In 1906 the government imposed the regulations of shrines consolidation under which all shrines in a village or a town should be merged. The Wakayama prefectural government pushed hard the enforcement of the regulations. In Japan there used to be a shrine in each community, however small, which was the centripetal force to unite the people, the provider of recreations and the object of worship, and with very few exceptions they all stood in deep forests.
Kumagusu was worried that the regulations would not only ruin historical buildings and antiquities but, by cutting trees, also damage the scenery and the undiscovered natural life around them. He contributed an opinion to every edition of a local paper Muro Shinpo. He also sent objection letters to major papers in Tokyo and Osaka and appealed to leading researchers for support, including Jinzo Matsumura, a notable botanist and professor of Tokyo University, to whom Kumagusu wrote long letters criticizing the deeds done by the central and prefectural governments. Kunio Yanagita, then a counselor of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau and later was father of Japanese folklore, supported the campaign by disseminating copies of the letters as Minakata Nisho (two letters) to those who concerned.
In August 1910 Kumagusu was arrested for trespassing when he threw a bag of specimens into a meeting held in Tanabe Junior High School (now Tanabe High). Although drunk, he did it out of rage when rejected to talk with one of the attendees, a government officer who was in charge of the promotion of the regulations. During 18 days in jail pending trial he read books and hunted slime molds in the building. When released, he refused to leave saying: “This place is quiet with no visitors and cool. I want to stay longer.”
As his enthusiasm moved public opinion, the irrational regulations gradually lost momentum. In 1920, 10 years from the arrest, the regulations were confirmed useless by the House of Peers and abolished. Ultimately, Kumagusu’s efforts saved a couple of forests, but a number of shrines and forests had become extinct during the decade. He then approached various social movements and public bodies in charge of the national heritage list in order to promote protection of the precious environment including the Kashima Island in Tanabe Bay. His battle continued until his last years, which is why he is called a pioneer in ecology today.
In February 1911, when ‘The Mountain God Loves Stonefish’ was published in the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Tokyo, Kumagusu received a letter from Yanagita. It was when the correspondence between two, which were going to make a significant contribution to the study of Japanese folklore, began.
In July 1914 Kumagusu’s reputation was spread nationwide, following a newspaper report on the announcement by Walter T. Swingle, head of the Office of Crop Physiology and Breeding investigation of US Department of Agriculture, that they would invite Kumagusu to US. Dr. Swingle came over to Tanabe in May 1915 to announce the appointment in person. Although having intended to accept the offer, he finally declined it because of a family matter.
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