GIAHS-certified Mikata District in Hyogo Prefecture: farmer and cows live under the same roof

A traditional breeding system for Tajima-brand Beef in Mikata district (Kasumi Town and Shin-onsen Town) in Hyogo Prefecture was certified as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System in July. One of the factors the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recognized was how local farmers raise cattle in a space at home called maya and treat the animals as if they are family members. A Japan Agricultural News reporter visited one traditional house with maya, where people and cows live together under the same roof.

The house is located in the mountainous village in the Kaijo region, Shin-onsen Town, which sits next to Tottori Prefecture and in the northwestern part of Hyogo Prefecture. It was about three hours by car from Kobe City.

I was trying to ring the bell at the entrance when I saw two calves sticking their heads out from the wooden fence and grazing on hay. An 88-year-old farmer, Kiyomi Osaki, welcomed me and said, “This used to be normal for every farmer in this region.”

Maya is a small cattle barn built under the roof of a farmer’s house, usually right next to the entrance. It’s like a big cage of about 7 to 10 square meters surrounded by walls and fences.

Osaki’s house was built approximately 60 years ago. His house and maya are separated by a wall, so he can’t go directly to the barn from inside the house. But still, it’s called  a house with maya as the house and the barn are under the same roof.

Osaki has two breeding cows and two calves and grows rice in his 40-are rice paddy. He makes compost from cow manure for his paddy fields and feeds cows with the weeds he cut at his paddy. It’s a recycling-oriented agriculture system inherited for a long time in the region. He keeps his breeding cows on the pasture from June to October. He settles the cows in advance so that they give birth when they return to his maya in winter. After that, in June, he sends the cows back to the pasture and raises calves at home to put them on the market in summer or autumn.

The Mikata region is a collection of many villages, mostly mountainous ones. “We have too little flat land to build cattle barns, so our ancestors began raising cattle under the same roof,” said Masanobu Noda, deputy director of the Tajima Cattle Museum in Shin-onsen Town, explained. “Then, through the life with cows at home, we have cultivated a culture of treating cows as if they are our family members.”

Traditional farmers used to have furnaces dedicated to cattle at home to make hot water to keep cows warm in winter and to boil hay and straws so they were soft enough to eat, he added.

According to Noda, there were around 4,000 houses with maya in the 1950s at the peak in the area called Mikata-gun today (excluding former Kasumi Town). However, after the 1960s, farming went more and more mechanized. Then, more and more farmers gave up raising cattle and maya disappeared gradually. Osaki’s house is the last one today.

Osaki has lived with cows under one roof since he was born. “They are so adorable. I want to keep living with them,” he said.

Osaki's house is the only "house with maya" left in Hyogo today. (in Shin-onsen Town, Hyogo Prefecture)

Osaki’s house is the only “house with maya” left in Hyogo today. (in Shin-onsen Town, Hyogo Prefecture)

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