A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Once Again, Goshawks Not Given a Fair Trial- This Time in Nakane Konda-Dai (中根 金田台)


Goshawk with Chicks in Nakane Kondadai (Nakane Konda-Dai- 中根 金田台)


By Avi Landau


Until a few years ago, one of the richest ecosystems left remaining in what is now Tsukuba City, could be found within the protected confines of the Automobile Research Institute . Occassionally, a friend of mine who worked there, would invite me inside for a little bird-watching among the  marshes and woods which covered so much of its extensive grounds. These field trips were never disappointing, as we would invariably be able to spot and observe a wide variety of birdlife, including the majestic goshawk.

When construction of the new Tsukuba Express (TX) train line got underway, I had heard talk of concerns over the fate of that area. However, the conversation always ended reassuringly, because EVERYONE KNEW that there were protected species nesting there, and OF COURSE, people believed, the government or conservation groups would protect that precious habitat.

As you can guess, in the end NOTHING was saved or protected.  Those of us  who knew that area as it once was,  stare out of the train, teary eyed, as we pass the spot, now an expanse of slab-like grey apartment buidings, and densely packed, little houses, stretching to the horizon.

How did the developers get away with this? Well, they are extremely experienced at doing what they do, and very skillfull  at getting things to go their way while working within the existing system. Here is how they deal with the troublesome existence of protected species living on the land they want to develop- They form a committee called a KENTO-IINKAI, which could be translated into English as a Study Group, which  acts as judge and jury. Once again, I want to stress that this committee is not formed by the City, the Prefecture or any NEUTRAL group- it is formed by the DEVELOPERS, and in this case it was a company called UR.

What specifically happens is that the company invites certain SPECIALISTS in various fields, botany, ornithology, etc. , who act as FIXERS, and by that I mean that they FIX THINGS so that the company can go about construction as usual. By several months  after the initial concerns about the goshawks are voiced and reported in the press, the general public forgets all about the situation, confident that birds will be protected, and when the PANEL OF EXPERTS unanimously declared that it was fine to GO AHEAD with the original building plans, there is a tiny mention in the paper about it and NO inquiry into the INTEGRITY of the decision or those who made it.When all is said and done- it is GOODBYE to another goshawk nesting ground.

This has been going on for years in Japan, wherever developers or businessmen have trouble with pesky enviromental problems. Now, when nearly all of Tsukuba`s once extensive forests and marshes have been lost, conservationists are trying to save as much as possible of Tsukuba`s last remaining lowland wilds. The presence of more than one pair of nesting goshawks  has been documented and made public, the existence of numerous archaeological sites has also been stressed, and besides these points, the simple notion that it would be NICE to keep SOME of Tsukuba natural, a refuge for birds, small mammals and wild plants has been argued- though all in vain, it appears.

Once again, UR has called in the SAME GROUP OF FIXERS (really the same guys!), and once again, though construction had been halted because of the presence of the hawks, this same STUDY GROUP has declared that it would be OK to proceed with construction! Even more surprisingly ( I guess I shouldnt be surprised), the local media has asked no questions  about these dubious proceedings.

It is also disturbing   that some of the goshawk nests in Nakane Kondadai ( or Nakane Konda-Dai, as it is sometimes spelled), the name the developers have given to the area of proposed development, HAVE BEEN TAMPERED WITH.

I have long heard it said in this part of Japan that there are TWO things that are a major annoyance for a landowner of independant spirit. One, is that their house would be declared an IMPORTANT CULTURAL ASSET, which would mean that the owner would not be able to make any changes in the historical structure, and certainly would not be able to knock it down to put up apartments. Besides the pride of ownership ( which should be enough), there is nothing else to be gained from such a designation.

The other PAIN IN THE NECK would be a pair of goshawks setting up a nest on a landowners property. This would require protecting a 200 meter radius area around the nest, and any development plans would have to be stopped, a MAJOR HEADACHE for anyone with building plans who finds goshawks on their property.

What can an ambitious landowner of independant spirit do when these difficulties befall him? Well. in the case of a house being designated Important Cultural Property, the honor can be refused! This would certainly show a lack of civic and community spirit, but it can be done (the developer of Nakane Kondadai refused to have a building on his property thus designated).

The goshawks can prove to be a trickier problem, but something CAN be done! There are specialists, you see, who deal with these problems. They might even work for the Wild Bird Society of Japan! I have seen evidence of hawk nests having been GOTTEN RID OF more than once over the past few years. Below is a picture of one fallen nest ( and this is not the only one- I have been sending pictures of several fallen nests to ornithology departments around the world for comment). How strange that a cleanly snipped off branch was found among the debris!

As you can see, the presence of development hindering goshawks CAN be dealt ! In Nakane Kondadai, the developer, after it was  anounced that there were no goshawks on his property( of course not, their nests had fallen down!) promptly anounced that he would be turning the area into an owl reserve ( FUKURO NO MORI). That is all well and good ( owls are amazing birds and Tsukuba`s mascot as well!), but the problem in this case is that (as the developer well knows) OWLS eat goshawk chicks and their presence would rule out the pesky goshawks coming back for nesting! Problem solved for good!

Fortunately, Japan IS a democracy and we can DO SOMETHING to save Tsukuba`s last wilds. One of the first things on the agenda should be to publicly question the authority of the construction company-sponsored STUDY GROUPS (KENTO- IINKAI). The hawks, the woods and the historical sites all need a FAIR and PUBLIC  TRIAL If you would like to help us  protect the Nakane Konda-Dai woods, please contact me.

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