Tourism Industry and Sustainable Development

Tourism Development in Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System Areas in Japan: Making Stories and Experience-based Products

  • YOTSUMOTO Yukio , * ,
  • VAFADARI Kazem ,
  • KUBO Takayuki
  • Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Beppu, Oita 874-8577, Japan
* YOTSUMOTO Yukio, E-mail:

Received date: 2022-03-11

  Accepted date: 2022-12-01

  Online published: 2023-10-23

Supported by

The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science—Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (B)(21H03725)

The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science—Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (A)(21H04382)


Japanese communities associated with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) program have tried to develop tourism products that take advantage of their certification as a GIAHS site. As the experience economy is gaining more importance in society, tapping into tourism is a realistic choice for the communities that face aging and declining populations. In this study, we look at how stories (narratives) are attached to agricultural products and culture and identify issues in making experience-based products in GIAHS areas in Japan. We used an inductive approach to analyze qualitative data collected mainly by interviews and observations. For the analysis, we followed the standard analytical techniques, that is, searching for patterns of similarities and differences of transcribed data and refining ideas using diagrams. Field work was conducted in Oita GIAHS, Gifu GIAHS and Shizuoka Chagusaba GIAHS that represent all GIAHS types in Japan. This research shows that the landscape type of GIAHS can develop various souvenirs with different stories extracted from GIAHS certification documents from crafts to foodstuffs. On the other hand, in the farming method type of GIAHS, narratives are confined to a single agricultural product and its production method. Another finding is that two layers of narratives exist in the experience-based products in GIAHS areas. The first layer is created utilizing already known agricultural and cultural traditions in a locality. The second layer is a GIAHS story added to the first layer as a scientific reinterpretation of local agricultural heritage.

Cite this article

YOTSUMOTO Yukio , VAFADARI Kazem , KUBO Takayuki . Tourism Development in Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System Areas in Japan: Making Stories and Experience-based Products[J]. Journal of Resources and Ecology, 2023 , 14(6) : 1302 -1313 . DOI: 10.5814/j.issn.1674-764x.2023.06.018

1 Introduction

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) project known as the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) supports and protects local agricultural systems that cover traditional agricultural practices including knowledge, and the specific land uses that protect agricultural biodiversity, rural culture, and landscapes that can be passed onto future generations. In Japan there are eleven GIAHS sites, and many of the cities and towns within these GIAHS sites have been active in getting the certificate as they anticipate that it will be beneficial for tourism development (Sun et al., 2021) as well as for the sale of agricultural products (Yotsumoto and Vafadari, 2021). Prefectural governments also try to use GIAHS accreditation for the conservation of agricultural landscapes and rural revitalization as these areas face declining populations and weakening community functions (Chen et al., 2018).
Interest in tourism development by municipalities results from a shift in the service economy to a combined service and experience economy in which tourism can play a major role. In this study, we look at issues in making experience-based products in GIAHS areas in Japan. Studies on tourism development in Agricultural Heritage Sites in general and GIAHS areas specifically have been carried out extensively in other countries. Tian et al. (2014) identified three research categories of tourism in Agricultural Heritage Sites in China. These are traditional agricultural techniques, agrarian landscapes, and experiences of culture. In the last category, the major research themes are tourism resources, cultural experiences and tourism product design, the motivation of travelers, and tourism that preserves traditional agricultural cultures. In the area of cultural experiences and tourism product design, most studies discuss tourism products in Agricultural Heritage Sites but do not specifically focus on GIAHS. Sun et al. (2021)’s study on sustainable tourism development at Chinese GIAHS sites in which product development is mentioned is one of the exceptions.
In Japanese GIAHS research, there have not been many studies that focus on experience-based products. We could find only a few related studies that focus on a single case. For example, Kohsaka et al. (2016) investigated the perceptions of tourists about traditional vegetable brands in the Ishikawa GIAHS area. Chen and Qiu (2013) studied the development of the green tourism project in the Ishikawa GIAHS area while Vafadari (2013) studied green tourism and agricultural products in the Oita GIAHS area. However, there is no study that discusses experience-based products for all the GIAHS in Japan. In this study we fill this gap by investigating three sites that can represent all GIAHS types in Japan.
In each site, stories (narratives) are created based on the ability of each GIAHS to promote agricultural products and tourism. Promotion of tourism is especially important as it is an alternative industry that can help achieve the objectives of GIAHS to support livelihoods and raise awareness of ecology and environment among local people (Sun et al., 2009).

2 Literature review

This section reviews the available literature on the experience economy and storytelling. What tourists gain from destinations such as encounters, perception, participation, and feelings are summarized as experiences. Tourism provides experiences that are more than services. In the experience economy, narratives have become an important way to give tourists a quality experience. In this study, experience-based products developed at each GIAHS site are described. The nature of the experience economy and the importance of narratives in developing tourism products as reviewed in this section will show the rationale behind developing those products by municipalities, non-profit organizations and businesses in each area and clarify the general characteristics of those products covered in our analysis.

2.1 The experience economy

The experience economy has been recognized since 2000 as an independent social phenomenon (Sundbo and Sørensen, 2013), that is distinct from the service economy that was before it. Pine and Gilmore (1998) clarified the distinctive differences between the experience economy and the service economy in eight ways: First, what the service economy offers is services and what the experience economy offers is experiences; Second, the service economy’s function is delivering and the experience economy’s function is staging; Third, the nature of what they offer in the service economy is intangible while in the experience economy, it is memorable; Fourth, the key attribute of the services is customized but that of the experiences is personal; Fifth, about mode of supply, services are delivered on demand while experiences are revealed over a duration; Sixth, in the service economy, the seller is characterized as providers but in the experience economy, they are stagers; Seventh, in the service economy, the buyer is regarded as a client while in the experience economy, she/he is considered as guest; and Eighth, while factors of demand are benefits in the service economy, they are sensations in the experience economy.
Sundbo and Sørensen (2013) defined experience in the economy as “the mental impact felt and remembered by an individual caused by personal perception of external stimuli” and experience involves something extraordinary. Some types of tourism provide extraordinary experiences that are felt and remembered by tourists. In such tourism, guests (tourists) are guided to stages that are authentic and/or extraordinary where they obtain sensations through personal and memorable experiences that are revealed over time. Therefore, some types of tourism have more affinity with the experience economy than the service economy. In fact, Sundbo and Sørensen (2013) categorize tourism as a sector in the experience economy.

2.2 Storytelling

A recent international trend shows that the experience economy develops businesses using narratives in which guests can have extraordinary experiences (Mossberg, 2008). This is increasingly used in the tourism industry as tourists make decisions by using information and communication technologies (ICT) in which the presentation of narratives and storytelling are necessary to differentiate one destination from another (Youssef et al., 2019). Studies demonstrate that storytelling can influence consumer’s decisions positively (Woodside and Megehee, 2009; Hsiao et al., 2013) and thus it has become an important tool for destination marketing and branding (Tussyadiah et al., 2011). When good narratives are present, tourists can form attachments with the destinations intellectually and emotionally that make their travel experiences personal and meaningful (Bryon, 2012).

2.3 GIAHS as resources to tell stories

In the process of making narratives in tourism, various resources such as cultural, historical, geological, geographical, biological features and contents are necessary components. In developing a local tour, local resources are explored, sorted out and evaluated. Then, a tour is created by combining them under a concept in which a story (the narrative) is a critical factor (Shikida et al., 2008). Buying souvenirs is a part of a travel experience and tourists buy souvenirs to cement the memory that they had visited a destination. Thus, souvenirs represent a destination and to sell them associated with a story is important. Local cuisines are also important resources that enhance visitor experiences (Tian et al., 2014). Compared to dishes in regular restaurants characterized as a service provision, the delivery of local dishes using local ingredients and associated with local culture has characteristics of staging; sensations that give guests personal and memorable experiences.
In GIAHS areas, local resources are collected, classified, and arranged into agricultural heritage systems in the process of the GIAHS application. These agricultural heritage systems are already narratives about traditional agricultural practices and cultures that have been scientifically produced. The description of the systems, that is, the narratives have the characteristics of authorized authenticity (Bruner, 2005) certified by FAO. These narratives of GIAHS systems are not planned to be used for attracting tourists in many cases, but while they are intended to aid in preserving traditional agricultural practices and associated local cultures, they are good stores of knowledge that have the potential to contribute to the experience economy.

3 Research method

This is an exploratory study in which we try to understand the ways experience-based products are created from GIAHS narratives and identify the issues in their making. As described in the introduction, not many studies on this topic have been conducted and no theories are developed. Therefore, we use an inductive approach to the analysis of qualitative data that was collected mainly by interviews and observations. For the analysis we followed the standard techniques; we searched for patterns of similarities and differences (Babbie, 2021) in the transcribed data and refined ideas using diagrams (Lofland and Lofland, 1995) referring to the literature reviewed in section 2.
In this study, we use three GIAHS cases. They are Oita GIAHS, Gifu GIAHS and Shizuoka Chagusaba GIAHS. They represent all the GIAHS types in Japan (Fig. 1 and Table 1). Nagata and Yiu (2021) classified GIAHS sites into three types. The first is the landscape type that is an area composed of farmland, forest, river, irrigation canal, ponds, and human settlements. In this area, people practice farming, forestry, and fisheries. The second is the farming method type that is a traditional farming method unique to an area and is practiced to conserve biodiversity. The third is genetic resource conservation in which people protect genetic resources through traditional agricultural practices. These GIAHS are agricultural systems, but they are not necessarily located in rural areas. They can also be found in urban areas. As of June 2022, there are eleven GIAHS sites in Japan. According to their analysis, eight sites are of the landscape type, three are of the farming method type and none are of the genetic resource conservation type.
Fig. 1 The location of GIAHS in Japan

Note: The figure is from Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries GIAHS website, edited by authors. giahs_1_1.html.

Table 1 The types of GIAHS in Japan
No. GIAHS Name/Location Year Type classified by Nagata and Yiu (2021)
1 Noto’s Satoyama and Satoumi 2011 Landscape
Noto Peninsula, Ishikawa Prefecture
2 Sado’s Satoyama in Harmony with Japanese Crested Ibis 2011 Landscape
Sado City, Sado Island, Niigata Prefecture
3 Traditional Tea-grass Integrated System in Shizuoka 2013 Farming method
Tea cultivation area, Shizuoka Prefecture
4 Managing Aso Grasslands for Sustainable Agriculture 2013 Landscape
Aso area, Kumamoto Prefecture
5 Kunisaki Peninsula Usa Integrated Forestry, Agriculture and Fisheries System 2013 Landscape
Kunisaki Peninsula, Usa area, Oita Prefecture
6 Ayu of the Nagara River System 2015 Landscape
Gifu City, Seki City, Mino City and Gujo City, Gifu Prefecture
7 Minabe-Tanabe Ume System 2015 Landscape
Minabe-Tanabe area, Wakayama Prefecture
8 Takachihogo-Shiibayama Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry System 2015 Landscape
Takachihogo-Shiibayama area, Miyazaki Prefecture
9 Osaki Kôdo’s Traditional Water Management System for Sustainable Paddy Agriculture 2017 Landscape
Osaki area, Miyagi Prefecture
10 Nishi-Awa Steep Slope Land Agriculture System 2018 Farming method
Nishi-Awa area, Tokushima Prefecture
11 Traditional Wasabi Cultivation in Shizuoka 2018 Farming method
Wasabi cultivation area, Shizuoka Prefecture

Note: This table is created by the authors based on information from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries GIAHS website. The bold names of GIAHS are the cases used in this paper.

Oita GIAHS is a landscape type in a rural setting. It represents a sustainable agricultural system that integrates forestry, agriculture, and fisheries. It is like the Ishikawa GIAHS of the Noto Peninsula’s Satoyama and Satoumi, which integrates those three industries and the Miyazaki GIAHS of the Takachihogo-Shiibayama Mountainous Agriculture and Forestry System. Gifu GIAHS is also a landscape type but a part of it is in an urban area. It represents a system based on rivers. As the majority of GIAHS in Japan focus on agriculture, an emphasis on fisheries, especially an inland one, is unique. Shizuoka Chagusaba GIAHS is a farming method type that focuses on the production method of a single product. It is an agricultural system of tea production that protects biodiversity. This is like the Traditional Wasabi Cultivation in Shizuoka Prefecture.
In this study we conducted field work in Oita Prefecture between 2018 and 2020 in addition to intensive field work in February 3-4, 2018. We visited various GIAHS related sites for observation and informal discussion with stakeholders and formally interviewed farmers, artisans, city and prefectural office staff, farm stay owners, restaurant owners, mayors, non-profit organization staff, community development specialists, scholars and community residents. Between January 24 and 27, 2019, we conducted field work in Gifu Prefecture by observing various GIAHS related facilities and interviewing prefectural office staff, a hotel owner, a restaurant owner, and a community development specialist. For the Shizuoka Chagusaba GIAHS, we conducted field work between August 26 and 30, 2019 by observing facilities and interviewing farmers, city and prefectural office staff, farm stay owners, a deputy-director of a tea museum, and the manager of a rest station.

4 Findings

In this section, first, we describe each GIAHS system (story) and then describe tourism products that provide experiences and narratives relating to GIAHS.

4.1 Oita GIAHS

Oita GIAHS in the Kyushu Region is the Kunisaki Peninsula Usa Integrated Forestry, Agriculture and Fisheries System and is described as follows: the Kunisaki-Usa area has difficulty in securing enough water for agriculture due to its narrow flat plains and volcanic soils that do not retain rainwater (Fig. 2). Nevertheless, this area has developed an integrated forestry, agriculture, and fisheries system. In agriculture, the main production is the cultivation of Shiitake mushrooms that are rich in nutrition and can be used for medicinal purposes. Sawtooth Oak (Kunugi) forests have been developed and maintained to supply log beds for growing Shiitake mushrooms and to keep water in the soil. This is supplemented by approximately 1200 interlinked small irrigation ponds for water use in agriculture and forestry, particularly for wet-rice cultivation. Rice production has been complemented by raising cattle and growing welsh onions, mandarin oranges and shichitoui to make tatami mats.
Fig. 2 The location of Kunisaki Peninsula Usa area GIAHS municipalities

Note: The figure is from Kunisaki Peninsula Usa GIAHS website, edited by the authors. https://www.kunisaki-usa- giahs. com/en/about-area.

The development has created a unique landscape which provides biodiversity and creates value in the ecosystem by decomposing biomass and adding nutrients. The area is the habitat of the Japanese giant salamander and the Japanese horseshoe crab. Local people have preserved the culture, festivals and religion associated with agriculture. The irrigation ponds are the stages where people pray to the water gods, and where festivals to celebrate harvests have been held (GIAHS Book Editorial and Production Committee, 2015).
In the Amaridani district of the Innai area of Usa City, there are Ryoai rice terraces, which are designated as one of Japan’s One Hundred Best Rice Terraces. This district has experienced an aging and declining population, and it has a growing number of abandoned rice terraces. It is one of the marginal communities in which basic community functions are difficult to sustain (Ono, 2008). To revive this community, Amaridani residents established the Amaridani 21st Century Committee in 2000 and subsequently formed a network with a university.
When GIAHS was designated, residents taking care of Ryoai rice terraces made connections with the Usa City Office, community advisors and a university. The rice terraces are now regarded as a symbolic property that shows off the GIAHS system. The city uses the GIAHS brand and funds allocated by the prefectural government for preservation. As part of the preservation effort they have established a community house by renovating an abandoned dwelling with support from a community consultant. This house, facing the rice terraces, is used to accommodate university students who stay overnight to learn rural ways of life including agricultural practices and local dishes. Also, a pilot project was a local leader’s household-initiated farm stay. The tourists can listen to the story of rural life in the area from the host (an old couple) while eating dinner. For example, the host tells a story of how to make shiitake mushrooms while serving a dinner that includes a first-class shiitake mushroom harvested in their farm on the day.
In terms of product development, a rice package (Fig. 3) was developed and sold in a department store in Fukuoka City, the largest city in the Kyushu Region. This package shows an illustration of the rice terraces with the words “Japan’s 100 Best Rice Terraces” and “Ryoai Terrace Rice.” It also includes the words, “a nickname of a terrace” where the packaged rice was harvested with a blank where each terrace’s nickname is written in pen (in Fig. 3, it says “Kubota”). On the back it has a sentence saying that “we support Kunisaki Peninsula Usa Area GIAHS.” This rice is sold by a story that it is harvested from the rice terraces where loach live, indicating that rice is free from agrochemical residues although it is not pesticide free farming. It also has another story about the nickname attached to each terrace. It is not known by the public that each small plot of the terraces has an individual nickname that is land-based not producer-based. To know this creates personal and special feelings among consumers. Taking advantage of these feelings means the rice can be sold at a premium price that is 30% higher than the price of regular rice.
Fig. 3 A packaged rice from Ryoai rice terraces

Note: This photo is from the website of the Kunisaki Peninsula Usa GIAHS Promotion Association.

The set-up document of Oita GIAHS describes rice production in a narrow flat plain. Terraced rice cultivation was a way to overcome the shortage of agricultural land in this environment. It created a beautiful landscape that is now designated as some of Japan’s best 100 rice terraces. To maintain farming though, the products need to be sold at a premium price. To do that, the rice is armed with a narrative.
Innai Town has a roadside station “Michi-no-eki Innai” located in the center of the town along National Highway 387. Innai is known for its concentration of stone bridges and the Japanese giant salamander that lives only in Innai in the Kyushu Region. The station provides information on the stone bridges and exhibits a live Japanese giant salamander. In the souvenir shops salamander-shaped konjak jelly is sold which is a new product that was recently created by a local company supported through Usa City.

4.2 Gifu GIAHS

Gifu GIAHS is called Ayu of the Nagara River System and is described as follows: the Nagara River runs through Gifu Prefecture and its catchment of 1824 km2 is designated (Fig. 4). It provides rich aquatic biodiversity in fish species and species of amphibians, reptiles, and shellfish. The land area houses many types of insects, birds, and mammals. In agriculture, income comes from paddy rice, fruits, and vegetables. Ayu, a Japanese sweet fish, is important for creating income in the areas of fisheries, commerce, and tourism. Its sales generates 18.3 million USD every year in Gifu Prefecture and 110000 tourists visit the area to see cormorant fishing, an unchanged fishing technique for ayu since the 8th century. The fishing technique and a fish weir have been preserved and a food culture narrative related to ayu has been developed. Ayu sushi which is made from rice, fermented ayu and salt is a delicacy which is used as a year-end present. To maintain the amount of ayu resources, fisheries associations have set up strict regulations on fishing duration since 1880.
Fig. 4 The location of Gifu GIAHS

Note: The figure is from the Nagara River Story website, edited by the authors.

In addition to agriculture and fisheries, the GIAHS system includes traditional craft-making using the Nagara River’s clean water. In the basin, traditional Japanese umbrellas, paper lanterns and fans are made using Mino Japanese papers which is made from mulberry trees and the water. Local people try to manage the river as it provides drinking and irrigation water, food, and recreational settings. The area’s economy, history and culture cannot be separated from the river and ayu. Even today the number of people working in this system is about 6000 and their income comes from agriculture, forestry, fisheries, commerce, and tourism (GIAHS Book Editorial and Production Committee, 2015).
The Kawaramachi area in Gifu City is located near the city center and along the Nagara River. The area thrived as a river port for unloading lumber and traditional Japanese paper from upstream areas during the Edo period (1603-1867), and many traditional houses of the merchants of these products have been preserved. The area also has seven hot spring inns/hotels and a landing place for cormorant fishing viewing boats.
ORGAN, a non-profit organization based in the Kawaramachi area, was established in 2011 and supports tourism-based community development in the Nagara River basin. In 2014, it held the “Nagara River Ayu Festival” to promote ayu in conjunction with six fishery cooperatives. In 2016 the Nagara River Basin Tour and Stay-type Tourism Promotion Council was established with members consisting of Gifu Prefecture, Gifu City, Seki City, Mino City, and Gujo City, and ORGAN became its secretariat. Along with that, they set up a website to sell experiences in the basin. At the website called the Nagara River Story(① Refer to the website, people can watch the making of Gifu Japanese umbrellas and Mino handmade Japanese paper, and the working of iron with the swordsmith of Seki. In addition, a store, "Nagara River Department Store, Minatogawa” that sells products related to the story of the Nagara River was opened in Kawaramachi. It also has partnerships with nearby restaurants and hotels. In this way, ORGAN spreads the narratives of the Nagara River basin including GIAHS and continues to make efforts to sell hands-on trips and products.
The Nagara River Story published on the Internet uses narratives of the Nagara River to promote the area. Some of the narratives are: 1) A journey around the story of ayu - following the story of ayu in the clear stream of the Nagara River; 2) A journey around the story of artisans part 1—Visiting a Mino Japanese paper village; and 3) A journey around the story of artisans part 2—The Nagara River and traditional skills performed by artisans.
For ORGAN, the designation of GIAHS was welcome news as they had worked to revitalize the communities in Gifu Prefecture by developing narratives for tourism. The story of ayu on the website consists of the description of the Nagara River, the ayu and the fishing methods, and travel information. The website also includes description of the characteristics of the river, the ecology of the ayu, the premium quality of ayu as food, and various traditional ayu fishing methods. Most of the site information is about attractions (viewing places of cormorant fishing and fishing weirs) and restaurants that offer ayu dishes. Izumiya in Kawaramachi is listed on the website. It is a restaurant with a souvenir shop, which serves ayu dishes. It offers a full course ayu meal and other new dishes such as ayu noodle, ayu curry and ayu pizza. The full course natural ayu meal (Fig. 5) is quite expensive although there are four prices (56-113 USD). Each dish in the course meal is small so that adults may not feel full. Also, it is difficult to distinguish the taste of natural ayu from farmed ayu. However, despite its high price and the difficulty in distinguishing its taste, the restaurant attracts many tourists. The gap is filled by the story of ayu in the Nagara River as a premium quality product that has been preserved by traditional conservation and fishing practices. This story was assured by the GIAHS designation. People come to eat as they believe ayu in the restaurant is authentic. Authenticity of ayu is guaranteed by the international authority of FAO.
Fig. 5 A dish in a full course natural ayu meal

Note: This photo is taken by Yotsumoto Yukio.

Gifu prefecture built the “Seiryu Nagaragawa Ayu Park” (Ayu Park hereafter) in Shiratori-cho, Gujo City, using the opportunity of being certified as a GIAHS site. This attraction opened in June 2018 and had 100000 visitors in the two months of the summer. In August 2019, the number of visitors exceeded 300000. The Ayu Park is a facility of the fishery department of the prefecture. The prefecture had been thinking about building it for the development of the fishery industry for decades, but it was difficult to do so due to its low priority in the prefecture. Certification of GIAHS increased its policy importance and so it was finally realized.
The park has two main projects. One is a fishing experience learning project, and this includes the promotion of inland fisheries and the conservation of fishery resources, awareness of the diversity of the Nagara River ecosystem, the use and conservation of the river, which is inseparable from the communities in the basin, maintaining the food culture and industry related to ayu, and learning about fishing-related traditional culture. The other project is an exhibition of materials related to fishing and its GIAHS system called “Ayu of the Clear Stream Nagara River”. Specifically, there is a video exhibition about ayu fishing and the culture of the Nagara River basin, promotion of fishing, and a PR exhibition of the GIAHS.
There are experience menus for individuals and groups. For individuals, the fishing experience is for children, and they can catch trout and char at the “Fishing Square” pond. The main experiences for groups are based on three activities. The first one is called “Challenge the traditional fishing method: A decoy ayu fishing experience.” The second one is a forestry experience in which people can learn about tree planting, thinning, and forest maintenance related to the Nagara River. The third one is the GIAHS “Nagara River Ayu” course in which people can learn about the GIAHS in a training room and watch an explanation of its system by video in the multi-faceted theater.
The Ayu Park is successful as a tourist attraction within the theme of GIAHS, attracting many tourists. Specializing in ayu, it has the characteristics of a leisure facility for children. Since it is built and operated as a GIAHS facility, it has the purpose of training successors, but it is difficult to train fishers with this experience menu. In the 1960s and 70s, children were swimming in the river and catching fish. In Gujo City, there was a tradition that sixth graders took younger second and third graders to rivers and taught them to avoid the dangerous places. In the countryside, children still swim in rivers to catch fish, but the number is declining. Children are being told by adults that it is dangerous to approach rivers. Nowadays, few children play in rivers, and some have never touched live fish. Therefore, the programs give children an opportunity to get closer to rivers and to touch fish.
Regarding the actual fishers, it is very difficult to train successors. According to the prefecture, there are about 4000 registered fishers, but most of them are part-timers. There are only three full-time river fishers (one each in their 80s, 60s, and 30s). It is not easy to make a living as a full-time river fisher. Therefore, the fisher in his thirties has begun to start hands-on tours in addition to ayu fishing. It is estimated that full-time fishers will be extinct due to a shortage of successors in the future. Part-time fishers are important, but full-time fishers are necessary because they actively maintain the environment and the fishing culture such as repairing ships. Since selling ayu does not generate enough income, efforts such as the experience tours started by the fisher in his thirties are needed to overcome the issue of succession.
In collaboration with ORGAN and the Ayu Park, the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage “Clear Stream Nagara River Ayu” Promotion Council actively conducted the 2018 “World Agricultural Heritage: Clear Stream Nagara River Ayu Experience Model Tour”. In total, 13 bus tours were held. For example, “GIAHS connected by Rivers: Natural ayu dishes and Mino Japanese paper making experience & sake story raised by the clear stream Nagara River” was a day tour with a cost of 33 USD per person including lunch.
These model tours were popular because they were highly subsidized and people were therefore able to attend them very cheaply. According to all interviewees, since the name of GIAHS and its meaning are not well known by tourists and residents, people cannot be attracted by the name only. Therefore, the tours offer places and activities that is fun and include components of GIAHS, at a very cheap price. The purpose is to promote the GIAHS to tourists who can learn its name and contents after their participation. As the GIAHS name alone is not attractive enough to bring many tourists, it is still premature to offer full-scale tours without subsidies from local government.

4.3 Shizuoka Chagusaba GIAHS

Shizuoka Chagusaba GIAHS is called a Traditional Tea-grass Integrated System in Shizuoka and is described as follows: Semi-natural grasslands called Chagusaba are a hallmark of the traditional tea cultivation method in Shizuoka Prefecture (Fig. 6).
Fig. 6 The location of Shizuoka Chagusaba GIAHS

Note: The figure is from World O-CHA (Tea) Festival 2022, Shizuoka, Japan website, edited by the authors.

The prefecture’s agriculture heavily relies on tea production as 78% of the prefecture’s farmers grow tea. The grasslands have been maintained around tea gardens to use for mulch which keeps moisture, provides nutrients, and maintains biodiversity. It is believed that the practice enhances tea quality by its taste, aroma, and color. The quality is further enhanced by a new tea processing technique in which tea leaves are steamed twice. The product is called deep-steam tea and has plenty of flavor and a deep green tint. To use grass for mulch is a labor-intensive practice as it requires 600 hours per farm family to cut, dry and apply it in the ridges of the tea gardens. However, it helps to reduce soil erosion and fertilizer runoff. As some Chagusaba are common lands, the members share the labor. Chagusaba is a home for more than 300 species of flora and fauna that include endemic and endangered species, especially keeping seven endangered plants. It is considered to have one of the richest biodiversity levels in Japan’s semi-natural grasslands, which are only one percent of the country’s area. Tea gardens have been developed in mountainous areas where rice and vegetable production are difficult due to precipitous slopes. Thus, tea gardens create a mosaic landscape (GIAHS Book Editorial and Production Committee, 2015).
The landmark representing Shizuoka Chagusaba GIAHS is a large Chinese character for “tea” on the slope of Mount Awagatake (532 m) in the Higashiyama District of Kakegawa City. This tea character was created about 100 years ago by tea farmers as an expression of their resolution that they live with tea. The size of the character is 130 meters per side, and it is made from Japanese cypress.
On the foot of the mountain, there is a rest station “Ippukudokoro” that offers a cup of tea to visitors and sells souvenirs (tea, tea-related products, and local farm products). It is a major tourist spot that introduces the GIAHS system and received 20543 visitors between April 2018 and March 2019 according to the City of Kakegawa. The manager of the station makes tea (Fig. 7). It is different from the typical way of making tea at home. He uses hot water at a temperature that is lower than the hot water regularly used to make tea using new tea leaves. It extracts good aroma and plenty of flavor. He offers tea three times by pouring hot water over the same leaves. Each time, the tea has different flavor with an increment of bitterness and deep green color. After serving it, he offers salted tea leaves to eat. For many people, drinking tea that has much body without bitterness and eating tea leaves are a new experience that is backed by the story of the Chagusaba tea production method.
Fig. 7 Manager serves tea in Ippukudokoro

Note: This photo is taken by Yotsumoto Yukio.

Ippukudokoro sells confections that were made by tea leaves using the Chagusaba technique. They have a GIAHS name with the phrase “Shizuoka’s Chagusaba method” and a seal of approval by the Promotion Council of Shizuoka Chagusaba GIAHS that the ingredients were produced by practitioners of the Chagusaba method recognized by GIAHS. It also indicates the degree of biodiversity contribution. As the Chagusaba method can support more than 300 species of fauna and flora, practicing it maintains its biodiversity (Inagaki and Kusumoto, 2019). The council created three ranks of biodiversity contribution by ranking the percentage of tea farmland that uses the Chagusaba technique out of the total area of tea farmland owned by a practitioner. The best ranked products are assumed to have the best contribution to biodiversity. It is intended that the seal will increase the tea brand power and then this will strengthen the sales power.
Shizuoka Prefecture promotes farm stays and farm experiences. It publishes a pamphlet that shows 150 farm stays and experience facilities. Among the farm stays, only three offer tea-related experience programs to guests. One of the farm stays is Tabinoya which is about 4 km south of Ippukudokoro. Tabinoya describes itself as an experience-based old folk house inn and veranda cafe. It provides a nostalgic atmosphere to guests from its setting in the surrounding rural landscape and offers local dishes made from local ingredients. As tea gardens are nearby, Tabinoya offers various tea-related experience programs such as tea picking, tea factory tours, and tea kneading, mowing grass, and making Chagusaba.

5 Discussion

In Oita GIAHS, the story of the GIAHS system has very diverse themes from forestry to biodiversity and many agricultural products. Thus, for municipalities in the area, it is difficult to change its themes into something that is easily recognized by residents and tourists. Therefore, Usa City decided to accept Ryoai rice terraces as a symbolic area for GIAHS and concentrate its activities there. A pilot project based on farm stay was an attempt to participate in the experience economy with an internationally recognized story derived from GIAHS. However, due to old age, the host discontinued this project. This is what Jansen-Verbeke and McKercher (2013) call the “artisanal stage of tourism” in which trial and error is typical. Usa City focuses more on souvenir development than on tour development. To promote Oita GIAHS experience-based products, giant salamanders and rice terrace nicknames are identified as unique aspects and they are used to develop food products with narratives that differentiate them from other food products.
In Gifu GIAHS, the story of GIAHS system focuses on the ayu in the Nagara River. Since the ayu have an established premium quality in Japan and ayu products and traditional cormorant ayu fishing attract many tourists, the story overall is a powerful one and GIAHS status has enhanced it even though the name and content of GIAHS are not yet well known. The GIAHS certification has been a good occasion for a non-profit organization and a department in the prefecture to start programs related to ayu and the Nagara River basin by securing subsidies and budgets that became available by the designation. Their programs are experience-based activities including eating authentic dishes and fishing as well as selling souvenirs (confectionery, processed ayu, fans made by Mino Japanese paper, and so on).
In the Shizuoka Chagusaba GIAHS, the major experience offered is drinking and eating tea and subsequent purchase of tea and Japanese-style confections with tea ingredient. The other types of experiences have not been developed well in the area. Although Shizuoka Prefecture promotes farm stays, most farm work experience programs offered are not related to tea production. Only Tabinoya provides a farm experience relating to the Chagusaba method of tea production.
In the three GIAHS sites in Japan, souvenirs have been developed using GIAHS narratives. To be an attractive destination, a GIAHS site has to develop narratives that provide tourists unique experiences (Youssef et al., 2019). Usage of GIAHS narratives to attract tourists and develop souvenirs have been reported in previous studies. For example, the Congjiang Rice-fish-duck GIAHS System in China attracts tourists by using the narrative of the biodiversity and culture created by this system (Sun et al., 2013). In Japan, Sado GIAHS in Niigata Prefecture (Sado’s Satoyama in Harmony with Japanese Crested Ibis) also uses the narrative of biodiversity. About 78% of paddy fields in Sado Island use only half the amount of pesticide and fertilizers compared to the conventional practice to recover the habitat for the Japanese Crested Ibis that is registered as an endangered species. The rice produced from the paddy fields is certified as Ibis-friendly rice and sold at a price 20% higher than the average market price (Qiu et al., 2013).
Food is part of a destination’s culture. Typically, when tourists buy food that is sold as a souvenir and eat at home, they not only enjoy the taste but also imagine its place-based identity (Lin and Mao, 2015). When people eat salamander-shaped konjak jelly, processed ayu and tea-based candies, they can recall memories of trips to the GIAHS sites. Tourism scholars have identified souvenirs as having a role of memory, that is, they can provoke memories of the travel experiences for a long time (Swanson and Timothy, 2012). About souvenirs developed in GIAHS areas, the majority of souvenirs are foodstuffs and only a few craft items are sold as GIAHS-related souvenirs such as Mino Japanese papers. Thus, the experiences of the tourists in GIAHS areas might be forgotten more quickly than the tourists who purchase non-food souvenirs that can be kept at home for a long time.
As shown above, although the GIAHS narratives’ role in the experience economy has been studied, there have been no studies that look at narratives by the type of GIAHS. As Nagata and Yiu (2021) identified, two types of GIAHS exist in Japan. The landscape type of GIAHS has diverse components from mountains, rivers, farmland, forests, and ponds to human settlements, and provides livelihoods in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. Narratives designed to sell local products can be made from different components and cultures in each system. So, in the Oita and Gifu GIAHS the communities were able to develop various souvenirs with different stories extracted from the certification documents ranging from crafts to the foodstuffs made by different ingredients. On the other hand, in the farming method type of GIAHS, narratives are confined to a single agricultural product and its production method. In Shizuoka Chagusaba GIAHS, only tea related foodstuffs were produced. Thus, in souvenir-making using GIAHS, the former type has more room for creating narratives than the latter type.
In the three case study areas the development of GIAHS-related experience-based tourism products was found to be a difficult task. The first challenge comes from the type of GIAHS. The farming method type focuses on a single agricultural product. Therefore, GIAHS-based experience programs are limited to the farming method of a single agricultural product. In case of Shizuoka Chagusaba GIAHS, there are only three farm stays that offer tea production experience programs and only one that focuses on the Chagusaba method. The landscape type, on the other hand, brings together many agricultural products and related farming methods as components to create a unique landscape. Thus, it is possible to make many experience-based tourism products. A successful case of developing farm stay is by the Shunran-no-Sato group in the Ishikawa GIAHS of Noto’s Satoyama and Satoumi landscape. The group has 47 households in 12 communities that offer farm stay and over 5,000 tourists stayed in traditional houses in 2016 (Chen et al., 2018). They offer experience programs such as harvesting mushrooms, catching fish and planting rice, etc. However, there is another challenge which even the Shunran-no-Sato group faces. It is a lack of successors. In Oita GIAHS, due to old age, farmers quit a pilot project of farm stay. In Gifu GIAHS, only one fisherman provides a fishing experience to tourists.
It was identified that two layers of narratives exist in the experience-based products in GIAHS areas (Fig. 8). The first layer of narratives is created utilizing already known agricultural and cultural traditions in locality. Processed ayu food in Gifu, premium tea in Shizuoka and konjak jelly in Oita have been promoted as traditional foodstuffs that represent their communities. The second layer of narrative is the GIAHS story added to the first layer. It is a scientific reinterpretation of local agricultural heritage. There are no GIAHS certified resources that are not imbedded in the local system. Thus, for the local revitalization, local governments, communities, and non-profit organizations make narratives using tangible and intangible local heritage, many of which have been known to the local people for many years, and some to outsiders. By connecting them to GIAHS, that is, the creation of the second layer of narrative, local heritage is connected to global community. This means that the narratives and experience-based activities gain an authenticity that is internationally recognized so this may contribute to local livelihood security especially among small farmers and fishers (Yotsumoto, 2020).
Fig. 8 Layers of narratives in the experience-based products

6 Conclusions

Local governments in Japan strive to obtain the designation of GIAHS to protect their agriculture and to revitalize their communities. The designation gives authorized authenticity to agricultural practices and products, as well as the cultures and landscapes related to those practices. It also gives opportunities for tourism development as it can be a basis for creating a brand. As the experience economy gains more importance, developing tourism products based on narratives and experience-based activities are increasingly in demand. Local governments and communities in GIAHS areas convert local resources into tourism products and GIAHS certification gives international recognition to them. Thus, there are two layers of narratives in the experience-based products.
GIAHS designation gives a persuasive story for tourism products because of five major aspects. First, it gives a guarantee to the product itself, rice from Ryoai rice terraces, ayu from the Nagara River and tea by the Chagusaba production method in Shizuoka Prefecture are of high quality and can be differentiated from products in other areas. Second, it provides an additional value to the products. The protection of agro-biodiversity is a criterion for GIAHS designation, and the Shizuoka tea produced by the Chagusaba technique for example contributes to maintaining biodiversity. Third, it helps to conserve the landscapes formed by agricultural practices. The landscape of rice terraces in Japan has been disappearing as farmers stop rice production due to various factors such as low prices and aging of farmers. To preserve the landscape, actions need to be taken. Activity in the Ryoai rice terraces is such an action designed to protect the landscape. Thus, selling the rice from Ryoai rice terraces with a premium price has a value as protection of the top 100 beautiful rice terraces in Japan. Fourth, it gives an idea for developing products. The narratives of GIAHS provide a rich ground for developing products such as salamander-shaped konjak jelly sold in Innai Road Station in Usa City. Fifth, it gives subsidies for product development. The case study areas use a special subsidy for GIAHS promotion from local government to develop tourism products. GIAHS is thus used in various stages of product development, from consultation, production, and packaging to marketing and consumption.
As the shift to experience economy and the increased role of narratives in tourism are global phenomena, this study might be of interest to other countries. For example, this study showed that it is more difficult in the farming method type of GIAHS to develop various experience-based products than in the landscape type. If municipalities want to apply for GIAHS designation to revitalize their communities by creating experience-based products, they should prepare an application document for the landscape type.
Finally, one of the limitations of this study is that we assumed that the three cases represent all GIAHS sites in Japan. However, we may find some differences if we conduct field work in all GIAHS sites in Japan.
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