Matagi are traditional hunters living in small villages and settlements in the highlands of northern Honshu, the main island of Japan. From its origins, back in the middle of the XVI century, they have made a living by selling meat, skins and other products derived from the hunting. Its main prey is the Japanese black bear, a subspecies classified as vulnerable and threatened according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Nevertheless, the matagi never face hunting as a recreational or sporting activity. They only capture what is necessary for regulated sale and self-consumption, or for the purpose of protecting rural and agricultural settlements from wild animals. Although they have evolved in many ways, they still retain several ideals and beliefs inherited from their ancestors. These communities recognize nature as a conscious presence that sustains them, but expects responsible behavior in return.
Matagi believe that they can hunt because the Mountain Deity (Yama-no-Kami) allows it, and therefore, hunting is carried out with a sense of utmost reverence and respect for the natural balance.
However, in the context of a highly globalized, industrialized and metropolized Japan in the midst of the 21st century, matagi face a more than likely extinction of their cultural heritage. The global aging of the Japanese population, legal and regulatory limitations on hunting,and attachment to values that no longer germinate among the younger generations - who migrate massively from the rural to the urban environment - are some of the main reasons that leave these hunters without much hope of preserving their legacy.
Given the current situation they are experiencing, in which their cultural heritage is at real risk of extinction, some matagi may have reconsidered their previous stances. Leaders of many communities have decided, for the first time in their history, to accept the inclusion of some women as members of the clan. We currently are aware of two particular cases of women in different communities who have already been accepted and trained in hunting.
In our first trip we managed to discover some of these rare cases, and meet these groundbreaking women who postulate themselves as a redoubt of hope to preserve their legacy. We now want to document their lives, and analyze the present and the future perspective of the matagi.
From an anthropological and sociological point of view, it will be interesting to document and understand how tradition and religion can affect and condition so much the lifestyle that a community has preserved for centuries; and in contrast to this, how quickly these theological constructs can be ignored, blurred and overthrown when time is in short supply, and the need for new blood is greaterthan ever.
Our objective is to address one of the key transformation points of this community, due to lack of members and the need to evolve, in the modern era: the disappearance of the many taboos that have traditionally surrounded the matagi women, and how that will impact their future chances of survival.
National Geographic has awarded us with one of its prestigious research and exploration grants, to continue developing our Matagi project in Japan during 2019.
"National Geographic Society–funded projects should be bold, innovative, and transformative. All proposed projects must be novel and exploratory and align to our mission and focus areas."
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