Local to Local

Monday, February 06, 2006

Links on Crafts in Japan

Traditional Crafts in Japan:

The Association for the promotion of Traditional Craft Industries:

Japan Traditional Crafts Center:

Worldwide Online Shopping for Japanese Traditional Crafts:

Mishima-machi's Sense of Community

In Love with the Paulownia--Mishima-machi's Sense of Community
(Sharon Wu/photos by Hsueh Chi-kuang/tr. by David Mayer)

In the late 1960s and early '70s, rapid economic develop-ment in Japan triggered a lopsided concentration of population and infrastructure in that country's urban areas, and a serious decline of rural towns and villages, as people flocked to the cities and misguided development schemes wrought havoc left and right. At the same time, the signing of a US-Japan security treaty spawned protests throughout the 1960s by university students concerned about the possibility of Japan returning to its former militarism. The student protest movement died down in the 1970s, but graduates returning to their rural homes nevertheless retained their idealism and turned their attention to improving their local communities. They hoped that the "hometown movement" could change the "Japanese spirit."

Taiwan has also seen a vibrant community-building movement grow up in recent years. The Council for Cultural Affairs is working to encourage local neighborhoods and communities to establish their own websites, Taipei City Hall has launched a number of environmental projects, and an assortment of groups have been carrying out social movements and hometown revitalization movements across the island. In all of these activities we find local culture bursting with energy and dynamism. These efforts are progressing bit by tiny bit, and in the process, activists in Taiwan have often sought to learn from the hometown revitalization movement in Japan. Exchange between Taiwan and Japan in this field has been carried out at large conferences and through the dispatch of study delegations. What are the distinguishing features of Japan's community-building movement? What can Taiwan learn from Japan? Sinorama decided visit three typical communities in Japan to see how community-building is carried out in Japan. In addition to the two articles here, we will also publish two more on the subject in next month's issue.

It would probably be fair to describe the town of Mishima-machi, in Fukushima Prefecture, as the fountainhead of Japan's community-building movement. In this mountain town that sees two meters of snowfall every winter, how did the locals manage to create a vibrant and beautiful community in spite of the fact that the snows of winter virtually cut off transportation each year?

Mishima-machi sits amidst a huge forest of paulownia trees. Aging but sprightly locals forage among the trees for paulownia wood to use in their handicraft activities. The trees lift their branches skyward as if in prayer, the rushing Tadami River provides background "music," and the Tadami River Bridge looms in the distance. A sense of communion with nature envelops the quiet mountain town.

Located to the west of the Aizu Basin in Fukushima Prefecture, Mishima-machi lost many of its young people during Japan's period of rapid economic growth, with the population declining at a rate of over 17% at one point. The town was included on the list of localities undergoing depopulation. Imported lumber from Canada and China made inroads into the market for locally produced Aizu paulownia, and the resulting tumble in prices struck a heavy blow to the lifeline of the Mishima-machi economy.

Paulownia makes a good dowry

Takeshi Suzuki, chief of the Planning Section at the Mishima-machi Town Hall, recalls: "In Mishima-machi they used to call paulownia 'gold wood' because you could pretty much sell the wood from one paulownia tree and buy a new car with the proceeds. When you gave birth to a daughter, you'd plant three paulownia trees, so that they'd be grown by the time she was ready to marry, and you could use them as dowry." Back in the 1970s, a rich person was someone who owned a lot of paulownia trees. But all good things must come to an end. After imports yanked the rug out from under the paulownia market, the wood from a single paulownia tree was only worth a few hundred thousand yen.

In 1972, Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs amended the Law for Protection of Cultural Properties and made it easier for community activists to pursue their objectives in the field of cultural and historic preservation. With the help of a supportive government, former participants in the student movement turned their attention to the task of revitalizing Japan's declining rural towns and villages. The activities they launched came to be dubbed the furusato undou ("hometown movement"). Mishima-machi was swept up in the tide.

It was sometime around 1974 when the "community paulownia mill" was established in Mishima-machi. The idea was to develop high-quality paulownia products to bolster the local economy and stop the population drain. Pop superstar Teresa Teng even went to Mishima-machi to sing her new Furusato wa doko desu ka? ("Where is my hometown"). Soon, thanks in part to Teng's song, the word furusato seemed to be on everyone's lips, and the furusato movement in Mishima-machi gained unstoppable momentum. Today, 30 years later, the people of Mishima-machi continue to carry out their "paulownia handicrafts movement," and it is regarded as a classic example of community building in Japan.

Beautiful paulownia mill

"We were trying to figure out ways to make it so that our town could do more than just ship out unprocessed logs. We wanted to take advantage of our paulownia to build up a profitable industry. But it also had to be one that represented a certain outlook on life, one that the residents of Mishima-machi would be happy to embrace. That is the key focus of the community-building movement in our town." So says highly regarded town mayor Shigeki Saito, whose name cards and even his briefcase are made from paulownia. He adds with a laugh, "All the gifts that I give people are made by local craftsmen from paulownia wood!" Most name cards used by the locals are made from paulownia. Each time they exchange their paulownia name cards, the story of their hometown echoes in the mind and gives them a sense of pride.

The local paulownia industry is involved with every step of the product life cycle, from planting, cultivation, and logging to the working of the wood and sales of the final products. Besides chests, other paulownia items from Mishima-machi include lamps, hand fans, and charcoals (used for deodorizing the home, or filtering water). The town organizes periodic shows to promote sales. These beautiful handicraft items are expensive though; a large paulownia chest can cost over ¢D1 million (about US$7500 at current exchange rates), and an elegant paulownia lamp might run ¢D400,000.

Women all over Japan are in agreement that the best wood for a chest of drawers is the Aizu paulownia of Mishima-machi, because a kimono must be stored in a high-quality chest. The paulownia goods of Mishima-machi are all made of locally grown Aizu paulownia, as are the fine-quality paulownia chests on display at famous national museums all over Japan. Masakazu Nihei, who started learning his craft at age 18, spent ten years in apprenticeship before finally gaining recognition as a master craftsman in his own right. He spends every day at the paulownia mill, taking logs and working them down to size to make them into beautiful chests inlaid with seashells. The long, difficult process practically doubles as a spiritual exercise in self-cultivation.

I love my briefcase

The Mishima-machi area also abounds in porcelain-berry vines, which serve as yet another raw material for handicrafts. A lot of porcelain-berry basketry can be found on display at the Mishima-machi Handicrafts Museum, a past recipient of the Japan Architectural Culture Prize. Items include straw sandals, bags, baskets, and other things made from porcelain-berry vine, and all were made by the talented hands of Mishima-machi's old folks. Deputy director Miyoshi Igarashi recalls fondly: "Even Prime Minister Tanaka visited our museum!"

Igarashi, who is an active participant in Mishima-machi's handicrafts movement, personally wove the briefcase that he now uses every day. It took him four days to finish. His voice betrays a hint of wistful nostalgia as he recalls the time Teresa Teng sang Furusato wa doko desu ka in Mishima-machi: "The furusato movement brought a famous singer to our hometown. The old folks really enjoyed the performance. I'm glad we were able to do that for them."

Says Mayor Saito: "I want to establish a 'handicrafts artisan village' to help artisans open their own little shops, and I would like to make it so that customers who come here are not just 'buying products' but sharing their lives with us, and us with them. I'd like to seem them partaking of the 'life spirit' of the old folks who make these products."

Another person who has made a big contribution to the community-building movement in Mishima-machi is Professor Kiyoshi Miyazaki, of Chiba University, who carried out an in-depth study of Mishima-machi's handicrafts and helped the town's craftsmen design a craftsman's badge in the shape of a hand to serve as proof of craftsmen's qualifications and bolster their sense of pride.

Happy town

Besides giving the older folks a chance to specialize in a craft, the local handicrafts industry has also enhanced the experience of growing up in Mishima-machi. Every year the town organizes over 30 small-scale handicrafts festivals, and a "Workman's Festival" held annually for the past 15 years draws some 4,000 participants, while the mid-summer mushi okuri ("good riddance to bad bugs" festival) is very popular with the kids. A local man who had done his Master's thesis on Mishima-machi's mushi okuri festival, explains with a chuckle what it involves: The town's children go out together into the fields to catch bugs, which they put into sacks. Then they take the sacks and hand them over to the older kids in exchange for lanterns. The mushi okuri is an old tradition in Mishima-machi.

Absolutely everyone is involved in the community-building movement in Mishima-machi , from the elders who contribute their handicraft skills, to the younger generation returning from the big cities to promote the community-building movement, to the children who just think all the festivals are a lot of fun. If love for one's hometown is a virtue, then perhaps bucolic Mishima-machi is proof that there is at least one spot on this planet that isn't so far from heaven.


(From website:

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Yufuin Station: Barrier-free station greets young vacationers

Daily Yomiuri:

Barrier-free station greets young vacationers

By Keiko Nakamura
Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

"The next stop is Yufuin," announced the train conductor. Hearing this, I made my way along the shiny wooden floor of the Yufuin-no-Mori Go, an express train from JR Hakata Station in Fukuoka, before stepping onto the station platform.

My body was bathed in the cool, damp mountain air. Looking around, I saw the fog-cloaked mountains towering over me.

Taking in the milky white of the fog, the dark green carriages and the black station building, it struck me that I was inside a living sumi-e Indian ink painting.

A wide road leads away from the front of the station. Beyond it rise the graceful lines of Mt. Yufudake.

Town residents say the railway lines here were intentionally curved so that the station was ideally placed for a view of the mountain — the symbol of the town.

Since renovation in 1990, the station has had no ticket gates. Though common in Europe, this is rare for a station in one of Japan's most popular tourist spots.

Kentaro Nakaya, 70, owner of an inn with a long history in the town, said the absence of barriers resulted from discussions among local residents over the ideal form of the new station.

"We concluded that we should not appear to distrust visitors from out of town. That kind of attitude is a century out of date," he said.

Yufuin is known for the discreet hospitality it extends to visitors with its abundant hot spring baths and highly popular film and music festivals.

The barrier-free station somehow seems appropriate to the town, which is sometimes called the "land of healing." The then newly established JR Kyushu was struggling with many loss-making routes at the time, but was happy to comply with the wishes of the locals.

Yoshitaka Ishii, 71, then the president of the railway company, was looking for a centerpiece for his new company. "We needed a new way of thinking that would mark a total break from our years with Japanese National Railways," Ishii said.

The townsfolk's idea was to convert their station into a place where people would want to stop and savor their surroundings, rather than just getting on and off the train. Other towns had similar ideas, but Ishii chose Yufuin for the project. "We chose Yufuin in part because it was so popular with young men and women, which makes it a bit different from other traditional tourist spots. But the most important reason was local residents' enthusiasm," he said.

Construction of the new station was unprecedented not only because the railway company and the town government evenly shouldered the cost, but also because it was designed by world famous architect Arata Isozaki, now 72, a native of Oita Prefecture.

"I had a real passion for the job. When I spoke to my acquaintances and architects from other countries, they echoed my view that the hot springs and natural splendor of Yufuin — things I have enjoyed since my childhood — are things to cherish," Isozaki said.

Another tourist attraction in the town are the horse-drawn cabs known as gharries. From spring to autumn, the cabs carry visitors to tourist spots around the town. On holidays, the gharries are so popular that long lines of people can be seen waiting for a ride.

The Regional Circulation Network

The Regional Circulation Network- Article No.8 (Jan, 2005)

Re-confirming Relationships among People, the Community and the Earth
Late last November, the Waste Control and Recycling Technology Exhibition was held for the 14th time; this was WASTEC 2004. The aim of this general convention is to contribute to reducing environmental impacts through waste management and recycling.

Companies and organizations that develop technologies and systems for waste treatment and recycling, or manufacture and supply such equipment, participate together with their clients in this exhibition to present their efforts and perspectives. An exhibition co-event gives WASTEC Awards to companies or organizations that have achieved excellence in this field.

In 2004, the winner of the Environment Minister's Award, the WASTEC Awards' grand prize, was not a large company with the latest technology or manufacturing facilities, but a non-profit organization that is making a great contribution to creating a recycling-based society in a local community. In this article, we will introduce this award-winning organization, the Regional Circulation Network.

The Regional Circulation Network is based in Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture. Nagaoka is about 80 minutes north of Tokyo by bullet train and has a population of 190,000. It is located at the south end of the Niigata Plain, with the Shinano River running from north to south through its center. It is hot and humid in summer and very windy and snowy in winter, typical weather along the Japan Sea coast.

The city's main industries involve the manufacture of machinery, electronic goods and precision instruments. These manufacturing businesses have grown up here since the mid-Meiji Era, and about 23 percent of workers in Nagaoka are still engaged in manufacturing. Having about 12,800 farmers, Nagaoka is also one of the major producers of rice in the prefecture, mainly Japan's deluxe "Koshihikari" rice variety.

Nagaoka is a beautiful city through all four seasons, but the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake, which hit central Niigata Prefecture in October 2004, caused tremendous damage here - about 50,000 houses were completely or partially destroyed. Having just experienced this disaster, the presentation of this award to a local NGO was a great encouragement to Nagaoka citizens.

The Regional Circulation Network - Background

This Network promotes the recycling of food waste from school lunches at all schools in the city - it was this activity that led to the establishment of the Network and remains one of its essential programs.

The Network started out as a citizens' group named the "Mizubasho (White Arum) Group," formed in 1994 to work on recycling kitchen garbage from households. In the course of this work, the group noticed that a significant amount of leftovers were generated from school lunches, so it began to collect food waste from schools.

At this juncture, in September 1997, the Regional Circulation Network was founded. Although the Network initially collected food waste from only nine schools, by April 2004 this number had increased to 80 and is still increasing - 88 as of January 2005.

The Network's program recycles this food waste, which would otherwise be incinerated or dumped in landfills. One notable aspect is that citizen action is the basis of the Network's contribution to creating a recycling-based society.

The School Food Waste Recycling System

The Network collects school lunch waste from nursery, elementary and junior high schools in the city and transports it to three livestock breeders located in the city. There the waste is fermented together with bean curd pressings, rice cracker crumbs, miso and soy sauce production residues, and rice bran, which have also been collected in Nagaoka.

This mixed, fermented waste is suitable for feeding livestock, and meat from these livestock operations is sometimes used in cooking school lunches. The Network now annually recycles about 1,000 tons of food waste, including about 290 tons of school lunch waste, that would otherwise be incinerated.

Each Participant Plays a Key Role

Today, Nagaoka City commissions the Regional Circulation Network to conduct this School Lunch Waste Recycling Program, but the Network organization employs only 9 people, nowhere near enough to carry out the whole program. Its smooth operation can only be secured through the cooperation of many people.

School lunch cooks and students sort and drain the food waste and divide it into two categories, one for cattle (herbivores) and one for hogs and minks (omnivores). Since 80 percent of the waste is water, it is important to reduce its moisture content for recycling as feed.

Many citizen volunteers participate in the program, collecting the food waste from schools and transporting it to livestock breeders. At present, about 30 citizens regularly do this volunteer work. Each volunteer supports the Network's activities in his or her own way: some work every weekday, and others use their spare time.Once the waste is delivered, the next step is up to the livestock breeders. They add a fermenting material called "EM (Effective Microorganisms)-bokashi" to the waste in order to promote its fermentation. Then they mix the fermented waste with bean curd pressings and rice cracker crumbs to help absorb moisture.

Sometimes rice bran is added for nutrition, because a well-balanced feed cannot be made using only school lunch waste. Drying reduces the mixture's weight by four fifths. It then takes another four to seven days to complete the fermentation process. The resulting feed is perfect for raising livestock, and in the final phase breeders sell the meat, processed food products, and processed food ingredients .

In practice, this program is managed by a large number of people - volunteers, schools, cooks and many others - in addition to the employees of the government-commissioned NPO

Program Results

This program not only puts to use about 290 tons of waste annually, but it also helps students and citizens clearly recognize the relationship between their meals and food production sites. In addition to enhancing food-related and environmental education, it promotes the consumption of locally-produced food, reduces carbon dioxide emissions from incinerators, and fosters a lively social movement.

On receiving the WASTEC Award, the Network commented: "Though 'creating a recycling-based social system' may sound difficult, we are taking an approach that is comprehensible to anyone by using a system that turns our leftovers into livestock feed, and livestock into food.
We want to keep on working to diffuse the idea of material cycle systems through this initiative that involves local government, a non-profit organization and businesses".

The Network's expanding activities

The Network is working on various other initiatives at the same time. The Chopstick Recycling program, for instance, promotes the utilization of used disposable chopsticks collected from restaurants in Nagaoka City as material for making paper and charcoal.

As of June 2004, 221 restaurants are cooperating with this program. Another example is the Eco Green Club program, which exchanges household kitchen waste for meat. Cooperating families dry their kitchen waste using an electric disposal unit installed at each house. The Network collects the dried waste for use as livestock feed, and distributes meat and eggs to the families in return.

The fuel used to dry food waste for recycling at schools is reformulated kerosene derived from used cooking oil. The Network collects used cooking oil from restaurants in the city, and transports it to a plant where it is processed into recycled fuel. Each activity is inseparably connected, a reminder of how various things are connected in our lives as well.

Nagaoka City has an old story about 100 bales of rice that became famous when Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi quoted it in a general policy speech. In the early Meiji Period, when Nagaoka province was defeated and devastated in the Boshin War (1868), neighboring Mineyama province (now Maki Town of Nishi Kambara, Niigata Prefecture) contributed a hundred bales of rice - about six tons - to succor the people of Nagaoka.

However, Torasaburo Kobayashi, one of the leaders of Nagaoka at the time, insisted, "Human resources are the primary source of prosperity in any country or city. When we find ourselves in need of food, what we really need to do is educate our people." And he persuaded the samurai of the Nagaoka clan to sell all the contributed rice in order to found of a new school rather than distribute it for immediate consumption. The school was named Kokkan Gakko, literally, "school of Japanese and Chinese literature."

Citizens of Nagaoka are thus thought to have inherited the ability to avoid being shortsighted and think ahead. This rooted concept of looking to the future may have helped citizens steadily accept each progressive initiative by the Network.

* Some participants have been obliged to suspend their activities due to the October 2004 earthquake. Messages of encouragement from readers around the world would be welcome.

[For Your Reference] WastecThe Spirit of Kome Hyappyo

(Staff Writer Hiroyo Hasegawa)

(Article from: http://www.japanfs.org/en/public/ngo08.html)

Japan for Sustainability: http://www.japanfs.org/

Iida City: An Environmental Town Inspires Others


On May 26-28, 2004, Iida City will be hosting the 12th Meeting of the Coalition of Local Government for Environmental Initiative, a national network of 74 municipalities that promote environmentally conscious local government. Why is this little town inspiring cities all over Japan? Read on to find out more.

Apple Tree Street, a Symbol for the Town

Located between the South Alps and the Central Alps in the heart of Japan, Iida City, an old castle town in Nagano Prefecture, is blessed with the natural environment and a rich culture. With some 106,000 inhabitants, this town overlooking the river Tenryu was once called Little Kyoto for its beautiful streets, but much of the central area was burned to ashes by a fire in 1947.

Learning a lesson from the big fire, the city constructed green zones as fire belts in 25-meter-wide streets that crisscross the city. Junior high school students at the time proposed the idea of planting apple trees in sections of the green zone so that people could enjoy the aroma of their white flowers in spring and the red apples in autumn.

They felt that a town of real beauty doesn't just depend on a good view, but also on the sincerity in the hearts of its people, so they had no concern about apple-stealing becoming a problem. Their hopes took on real form as a street lined with apple trees. Stories about the street are now a part of local legend. Fifty years have passed, and students still tend the tree-lined street, which has become more of a park for pedestrians than a street for cars. The idea of giving more priority to pedestrians was one arose at a workshop during the 1990s to revitalize city center.http://www.city.iida.nagano.jp/namiki/home.html (Japanese only)

Community-Wide Initiative for Iida's Own Environmental ISO

Iida City has become known for its apple-tree-lined street and puppet shows, but more recently it has also been gaining recognition as an environmentally friendly town. In 1996, the city stated in its fourth basic plan that its vision is to be an environmental and cultural town that is attractive because of its people and nature. It has since then been promoting projects that help establish itself as a sustainable town.

Under the "Iida Environment Plan 21," formulated in 1996, specific numerical targets were set to promote effective implementation by 2010. Five years on, the progress made so far was assessed, analyzed and reviewed. The review, conducted by the "Iida City Citizen's Conference for the Environment" and a working group formed by city employees, lasted for about a year.
In the realm of new energy, the city began subsidizing households that install solar power generators in 1997, using a unique form assistance provided in the form of grants and subsidies to cover interest payments for the purchase of equipment. The town now is now one of the top in Japan in terms of percentage of households with solar power systems. The city is now considering the idea of introducing biomass energy.

In 1997, five companies based in the city that aimed at acquiring ISO 14001 certification and the Iida city office jointly launched a "Study Group for the Community-based Approach to ISO Accreditation." The study group later changed its name to "Study Group for the Community-Wide Initiative to Acquire ISO Certification," and now nearly 30 companies in the group are attempting to expand isolated activities to community-wide initiatives. The group is undertaking various initiatives to build a sustainable community, even after member companies have acquired ISO certification. (Not all have acquired the certification.)

Furthermore, it created a registration and certification system known as "Minami Shinshu EMS 21," a simplified local version of the ISO environmental standards. With this system, they have launched an initiative to promote environment management system in the southern Shinshu region of Nagano in the twenty-first century.

This activity translates into implementing workable plans to improve the environment and involve the community in addressing environmental protection issues. The "Study Group" will nominate companies with eco-friendly operations so that these companies will be registered with "Minami Shinshu Kouiki Rengo," a coalition of Iida City, villages and towns in southern Nagano Prefecture, and their names will be published. This is expected to boost the credibility and the image of participating companies, and eventually to improve business performance by reducing operating costs.http://www.city.iida.nagano.jp/kankyo/iso/index.html

Iida Switches to "Self Declaration of Conformance with ISO 14001" (Self- Monitoring of ISO 14001 compliance)

Iida City acquired ISO 14001 certification in January 2001, making it the first municipal government in Nagano Prefecture to do so. In January 2003, just before the three-year certification was to expire, the city decided to shift to "self declaration of conformance", instead of the standard assessment procedures by external certification bodies. It was the first among Japanese municipalities to do so.

The declaration of this new approach is an outcome of the city's initiatives so far. The city government has been engaged in establishing and running the city's unique initiative, the Iida Environmental Management System into the 21st century, or IEMS 21. It also has cooperated with a community-based study group on the initiative, an objective assessment by external actors, internal audits, and education and training for city employees.

The city realizes that this "self-declaration" status makes it bear more responsibility for accountability to the public. It thus tries to enhance collaboration on a global scale by networking, both nationally and internationally, and also plans to actively disclose information on its website.http://www.city.iida.nagano.jp/kankyou/manage/sengen.html (Japanese only)

Town Spirit Inspires Action

The environmental efforts of the Iida government, including the ISO 14001 Self-Declaration of Conformity, the Study Group on the Community-Wide Initiative for the Environment and ISO Certification, IEMS 21, the Minami-Shinshu EMS 21, all derive from the philosophy of local residents, committed to foster community development on their own initiative.

"Mu-To-Su" is the local word to represent such a sprit, meaning "to be going to do something." It means taking initiative before being told to do something by other people.

The essence of Iida City's proactive initiatives originates from the citizen's independent spirit, evident in the Apple Street initiatives launched years ago by students and carried out in cooperation with local residents.

On May 26-28, 2004, Iida City will be hosting the 12th Meeting of the Coalition of Local Government for Environmental Initiative, a nation-wide network of 74 municipalities that promote environmentally conscious local government. It will be a great opportunity for local governments all over Japan to learn and study Iida's unique initiatives.

The Coalition of Local Government for Environmental Initiative, Japan: http://www.colgei.org/ (Japanese only)

Iida City's environmental information website: http://www.city.iida.nagano.jp/kankyo/ (Japanese only)


(Article from: http://www.japanfs.org/en/public/gov_04.html)

Japan for Sustainability: http://www.japanfs.org/