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Commons in Action

"Commons in action" is a joint program by the IASC and the Elinor Ostrom Award. The animation was done by the Viumasters. Get to know their work at

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A Japanese Story

Article: Alyne Delaney, Associate Professor, Innovative Fisheries Management, IFM Aalborg University
Type of resources involved: Coastal

What change happened to: A large earthquake and tsunami struck the area. The consequence was a strengthening of traditional behaviours also found among commoners in Japan’s commons communities, including coastal areas.The events facilitated collective action and improved livelihoods in the immediate aftermath of the disasters. It also empowered some younger community members to form non-profit groups and take action.
When did this happen (over what period)? This occurred on March 11, 2011 with the greatest collective action activities taking place in the 2 months following this date.
What were key factors that made this happen? The need to save lives combined with the traditional expectations of behavior and local leadership.
Who was involved (what organizations or key individuals)? Local hamlet members, Fishing Cooperative Association members
Who benefitted from these changes? The local people
What was the connection with IASC that facilitated this change? No IASC connection, though the IASC visited this area of Japan where they (local people) informed us of their activities
Were you personally involved? Only as a witness to their success and perseverance-General comments on activities:1. Taro-cho (Taro Town) and Omoe Fishing Cooperatiave in Otobe cho – both in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture.The Otobe and Omoe area is quite remote, on a peninsula across Miyako Bay from Miyako City so all roads to the city were out. It was a week before anyone from the community managed to get to the city and they said once they saw there was no food or water there, they knew they would have to take care of themselves. So at that point they pooled their food and water and set up a sharing arrangement which got them through that first month.In Taro, one of the on the other side of the bay, further north, there are other examples of sharing- for example, pooling the gasoline in destroyed gas stands among people—this is because people had to go as far as Morioka to get help and supplies.Finally, in “my” area further south, the way they harvest seaweed has completely changed. Prior to the tsunami, they worked as individual households with their own space and their own equipment; now since all their equipment was destroyed, they have formed cooperative work groups and work together ... In another town, they have planned rebuilding (on new, higher ground) away from the coast and worked to form consensus, as a group to plan the new housing. This is also quite different from some areas ...

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