Social Consensus Building, Kagoshima, Japan

Social Consensus Building, Kagoshima, Japan


Problems and Purpose

Since registration as the World Heritage in 1993, the number of tourists has increased and an estimated 200,000 people visit Yakushima per year. While a positive economic effect is expected, residents are concerned about the potential deterioration of the environment and how to live in ways that are friendly to the environment. The project began in 2001 and continued for three years. Its goal was to build a sustainable society model based on three cycles focusing on issues of 1) material, 2) energy and 3) economy.


Yakushima Island, Kagoshima was registered as World Heritage Nature Site in 1993 because of its rich natural resources. The island is covered in dense forest and is noted for its old growth (7,200 years old) Cryptomeria trees and magnificent rhododendrons. Yakushima Island has an area of about 500 km² and a population of roughly 15,000. It lies to the south of Kyūshū in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan. The highest point on the island is Miyanoura-dake at 1,935 metres (6,360 ft). 

Originating Entities and Funding

The project in Yakushima Island was supported by Special Coordination Funds for Promoting Science and Technology under Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan. The project director of a series of dialogue experiments was Mr. Sachihiko Harashina, Professor Emeritus of Tokyo Institute of Technology and Professor of Chiba University of Commerce. This case is based on the article ”Consensus Building for the Creation of Sustainable Regions: How to Organize and Manage the Meeting-place for Dialogues?” by Dr. Shigeo Nishikizawa, Associate Professor of Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

In March 2003, a hearing research was conducted in two towns to analyze participants. The main issues and stakeholders were identified. In addition, a hearing research was also conducted with researchers of the project member a few times. As a result, the identified main problems included environmental impact due to tourist hike, nightsoil treatment in mountainous area, pros and cons to introduce an island entry fee, deterioration of guide service qualities due to newcomer.

Based on this initial research, a series of interviews was conducted in July 2003 with stakeholders. The interviewees were a local government official, six people from a tourism industry and five people from local communities. Each interview was 1 to 2 hours. As a result, it was revealed that the issues whether the number of tourists should be increased and whether the island entry fee should be introduced, got higher interest from stakeholders and conflicts in their opinions. Upon this interview, the following stakeholders were invited and accepted to join the deliberative meeting:

  • Local government – total 5 people: officials from Environmental and Tourism department of town level, Kagoshima prefecture’s government officials
  • Tourism industry– total 5 people: a tourist association and eco-tour guide
  • Local residents– total 5 people: local people and nonprofit organization

Local government officials are key decision makes, people from a tourism industry are senior representatives of companies, and local residents are representatives of nonprofit organizations and people known for environmental activism. All participants except one tourism company accepted the attendance to the deliberative meeting. 

Methods and Tools Used

A number of different methods were used during the three year project. Public hearings (forums) were held during the first phase. Youth worshop-style forums were held in the second year of the iniative in order to promote mutual learning. The final year of the initiative was focused on buidling consensus among stakeholders across the island on the sustainability of Yakushima’s tourism industry. The scenario workshop method was used because: 1) discussion was conducted based on the scenario against the issues, smooth consensus building can be expected only with two-time meetings; 2) a scenario would be developed based on the interviews with stakeholders, stakeholders can understand the meaning of scenario well; and 3) people were also divided into sections such as government, tourism industry and local residents and have a separate group session respectively, it was expected that the scenario workshop facilitate opinion adjustment and positive effects to build consensus. Results of two different formats were compared and analyzed. This article focuses mainly on the consensus building session.

Deliberation, Decisions and Public Interaction

The deliberative meeting is arena-style meeting which aim to examine sustainable tourism in Yakushima Island. 

The project began in 2001 and continued for three years. Its goal was to build a sustainable society model based on three cycles focusing on issues of 1) material, 2) energy and 3) economy. At the initial stage of the project, the main issues of concern to stakeholders were not yet clear, so four forums were conducted to shed light on the community's concerns. The forum served as a basic research resource and a place to exchange opinions. It was conducted in the only two towns on the island. Forums were held twice at each location in order to collect information from as many residents as possible.

In the second year (2002), a workshop-style forum was organized for youth from all six junior high schools and one high school. The workshop was designed to promote mutual learning. It was structured as two continuous sessions, and only students who could join both sessions were allowed to participate.

In the final year of the initiative (2003), a deliberative meeting was convened to build social consensus among stakeholders across the island. The meeting was structured in two sessions: one was a standard round-table style, and the other was a scenario building workshop that addressed several different categories of issues. The scenario workshop was specifically chosen for its design which promotes consensus building. The proposed scenarios were 1) maintaining the number of tourists, 2) increase large group tours 1.5 times, and 3) increase individual (small group) tours 1.5 times. The main discussion point was the number of tourists. 

Influence, Outcomes and Effects

Because the agenda to be discussed at the deliberative meeting was clear based on the interviews and the interview result was communicated with feedback, many stakeholders accept the invitations to the deliberative meeting.

At that time, there had been no space to discuss Yakushima’s tourism together with two towns’ government officials, and many tourism companies were eager to have such an opportunity. So, attendance of two towns’ officials were important to form the deliberative meeting. This could take place because the project team had built a trust and good relationship with town governments by meeting and exchanging information with them for the past few years.

Because of the discussion point got definitive by the scenario, the discussion was focused on the number of tourist, which the scenario addressed.

Summary of discussion on the deliberative meeting:



High support by stakholders

  • Protect primeval nature
  • Improve tourism services
  • Increase income by tourism
  • Awareness raising on manners for tourists


  • Maintain or increase number of tourists

New proposal

  • Increase sales per tourist
  • Invite tourists to the area where local residents live
  • Set an upper limit of the number of tourism and increase the tourists

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Although the scenario workshop could define the discussion point, critical comment against scenario was raised from participant that it is insufficient only to consider the number of tourist, but also proper environmental management measures and efforts to increase a sales per customer are necessary. This is considered to be a constructive opinion aiming to achieve both economic prosperity and environmental protection.

There were topics, which participants reached to consensus, and which they did not. Because the deliberative meetings were limited to two times, rather than the facilitation of meeting was failed. The discussion points to carry out sustainable tourism ranges over various fields. Therefore, a few ten times deliberative meetings would be necessary to agree on all points. It would be necessary to consider it as continuous process and reach to consensus one by one with defining what was agreed or not.

As the challenges to form deliberative meetings, establishing legitimacy of the meeting and securing representativeness should be considered further. Often, participants are limited to the people who have high concern or belong to nonprofit organizations. One of good solution is to combine a meeting notice and questionnaire research and send it to randomly selected residents. In this way, people are selected randomly, and asked their preference about themes as well as intention to join meetings. Because of random selection, people can represent various areas and opinions are diversified. Also, by answering questionnaire, preference of participants can be understood prior to meetings and also participants understand well about the theme, which would serve to motivate people to join meetings.

In addition, sharing “a process how to build consensus” is important before stating discussion. Moreover, during formation of meetings, such process should be discussed and reached to consensus by a participatory manner. This procedure would need some cost, but would be effective to build relationship among stakeholders in a long run.

As the challenges to facilitate a consensus building, first, it is necessary to organize information how to judge which meeting technique should be employed for each situation. Second, even after choosing a meeting technique, consensus building can be facilitated by the improvement of facilitation, such as introducing ice break activities at the beginning to break a wall between participants. Third, training professional people to form and facilitate such dialogue places is necessary. There are still a lot of challenges to establish methodology to build consensus, but as if the real consensus building, we need to persevere finding a solution to each challenge


Social Consensus Building for Environmentally Friendly Life in Local Communities, Yakushima Island, Kagoshima, Planning Administration 29(4)2006, Japan Association for Planning Administration,Tokyo

Case Data


Yakushima 46
Kagosima (Kagoshima) JP


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