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Saving the “Last Natural River in Japan” and Nagara River Estuary Dam

Debate over Building a Dam over Japan's Last Virgin River


The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (MLIT) planned to build a dam on the Nagara River in the 1960s as part of nation's comprehensive water resources development policy. This policy corresponded with the trend of water policies at the time, including U.S. reclamation policies, in which rivers like the Missouri and Columbia were regarded as resources to be fully used for human beneficial purposes. When the Japanese government promulgated law to promote the development of water resources in 1961 and established the Japan Water Agency, it identified five major watersheds for comprehensive development, including the Kiso River-Nagara-River watershed that runs through the Nagoya industrial area. Other prominent watersheds were the Tone River watershed in the Tokyo area and the Yodo River watershed in the Osaka area. A series of dams were planned mainly to secure water supplies to expanding urban areas and industries.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Saving the “Last Natural River in Japan” and Nagara River Estuary Dam
State or province:Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), Japan Water Agency of MLIT, Gifu prefecture, Aichi prefecture, Mie prefecture,
Location of conflict:Nagoya city, Gifu city, Hashima city, Kuwana city, Hozumi town, Anpachi town, Sunomata town, Wanouchi town, Hirata town, Kaizu town, Nagashima town, Yanaizu town, Tatsuta village
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Fish
freshwater clams
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The dam was build at the mouth of the Nagara River. The length of the dam is 661 meters, the height 8.2 meters. The construction work was commissioned to the Taisei Corporation, Kashima Corporation, and Penta-Ocean Construction Co., Ltd. The construction began in 1968 and was completed in 1994. It is located in Nagashima town, Kuwana city, Mie prefecture.

Level of Investment for the conflictive projectabout 150,000,000,000 yen or USD1,500,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:unknown
Start of the conflict:01/07/1988
Company names or state enterprises:Japan Water Agency from Japan - administrator
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Save the Nagara Gawa; Nagaragawa Network; Nagaragawa Dam Opposition Group; Japan Environmental Lawyers' Association (JELF)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Proposal and development of alternatives:The opposition proposed to maintain the Nagara River intact without building any dam structure.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The governments of prefecture and municipalities along with local residents who had suffered from frequent floods strongly promoted the construction of the dam.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Water Resources Development Promotion Act
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Japan Commission on Large Dams, Dams in Japan: Past, Present and Future (CRC Press, 2009).

Mantaro, Kuno. Kensho Nagaragawa Joho Senso. Doyukan, 1993.

Toshiko Niikura. "Campaigns against Dams in Japan and the Nagara River Estuary Dam." Organization & Environment (March 1999): 99-104.

On July 2, 1991, the New York Times published a half-page ad for the opposition group. This galvanized a number of letters to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, asking it to stop the construction. Many Japanese books were published in the 1990s both by opposition groups and promoters.

Satoshi Nakazawa, "The development of river management: Tone River," In Rutger de Graaf and Fransje Hooimeijer, eds., Urban Water in Japan (Taylor & Francis, 2008): 103-118.

Miori Aoyama. "Nagara River Estuary Dam and River Policy Network."
[click to view]

Hitoshi Mutoh. "The Aichi Targets from the perspective of the Nagara River."
[click to view]

Incorporated Administrative Agency Japan Water Agency
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Kenichi Matsui, Associate Professor, University of Tsukuba, Japan
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2015
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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