Happy Earth Day from Kyoto! Miyako Ecology Center Celebrates 10th Year

Happy Earth Day, Glendale! Congratulations to Mary Harris, GCC’s Woman of the Year, for her incredible Green Efforts. Best wishes on this year’s dumpster dive.

Although I promised more seaweed in my last blog (next time, really), it’s time for an Earth Day report: more on Kyoto’s environmental programs, the Miyako Ecology Center (MEC, Photo 1) and related news from Japan. As mentioned in earlier posts of Japan’s Innovative Recycling and It’s a Small COP, Kyoto continues its efforts as a world leader on climate change and sustainability.

Miyako Ecology Center

Photo 1: Kyoto’s Miyako Ecology Center demonstrates environmentally friendly living. The building itself incorporates water harvesting, plants for shade, solar panels, windmills, and an underground temperature-control system. Hands-on exhibits, community meeting rooms, and a resource library provide information, alternatives and the opportunity to work together for a more sustainable future.

Do You Kyoto?

The Kyoto City government began to develop its strategy for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 1997, the same year as the formation of the Kyoto Protocol. Its initial near-term goal was to reduce the city’s GHG emissions in 2010 by 10% relative to its 1990 emissions. It reached that goal in 2008 – two years early! More recently, it set an ultimate goal of ‘Carbon-Zero City’ and adopted a plan to become an ‘Environmental Model City’. With this model in mind, the slogan arose, ‘Do You Kyoto?’ which would be understood worldwide as, ‘Doing something good for the environment’ (see Photos 2-4).

Do You Kyoto Mascot

Photo 2: The ‘Do You Kyoto?’ mascot visits the Fukakusa neighborhood fair in Kyoto. ‘Do You Kyoto?’ refers to Kyoto’s leadership in global warming and other sustainability issues. The mascot and related materials come to community events around the city.

Reused Eggshells

Photo 3: ‘Do You Kyoto?’ booth demonstrates alternative uses for eggshells. This event took place on Hina Matsuri (Girls’ Day) and is celebrated with dolls, particularly dolls of the emperor and empress as shown in the picture.

The Mayor of Kyoto, Daisaku Kadokawa, has been a strong proponent of this goal. The ‘Do You Kyoto’ program started under his first four-year term. He was re-elected to a second term earlier this year (February 2012). He is well known in the city for his inspiration, his attendance at public events, and his traditional kimono (during the campaign, his wife noted he enjoyed his bath, both morning and evening; see Photo 5).


Photo 5: The Mayor of Kyoto, Daisaku Kadokawa, attending the Sakura Yosakoi celebration (cherry blossom dance festival) at City Hall. Mayor Kadokawa strongly supports Kyoto’s role as a global leader on environmental issues. He was re-elected in February to a second term.

Kyoto’s current climate plan** includes six visions for the city. These are:

  1. “An enjoyable walking city that gives priority to people and public transportation
  2. “Forest regeneration and giving important value to ‘culture of wood’ city
  3. “City of energy creation and community recycling
  4. “Environmentally-friendly lifestyle
  5. “Environmentally-friendly economic activity
  6. “Garbage reduction”

After 11 months in Kyoto without a car, I can attest to the success of the first vision. Kyoto is a very enjoyable city for pedestrians, and bicycle friendly. City programs offer maps with suggested routes for leisure trips on foot or by bike, with links to public transportation. Three private train companies, and a city subway and bus system, provide efficient, on-time transportation for longer trips (Photos 6-8).

Photo 6: Marina and Ami on their way to buy groceries. This path along the Sosui (canal) is used by pedestrians, bicyclers and scooters. It becomes a tunnel of cherry blossoms in early April.

Photo 7: Marina and Ami waiting at the Keihan Line train crossing, on their way home from grocery shopping. The Keihan Line runs from Osaka to Kyoto and Lake Biwa (Biwako). Trains runs every 10 minutes between 5 AM until shortly after midnight.

Photo 8: Marina and Ami travelling downtown on the Keihan Line.

Kyoto is surrounded by forested hills: 85% of the city is covered with trees. Older homes in the city – machiya – were built from wood with mud walls. Some of these homes are being rejuvenated and serve as models for environmentally friendly homes (see Photos 9 & 10). The forest ecosystem and its products serve as an educational focus at the Miyako Ecology Center (more below).


Photo 9: A traditional Kyoto-style house, or machiya. These houses are constructed largely from wood, with sections of mud walls.

Machiya Repair

Photo 10: Repairs on the mud wall of a machiya. Note the many layers on top of a latticework of wood slats.

Many of the city’s other visions unite the personal and professional lives of the city’s residents. I earlier focused on the success of Kyoto’s garbage reduction and recycling program. The rest of this post will focus on the MEC (see Photo 11).

MEC Earth Day Poster

Photo 11: Poster announcing Miyako Ecology Center’s 10th Anniversary celebration, April 22, 2012 (Earth Day). The upper line of text states, ‘Happiness from here, happiness from now on.’ The main text in the lower right corner reads, ‘From here on, start to think sustainably.’


Miyako Ecology Center: 10th Anniversary Celebration on Earth Day

Miyako was an earlier name used for Kyoto when it was the capital of Japan. The Miyako Ecology Center (MEC) opened on Earth Day, 2002 (April 21) four years after the Kyoto Protocol was adopted – the international agreement that formally began action to reduce the potential damage of climate change. Much like the ‘Do You Kyoto?’ program, the MEC serves as an educational facility to expand Kyoto’s role as a model of sustainability and to stop global warming. Although the Kyoto Protocol has largely failed, the MEC has an ever-expanding role, locally and internationally. Elementary students from throughout Kyoto visit the center as part of their curriculum. Senior citizens come in bus tours from Osaka. When I applied to study here as part of my sabbatical in 2008, I was the first foreigner to make such a request. Since then, several international scholars have visited the center, and MEC staff travel abroad (Photo 12).

Photo 12: A visit to the Miyako Ecology Center December 15, 2012. The center is free and open to the public six days a week (closed Thursdays). The center contains permanent and special exhibits, a library and community information. It has no parking, no trash receptacles, and nothing to sell.

The director of the Miyako Ecology Center is Professor Hiroshi Takatsuki, of Ishikawa Prefectural University. His expertise is in waste management, and he is a prodigious cartoonist. His cartoons illustrate the many unsustainable problems of modern life; they are widely used throughout the center and in their outreach programs. His family name – Takatsuki – literally translates as ‘High Moon’, the name he uses on his cartoons (see Photos 13 & 14). You can enjoy more of High Moon’s cartoons at this MEC website.

The MEC features many interactive displays as part of its permanent exhibits. My daughters’ favorite is the Ecomushi (Eco-ladybugs) hidden throughout the building that point out useful tips on environmentally friendly living. Find the Ecomushi and earn a pin (Photos 15 & 16).

Photo 15a: An Ecomushi (Eco-ladybug) identifies environmentally friendly aspects of the Miyako Ecology Center. Visiting children look for Ecomushi and record them on their map to earn a prize. This Ecomushi points out the wooden window frame.

Photo 15b: The sign on the wall describes the benefits of a wooden window frame; it prevents condensation and requires less energy to construct vs. a metal window frame. The dotted arrow directs kids to the Ecomushi above (15a).

Photo 16a: After scouring the building for Ecomushi, Marina and Ami return with their maps and receive their prize. Mr. Hiroshi Iwamatsu-san of the Miyako Ecology Center inspects their work.

Photo 16b: Marina shows off her Ecomushi pin while Ami draws from the box.

Photo 16c: Ami picked a rare rainbow Ecomushi pin.

The center also provides space for community collaboration, activities, special exhibits, films, a small library and workshops (Photo 17). Moreover, ‘the entire building serves as an Eco-Exhibit’ (see two MEC pdf brochures, in English).

Sweater to Scarf

Photo 17: The Miyako Ecology Center hosted a workshop in the fall that turned old sweaters into new scarves, a ‘reuse’. They posted several ‘before and after’ pictures on their bulletin board at the end of the event. Marina and Ami wore their scarves nearly every day to school this winter.

MEC 1 & MEC 2

The building includes a large underground space, an ‘Earth Pit’ that acts as part of its temperature-control system. Underground temperatures remain moderate compared to the extremes that occur above ground in summer and winter. To make use of this temperature differential, air from the outside is vented underground and circulated through 70 meters (233’) of ducts before it enters the building proper. A display on the first floor shows the different temperatures and is recorded daily. On my visit December 16th, the outside air temperature was 8oC (46.4oF). After travelling through the duct system, the air had warmed to 16oC (60.8oF), an increase of 8oC (14.4oF)! An equivalent drop in temperature was measured last summer, when the outside air of 36oC (96.8oF) cooled to 28oC (82.4oF) after its journey through the ducts (see Photos 18-21).

Underground Vents

Photo 18: Outside of the ‘Earth Pit’ at the Miyako Ecology Center. Air used inside the building first enters vents in the basement walls. The air travels through a duct system in the basement to warm (winter) or cool (summer) the outside air. A green Ecomushi sign is posted next to one panel of vents.


Photo 19: Mr. Iwamatsu-san takes us for a tour of the ‘Earth Pit’ beneath the Miyako Ecology Center.

Outside Temp

Photo 20: An outdoor thermometer faces inside for viewing from the ‘Hands-On Ecology Corner’ section of the Miyako Ecology Center. The outside temperature was 8oC (46.4oF) on the morning of December 16, 2011.

Vented Temp

Photo 21: This thermometer, placed in the floor of the ‘Hands-On Ecology Corner’, shows the temperature of air after its passage through the duct system of the ‘Earth Pit’. This photo was taken the same morning as above (December 16, Photo 20). The air had warmed to 16oC (60.8oF), an increase of 8oC (14.4oF).

Vines on the south side shade the building in summer (Photo 22). A 200 solar-panel array generates electricity. Between April 1st and December 16th, they generated 15,848 kWh of energy, equivalent to 3830 liters (1012 gallons) of gasoline (see Photos 23 & 24).


Photo 22: This Ecomushi brings attention to the vines grown on the south side of the building in summer. They absorb the sun’s energy and shade the building, reducing the need to cool the building.

Rooftop Solar

Photo 23: Marina points to the Ecomushi on the Miyako Ecology Center’s rooftop solar panels. The amount of power generated by these solar panels is displayed on the first floor, in the ‘Hands-On Ecology Corner’ (photo 24).

Photo 24: The large rectangular display shows the power generated by the center’s solar panels: at the moment (kW), total for the day (kWh), and total for the year (kWh, from April 1). The lower right LED measures this power in equivalent liters of gasoline. The circular Ecomushi sign, left of the solar panel display, describes the ‘Earth Pit’ (Photos 18-21).

The building also has a rooftop garden that insulates the building, provides examples of ecosystems and gardening, and captures rainwater. The rainwater is used in the building’s toilets (see Photos 25 & 26).

Water Display

Photo 25: The Miyako Ecology Center captures rainwater with its rooftop garden; run-off is piped into a basement cistern for use in the building’s toilets. This display shows the flow of water and allows visitors to pump water from the basement into the black container in the corner.

Water Bottles

Photo 26: One person’s daily use of water, displayed in a string of 478 bottles. Each bottle holds 500 ml of water, for a total of 239 liters (52.6 gallons).

The permanent exhibits utilize hands-on activities to demonstrate lessons in sustainability, Eco or Ekorogii in modern Japanese. Information about modern problems are presented alongside alternatives, historical or modern, to encourage better (or best) practices. The center infuses these exhibits with a sense that traditional homes and practices were in harmony with nature; the basic structure of Kyoto was laid down in 794 AD and it has been inhabited by the same people ever since.

The ‘Mud Wall’ display emphasizes the many benefits of this traditional form. Mud walls are biodegradable, hence good for the environment. They remain cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They also breathe, an important benefit in the humid Kyoto summer. Mud walls are healthier than synthetic materials, many of which release toxic volatile organic compounds. They are earthquake and fire resistant. Finally, mud walls can be easily repaired and materials reused (see Photos 27 & 28, and Photos 9 & 10, above).

Mud Wall

Photo 27: The Mud Wall display begins with a poster that includes a description of five health and environmental benefits of mud walls (see text).

Mud Wall Parts

Photo 28: Other parts of the Mud Wall display diagram how to build a mud wall (right), the many layers of an actual mud wall (center) and how convenient mud walls are to repair, or to biodegrade (left).

The ‘Alternative Valuable Lifestyle’ exhibit includes the different rooms of a home. Typical water usage for each room is displayed with a graph using 500 ml bottles; they add up to the 478 bottles (239 L, or 52.6 gallons) per person per day in the earlier display (Photo 26, above). In descending order, these values are: toilet (67 L), bath (57.5 L), kitchen (53 L), laundry machine (38 L), and bathroom sink (23.5 L). Suggestions to reduce the impact of water use include the use of rainwater or other gray water (from bath) for toilets, or in the laundry, and low-flow faucets (see Photos 29 & 30).

Alternative Valuable Lifestyle

Photo 29: The Alternative Valuable Lifestyle exhibit includes sections representative of the rooms in a home. Each room presents choices that affect our impact on the environment, for example, eating foods in season (tomato poster in the background, see also Photo 35).

Bath & Laundry Water Usage

Photo 30: Average water usage shown in different parts of a home (bathroom sink, laundry machine, and tub) indicated by a graph of 500 ml water bottles, part of the Alternative Valuable Lifestyle exhibit (see text for values).

The display also includes shelves filled with various household items and alternative choices: Which type of light bulb to use? Should you buy beer in a bottle or a can? Drink tea from a plastic bottle, can, or thermos? (CFL’s are much more energy efficient than incandescent light bulbs, reusable glass bottles require less energy than aluminum cans, and making your own tea in a thermo saves money and reduces garbage, see Photos 31-33).

ecological?’ asks the sign above a shelf of alternatives. Some of the choices presented include: beer bottles vs. cans, rechargeable vs. disposable batteries, and CFL’s vs. incandescent light bulbs. Answers are provided inside the doors below (see text for answers).”]ecological?’ asks the sign above a shelf of alternatives. Some of the choices presented include: beer bottles vs. cans, rechargeable vs. disposable batteries, and CFL’s vs. incandescent light bulbs. Answers are provided inside the doors below (see text for answers).”]Shelf Choices
Tea Choices

Photo 32: Cold green tea is a common summer drink in Japan. This display lists the various costs of tea, in terms of money (yen) and garbage, for one serving of tea (500 ml) per day, for 30 days. Brewing your own tea and carrying it in a thermos is about 10% of the cost of buying tea in a plastic bottle or aluminum can. Plus, the thermos can be re-used over and over again.

Shopping Bag

Photo 33: One environmentally friendly alternative we can all choose: a cloth shopping bag. This example has the Miyako Ecology Center logo. A set of these bags was made for the staff and volunteers, but the center does not sell them, nor any other items.

The importance of ‘shun’ – eating seasonally – is included here. The shun concept spans many aspects of life in Japan besides food; religion, art and other cultural events reflect the season. Shun incorporates the ‘locavore’ ideal; eating seasonal foods implies their local origins. Eating locally grown produce or locally caught fish reduces the energy and pollution costs that would otherwise be generated by longer distance transportation. Eating these local foods in season reduces costs of refrigeration, packaging, and storage. The main shun poster displays fruit, vegetables and fish arranged by season. A chest of drawers below this poster houses models of these examples, and asks ‘When is it in season?’ The answers are on the underside of the objects (Photo 34). One poster compares the cost of tomatoes in season (summer) vs. winter, and notes the nearly 10x greater cost in energy to produce tomatoes in a greenhouse (Photo 35).

Shun Poster

Photo 34a: Many Japanese foods and cultural events are determined by season, or shun. This poster shows when to eat certain fruit, vegetables and fish.

Fish Drawer

Photo 34b: Many Japanese foods and cultural events are determined by season, or shun. A set of drawers contains models of the foods in the poster (34a); this drawer contains fish. The proper season to eat each species is attached to the underside of each model.


Photo 35: This tomato display describes the benefits of eating in season - shun. Tomatoes ripen normally in the summer. It takes nearly 10x as much energy to produce tomatoes in a greenhouse during the winter (energy values listed as ml of gasoline required to produce 1 kg of tomatoes).

I have submitted materials about sustainable fisheries to add to the shun section (currently with the MEC artist). Although eating fish in season may be more sustainable than at other times, regulation of the fishery, and the method of capture should be considered as well. Industrial net fishing often captures and kills many animals (known as bycatch) besides the targeted fish (e.g. dolphins caught in tuna nets, turtles caught in shrimp nets). By comparison, traditional pole and line fishers avoid most bycatch. Many Japanese fishers have a hereditary right to their local fishery, known as gyoken. Some fisheries biologists hypothesize that having a long-term stake in a fishery will ensure better managament. However, many fisheries in Japan are loosely regulated and have experienced diminishing harvests, despite gyoken. Finally, modern fish farms can increase the availability of salmon, tuna, yellowtail, etc. and make them available at all times of the year. Unfortunately, these farms require large amounts of wild-caught fish as food. They pollute the local environment, and magnify parasites and diseases that can infect the native, wild populations of these fish. Most of my recommendations for the exhibit were based on research available from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.

I also spoke with local fish dealers in developing these sustainable fishery materials. One dealer, Mr. Atsushi Tanaka-san, created a unique market for otherwise unwanted fish (i.e. bycatch). He tested these species with local chefs, who prepared the fish in various recipes. They now buy these fish from him, when in season. You can see a short TV clip about him and his company, Shokuichi, at the company website (see Photo 36).


Photo 36: Standing with Mr. Atsushi Tanaka-san, founder of Shokuichi, a fish company. Tanaka-san specializes in selling under-appreciated fish (often bycatch) to restaurants.

‘Taking Time for Trees’ shows Kyoto and its surroundings from the forested mountains that surround the city to Osaka Bay (see Photos 37a-37d). The display is made of local wood with several text panels. It emphasizes three ecological cycles and their relationship to people: the water cycle, carbon cycle and the succession cycle of a managed forest. The main titles are positioned on the right end of the display near the urban center of Kyoto and Osaka Bay, but the overall display can be viewed from any direction. It asks two questions: ‘Why is it that we cut down trees?’ and, ‘Is there a connection between your life and the trees around you?’ (Photo 37a). Also at this end, rivers that began in the forest and passed through Kyoto empty into Osaka Bay, and water evaporates from the bay to create more rain (the water cycle).


Photo 37a: ‘Taking Time for Trees’ uses local wood to describe the ecological links between trees, water, CO2 and people. One end shows Osaka Bay. The other end represents the forested mountains that surround northern Kyoto.


Photo 37b: ‘Taking Time for Trees’ uses local wood to describe the ecological links between trees, water, CO2 and people. One end shows Osaka Bay. In between is the agricultural lands on the outskirts.


Photo 37c: ‘Taking Time for Trees’ uses local wood to describe the ecological links between trees, water, CO2 and people. One end shows Osaka Bay. See text for details.


Photo 37d: ‘Taking Time for Trees’ uses local wood to describe the ecological links between trees, water, CO2 and people. One end shows Osaka Bay. In between is the city of Kyoto.

Four text panels near the center of Kyoto (Photo 37b) describe relationships between people and water, people and wood (2 panels), and forests and ocean. One panel emphasizes the local taste of Kyoto’s high-quality water and the produce grown with that water: ‘Let’s enjoy our local food grown with local water’. Others mention the many uses of wood products in our homes (also stores CO2) and wood as fuel (releases CO2, carbon cycle). Water that began as rain in the mountains carries nutrients from the forest soil to the ocean, nutrients important for ocean life.

Left of Kyoto (Photo 37c), one panel mentions the importance of the Sato Yama (local forest/hills) to the daily life of people in Kyoto in the past. ‘What does your local forest mean to you today?’ Other panels refer to the forest nutrients carried in local rivers, and raindrops illustrate the return of water from the ocean to forests. The text panel in the upper left corner shows that trees are built of CO2 and water (carbon and water cycles), with energy from the sun. Thus, growing trees can alleviate climate change by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere.

The far left end of the display depicts a managed forest in its several stages, from planting of seedlings, to thinning, trimming, and eventual harvest (Photo 37d). Visitors can turn a wheel to read more about each of these stages. The many uses of the forest are shown, including wild animals, hikers and a picnic. Additional panels emphasize that after millennia of people living in Kyoto, wild forests are nearly gone (forest with bear). Rather, people have managed local forests for centuries, sustainably.

There are many more exhibits at the Miyako Ecology Center, including the classic ‘hockey stick’ display of CO2 and temperature (Photos 38). The center was founded after the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol to target global warming. Many of the centers main exhibits feature alternative energy choices, although only a few of these have been included here. The examples described thus far were chosen for their style and Kyoto ‘flavor’. A final example promotes a ‘less is more’ idea, with a simplified life style and traditional Kyoto home (Photo 39).


Photo 38a: The Miyako Ecology Center targets the rising concentration of CO2 and its effect on global climate. This display shows the many sources of CO2, and a graph of global warming up to the year 2000, with a range of predicted temperature increase by 2100.

Hockey Stick

Photo 38b: The Miyako Ecology Center targets the rising concentration of CO2 and its effect on global climate. This display shows the many sources of CO2. Numerical values come from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. You can read their reports online.

Kyoto Room

Photo 39: Between the ‘Alternative Valuable Lifestyle’ and ‘Taking Time for Trees’ exhibits is this room titled, ‘Lets Live on a Small Scale’. The room is made from natural materials (wood with mud walls) in traditional Kyoto style (machiya). The room can be used as a living room and bedroom. Futons (mattresses) are kept in the closet behind the sliding doors.

This winter the MEC hosted a special ‘Eco House Material Exhibit’ with ‘Let’s Build a Miniature House’ workshop. The centerpiece of the exhibit was the frame of a small wooden house (Photo 40). The house was built entirely out of wood. The pieces were joined together with angled cuts, slots, and tongue and groove fittings; no nails were used (Photos 41 & 42). Around the room, table displays included other examples of natural materials, including various types of local wood, cork board, plywood, mud (for mud walls) and fibers used in paper making (Photo 43). Other displays showed the use of wood scraps, including two stoves designed to burn wood pellets, a form of biomass energy (Photo 44).

House Exhibit

Photo 40: The ‘Eco House Material Exhibit’ displayed a diversity of natural materials for use in the home. At the center of the exhibit was the frame of a small wooden house, a product of the ‘Let’s Build a Miniature House’ workshop.

Joints Wood

Photo 41: Examples of joints used in Japanese carpentry. Traditional homes were built without the use of nails.

Joints Diagram

Photo 42: Diagram of wooden joints; many of these were used in the ‘Let’s Build a Miniature House’ workshop (photos below).

Table Displays

Photo 43: Examples of natural materials used in homes, including fibers for paper (used for shoji screens as well as writing), wooden window frames and other wood products.


Photo 44: The stoves on the left are built specifically for burning wood pellets. Wood pellets are made from sawdust and other scraps of little commercial value. As pellets, they produce sufficient heat for a home. The poster and samples in the middle describe wood pellets and other uses for wood scraps.

Every few weeks, the house was taken apart and reassembled by kids. First, the kids received an introduction to the problem of climate change and CO2, and the forest cycle (Photo 45). Then the contractor described their building plans for the day. Each piece of wood was laid out and labeled beforehand (Photo 46). Kids were numbered (1-12) and given specific tasks. First, a rectangular grid was laid out, followed by the foundation and floor (Photos 47-49). The wall frame went up next. Periodically, the kids shook the building to test its strength (see Photos 50-53 and Video 1). Finally, they completed the roof supports (Photo 54 & 55). Afterward, the kids spent a few moments enjoying their work. Like our classes in America, the kids completed a written evaluation at the end of the workshop (Photo 56).

House Pieces

Photo 46: Wood for the workshop had been previously cut, labeled and arranged for easy identification by the kids who would construct the house.


Photo 47: The first step in building the house was to lay down a rectangular grid with wooden blocks, and then construct the floor.

Photo 48: The kids were given a number (1-12) and took turns adding the pieces to the house. Marina’s ‘#10’ label is stuck to her blue hoodie.

Finishing Floor

Photo 49: The nearly completed floor.

Wall Support

Photo 50: Once the floor was completed, work began on the walls. Uprights are slotted into the floor. Ami, #11, is wearing red pants.

Photo 51: Wall construction began with placement of uprights, then braced by various cross pieces. Note the three joints being formed.

Photo 52: An entire piece of wood is being slotted through the corner post and into the neighbor post.


Photo 53a: A large beam is placed across the top of the wall. Three slotted joints are forming along the wall, but a different type of joint is made at the corner.

Second Corner

Photo 53b: A large beam is placed across the top of the wall. This is a close-up of the corner joint.

Roof Supports

Photo 54: The rafters are placed into their grooves.

Rope Joints

Photo 55: Finally, rope is used to secure the rafters are in place.


Photo 56: Inside the completed house, kids fill out an evaluation form.

The wood home exhibit provided knowledge of the environment and environmentally friendly options. Wood is a natural and healthy material to use in homes, and it stores CO2. Moreover, the joints used are flexible in an earthquake, a useful property in Japan. The kids learned some of these values during the workshop, as well as knowledge of their environment, and how to work together – an enjoyable and educational afternoon at the Miyako Ecology Center (Photo 57)!

Photo 57: Marina and Ami inside the finished ‘Miniature House’.

Final Note: The Tohoku Disaster and Japan’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Japan has been a world leader in energy efficiency and the capture of renewable energy sources (e.g. solar energy) to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. Nuclear power accounts for one third of their overall power, however, and nuclear power presents its own set of environmental problems. Last year’s March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe has led to the near-total shutdown of nuclear power generation.

There are 54 nuclear reactors in Japan. On March 26, another plant shutdown leaving only one active reactor in the country. Most of these closures were regularly scheduled for tests and service, but none have been restarted due to political pressure. The final reactor is scheduled to be closed in May.

Last summer, the government set a goal to reduce energy consumption 15% from the previous year, to prevent power blackouts. While that goal has largely been achieved, Japan has needed to increase its use of fossil fuels to make up for the difference in power. Unfortunately, that includes an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

PS: As I finished my final proof read of this post, Reiko directed me to an article in today’s Japan Times (April 18, 2012). The governors of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures just issued a call to the national government to create a new agency to regulate the nuclear power industry, and to ultimately abolish nuclear power in Japan.

** ‘Kyoto city program of global warming countermeasure: For an environmentally-friendly city, economy and lifestyle (Digest)’ Kyoto City, 2011


3 thoughts on “Happy Earth Day from Kyoto! Miyako Ecology Center Celebrates 10th Year

  1. Thank you for such a positive blog. Unfortunately as a person who majored in and now teaches sustainable development at university here in Kyoto, I find it hard to share your enthusiasm for acknowledging Kyoto’s efforts to be a world leader in climate mitigation. European cities for example are so far ahead of Kyoto in many many respects. In Kyoto, car parks are still taking the place of destroyed machiya at an ever faster pace (for example), polluting city buses and traffic leave no space for effective cycle routes or trams, and doesn’t yet even collect and compost kitchen waste (as happens in neighbouring Shiga). So while I think it is good to look at positive things being done, it’s also important to be realistic and realise that Kyoto city has a very very long way to go just to catch up leading cities such as Copenhagen (36% people cycling to work for example).
    Unfortunately, as is often the case in Japan, I hear lots of talk and plans for ‘sustainability’ etc, but see very little in the way of effective concrete action.
    Anyway, as I said thank you for this useful blog and appologies if this seems too negative.

    • Thank you for your comments. I am encouraged by the ‘half full’ attitudes I experienced in Kyoto, while aware that it is far from sustainable. You compare Kyoto to Copenhagen. My reference is Phoenix, Arizona, a megalopolis in the Sonoran Desert. Glendale Community College (my home institution) only began to recycle four years ago (faculty took recyclables home to their residential system) and the majority of students drive to school in personal vehicles, with free parking for all. Much to be done around the world. Best wishes.

  2. Pingback: Miyako Ecology Center Celebrates Earth Day & 10th Year: Part II* | Glendale Community College Blog

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