, Sep 27, 2019

Oriental White Stork: Inspiring story of Toyooka to bring back ‘lost treasure’

Japan’s beauty in the eyes of CIRs

By Jade Nunez / CIR for the city of Toyooka, Hyogo Pref.

The Oriental White Stork – one of the biggest carnivorous birds in Japan.

It is an imposing creature, with a poised posture and a piercing gaze. This bird is a designated special natural treasure. It is a title of cultural property designated by the Japanese government. The Oriental White Stork is not unique to Japan, you can also find the species in China and Russia, but the government declared that this species needs to be preserved as a characteristic Japanese animal. In fact, the story of the Oriental White Stork in Japan is unique and it is one of the most inspiring stories about the environment in the world.  

Who could have predicted that this animal would work wonders for a whole population? However, the initial fate of these birds was grim. This endangered species disappeared from the Japanese landscape completely in 1971, perishing from the pesticides sprayed in abundance by farmers anxious to increase their profits. Allow me to set the scene: after the war, a defeated Japan, is doing its best to rise from the ashes. In order to run the machines of factories at full capacity, many trees are cut in the area, especially Japanese red pines – the best tree for constructing stork nests. At the same time, the use of chemical fertilizers ensure more production and food for a growing population.

(Courtesy of Toyooka, Hyogo Pref.)

Before the last stork died, some were captured in 1965 in an attempt to mate them in captivity and revive the species. A long battle began. The authorities and people who learned to take care of the storks did all they could to make the storks hatch an egg. But the task was complicated. The birds had never lived in captivity, and the pesticides did serious damage to their bodies. In 1985, 20 years after unsuccessful attempts, the former Soviet Union donated six storks to the city of Toyooka and four years later, a chick finally broke out of its shell. In 2005, 40 years after their disappearance, the storks in captivity were finally released, and the city was able to keep its promise to return these birds to their natural habitat. 

The first time I heard this story, I felt incredibly moved. Putting so much effort into reintegrating a species at the top of the food chain is a challenge that seemed almost impossible. However, today, 178 birds take flight once more in the skies of Japan. In addition to the reintroduction, locals and farmers had to question their entire farming method. Today, most rice fields are organic, and natural methods are used to prevent weed and pests, the enemies of farmers. These “stork-friendly farming methods” include delaying the drainage of rice fields so that tadpoles become frogs. As a result, the frogs can devour harmful insects. At the “Stork Museum” in Toyooka, it is possible to see the storks all year and learn about the fascinating agricultural alternatives.

(Courtesy of Toyooka, Hyogo Pref.)

In France, a nationwide eco-friendly attitude has been developed and organic products are now available in most of the country’s supermarkets. Hence, I was surprised and overjoyed to learn about the existence of Toyooka’s organic rice when I arrived. A label depicting the Oriental White Stork is also placed on many fruits and vegetables, proof that the products are environmentally friendly. As a result, I feel close to the ideals of the city I live in and truly wish to contribute to this effort and share this story with the world. I am impressed by the passion of the community involved. The local government could negotiate and convince farmers to change their methods – such laborious work!

So let’s not forget the severity of current environmental problems. These kinds of projects can bring about change. Consume local and organic products and raise awareness of nature’s issues to Japanese people: not only for storks, but also for humans. In this world, where the future of our planet seems bleak, this inspiring and positive story can give people hope for a better future and motivate them to embrace new perspectives. This is what I believe in, thanks to the storks.

(Courtesy of Toyooka, Hyogo Pref.)

(Cooperation: Council of Local Authorities for International Relations)


Jade Nunez

Jade is a Coordinator of International Relations (CIR) for the Toyooka City Hall tourism division from Southern France. She invests her energy in promoting the area of Kinosaki Onsen in northern Hyogo Prefecture to foreigners. She serves as a guide for the foreign media, as an interpreter at certain events and also participates in tourism exhibitions abroad.



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