April might be the most important month in the Japanese year, not only because of the cherry blossom season but for starting a new semester. In April 2017, two new research organizations have been established regarding mountain studies in Japan – “Master degree program of mountain studies” and “Mountain Science Center (MSC)”. After a Japanese Alps inter-university Cooperation Project (JALPS) in 2010-2014, the scientists involved sought to establish an educational and research framework to coordinate and activate mountain studies in Japan. After tremendous efforts for agreements among universities and negotiation with the ministry of education, science, culture, sports and technology, the two functions were finally approved by the University of Tsukuba.
The master degree program is composed of multiple science fields related to the mountain sciences through the collaboration of four national universities: the University of Tsukuba, Shinshu University, Shizuoka University and the University of Yamanashi. Each university provides lectures from their subjects and their facilities in the mountains are shared. Remote lecture systems are introduced to support distance learning. Lecture topics are e.g. bio-resource management, vegetation geography, forest bio-ecology, geology/geomorphology, meteorology, and water cycle science in regard to geology, and local resource conservation, disaster mitigation, tourism studies in regard to anthropology. Intensive field studies will be hosted by the university observatories/forests. After the evaluation of the graduation presentation the degree of “Master of Mountain Studies” will be awarded. The first class started with 16 new students on April 8 (Fig. 1). They are expected to be young specialists to relatively new fields of science and solve ongoing environment problems in the mountains.
At the same time, the MSC course was initiated in the University of Tsukuba. The center was reorganized by merging former Sugadaira Montane Research Center and University Forest Section of Agriculture and Forestry Research Center. A kick-off symposium was held in the Tokyo satellite campus where the ongoing and challenging issues in the Japanese mountains in regards to forestry, tourism, hazard, resources, bio-diversity and sports are emphasized (Fig. 2). The centers is planning to set four divisions to cover process studies, resource management, sustainable development and research initiative, and try to produce new comprehensive framework of mountain sciences and contribute to the communities in mountain areas. Mountains in Japan are characterized as their complex topography with steep slopes, which developed due to active crustal movement and impacts of severe weather. Forests have played an important role to mitigate hazards and provide resources, but depopulation and aging causes social and economic problems. The MSC holds four sites distributed at 1300-1400 m a.s.l. in central Japan along 138.5E under different climate zones, such as Sugadaira with winter monsoon, Yatsugatake with dry-inland areas, and Ikawa facing the Pacific side, which will play an important role when field based experiments will be conducted and the subsequent mountain environment changes will be assessed.
We opened an information booth promoting the General Incorporated Foundation Mountain Day at the Tokyo Earth-day Festival in Yoyogi park, Tokyo, on April 22 and 23 and advertised the importance of mountains even for urban life, and are encouraged by many visitors for launching new programs (Fig. 3). Henceforth, we need to accumulate the knowhow to extend and manage the cooperation framework with related research institutes, and will also start international activities by advertising and exchanging research/educational results.