Miyako Ecology Center Celebrates Earth Day & 10th Year: Part II*

The Miyako Ecology Center’s (MEC) 10th Anniversary and Earth Day event drew a record number of visitors, despite a rainy day. Over 2,800 people came to celebrate and enjoy special exhibits, demonstrations, and activities for kids that included a toy exchange (see Photo 1).

Earth Day

Photo 1: Miyako Ecology Center (MEC) celebrates its 10th Anniversary and Earth Day, April 22, 2012. The main hall was packed at 10:00 for the opening ceremony. The poster on the second floor asks, ‘Who’s Earth Is It?’ (cartoon by High Moon, Director of the MEC).

The event began with the reading of an ‘uplifting’ story, in which animals were shown on one page standing, then on the next page jumping into the air. As each page was turned from standing to jumping, the leader on stage, and dozens of kids with him, jumped in unison (punchline: the snail does not jump very high). The last ‘animal’ was a child, which got everyone jumping and ready for the day’s activities. Kid’s received a worksheet and then headed off to two ‘classes’ to earn a ‘Green Consumer’ certificate (Photo 2).

Jumping Book

Photo 2A: Part of the opening ceremony was the reading of a simple book that showed a series of animals sitting, then jumping. The audience was encouraged to jump along with the animals. Nice ice breaker! The first page showed a frog sitting.


Photo 2B: The next page showed the frog jumping. The reader gave instructions that we were all to jump on the ‘jump’ pages.

Jumping Dog

Photo 2C: Jumping with a dog.

The first class was a mini ‘dumpster dive’ skit. As a garbage man was about to haul away a bag of garbage, a staff member asked him to stop, and inspect the bag for any reusable or recyclable items. One-by-one she pulled out each piece and asked whether if it was garbage. Kids quickly understood and identified most of the recyclables. Recyclables were moved to separate bags. Other items were still useful; a coat was found and put on!  Marina raised her hand when a plastic PET bottle was held up. She said it could be cleaned and refilled for many future uses. After the bag was emptied, kid’s received a stamp on their worksheet (see Photo 3).

Dumpster Dive

Photo 3A: The MEC held a ‘dumpster dive’ skit in which the garbage man was stopped and his ‘garbage’ inspected. The garbage man with ‘truck’ (blue paper on wheeled cabinet) and garbage bag, and an MEC staff member with poster of a landfill explaining the problems of garbage.

Dumpster Dive

Photo 3B: The contents of the garbage bag have been spread on the floor and a series of alternate containers are labeled and ready, including a bag for cans and bottles, a box for compostables, a bag for plastics, and the original garbage bag.

Dumpster Dive

Photo 3C: One of the kids explains what to do with a cardboard box. It can be flattened and put out with newspapers for recycling. Note the staff woman has put on the coat that was in the ‘garbage’.

Dumpster Dive

Photo 3D: A boy says the cap must be removed from the jar before recycling.

Dumpster Dive

Photo 3E: Marina explains that a PET bottle can be washed and re-used rather than recycled.

The second class was set up as a store in the ‘Alternative Valuable Lifestyle’ exhibit (see earlier post*). Kids were given a shopping list from ‘mom’: snacks and tea for a field trip, and ramen as a snack for their ‘brother’. Snacks varied in the amount of packaging involved: one large piece of chocolate in a single wrapper vs. the same amount of chocolate, but in several smaller pieces, each individually wrapped. The tea choice consisted of tea purchased in a PET bottle vs. tea that could be made in a thermos. The final choices were between ‘cup noodles’ (in a disposable cup) vs. noodles to cook in a pan. The environmentally friendly choosers picked less wrapping and re-usable containers vs. (more) disposable packaging. Finally, kids received their third stamp, certification and a special 10th Anniversary ‘Eco-Mushi’ pin (see Photos 4-6).

Alternative Choices

Photo 4: Learning about alternatives in the Miyako Ecology Center’s ‘Alternative Valuable Lifestyle’ exhibit. Kids were asked to choose a drink and snack for a field trip, and a noodle snack for their younger brother. Choices varied in their packaging. Products with less packaging require fewer resources to make as well as less garbage.

Green Certificate

Photo 5: Marina with her ‘Green Consumer’ certificate.


Photo 6: Ami holds up her special MEC 10th Anniversary ‘Eco-mushi’ pin. The ‘Eco-mushi’ icon is used throughout the center to draw attention to sustainable alternatives. Some of the icons are relatively hard to spot, which makes finding them a favorite activity at the MEC for Marina and Ami.

Nearby was a demonstration on furoshiki: the use of a cloth wrap to carry items, especially gifts. Wrapping styles resemble origami. When presented as a gift, the cloth is removed by the recipient and returned to the presenter. Marina and Ami learned to wrap two wine bottles together into an easily carried sling (great for going to a dinner party). They also made simple hats (see Photos 7-9).


Photo 7A: Furoshiki uses pieces of cloth to wrap and carry items, often presents. The wrapping styles vary with the object to be wrapped, somewhat in the style of origami. A single cloth can be used over and over again, very sustainable.


Photo 7B: Furoshiki cloths vary in size and color pattern. They can even be used as a handbag.


Photo 8A: Marina and Ami learn how to carry two bottles of wine, a nice gift for a dinner party. The bottles will be unwrapped by the host of the party, and the furoshiki cloth returned. The bottles are placed end to end, with a space between them.


Photo 8B: The bottles are rolled up in the furoshiki cloth.


Photo 8C: The ends are brought together.

Photo 8D: The ends are tied.


Photo 8E: The bottles can be easily carried by the knot.

Furoshiki Hats

Photo 9: Marina, Ami and I wearing furoshiki hats made by the girls, with their furoshiki sensei (teacher) behind us.

There were options to make crafts, try out a pedal-operated taxi, and pedal a bike to generate electricity for light bulbs. After learning about the energy efficiencies of different light bulbs, the generator was used to fill up balloons. Colored papers and pens were available for visitors to express ‘The Future We Want’ (Photos 10 & 11).


Photo 10: Ami pedals a bike to pump up a balloon. First she had to light up three types of light bulbs: incandescent, CFL and LED – a ‘feet-on’ lesson in energy efficiency.


Photo 11: Ami and Marina pose by the ‘Future We Want’ display, after adding their wishes on colored hearts.

The toy exchange seemed to draw the most kids. First, kids brought their old toys to an exchange window. They received a ‘credit card’ based on the items they donated. Then, they went shopping with their credit cards to find new treasures. Credits could also be used for new ‘green’ items such as cards made from recycled paper, re-usable plastic tops for the microwave, etc. (Photos 12 & 13).


Photo 12: The toy exchange brought together new owners and lots of good toys.

Green Items

Photo 13: Our girls offered their credits to their mom Reiko. She bought toilet paper made from the recycled milk cartoons used at school lunch, and re-usable tops for the microwave. [The girls are limited in what they can carry back to Arizona, a return trip coming soon.]

A special kitchen was set up to make vegetable curry with rice. The veggies came from an organic farm just outside the city, and some of the farmers were there to serve it. Yummy! You could eat your lunch while watching a play at the ‘Eco-Neko’ theater (Photos 14 & 15).


Photo 14: Organic curry and rice were available for lunch, served by the farmers that grew the food.


Photo 15: The ‘Eco-Neko’ theater featuring an ecologically friendly cat (neko) in a tale of deforestation.

We were interviewed toward the end of our visit. Marina spoke for our family. When asked what she liked the most about the day’s events, she mentioned the ‘Eco-mushi’, learning about garbage, and how to make furoshiki wraps. Her interview is online (in Japanese).

There were many other exhibits inside, large and small. Outside exhibits included some of the pellet stoves displayed earlier this year (see link*). The stoves had extra visitors on the cold, wet day. Other foods (e.g. cookies, crackers) and fresh produce were available, and a special booth accepted both common and unusual items for recycling or disposal. Altogether, it was an excellent event with an incredible turn out, especially considering the constant rain and no parking; everyone came by foot, bike or public transportation! A great example of the ‘Do You Kyoto’ spirit (see Photos 16-18).

Pellet Stove

Photo 16: A pellet stove display provided some warmth outside in the rain. Wood pellets make use of scrap wood, a form of ‘bio-fuel’. Because the trees that produced the wood took CO2 from the atmosphere to make the wood, this form of energy is renewable and can potentially reduce net carbon emissions.


Outside MEC Rain

Photo 17: Booths outside the MEC offered food and educational materials on sustainable living. Umbrellas get regular use in Kyoto, and umbrella stands are placed in the doorways of most public or business establishments.

Recycle Station

Photo 18: A recycling booth in front of the MEC provided information on recycling and accepted unusual items, including batteries, glass bottles, milk cartons, mercury thermometers, oil, CD’s, DVD’s, lighters, ink cartridges and fluorescent light bulbs.

Harie Town: Water Springs Forth on the Shore of Lake Biwa (Biwako)

The following Thursday (April 26) we went to Harie Town on the shore of Lake Biwa (Biwako) with several of the MEC staff. A natural aquifer lies just below the surface of Harie and provides abundant, clean water. Famously, the town cares for this water supply and their potential downstream effects, within the town and Lake Biwa (Photo 19).


Photo 19: Standing along the stream in Harie Town. Artesian water flows near the surface here and is used naturally in homes for drinking, cooking and cleaning. Residents maintain the quality of the water and send it from their homes into the stream.

For over 200 years, the residents of Harie have built special buildings for the spring water. Water continuously springs up in a pipe and into a large bowl where it can be used for drinking and cooking. Water spills from the bowl into other bowls and eventually flows into a small pond at the base of the house. Koi (carp), kingyo (goldfish), masu (trout) and other fishes live in these ponds and clean dishes, pots and pans. A long ditch runs along the sides of houses; grates in the walls of these houses allow this water to flow in and out of the ponds, but prevent the fish from leaving (Photos 20 & 21).


Photo 20A: A house built for spring water. Looking into the water house from outside the door. Many dishes and cleaning items can be seen on shelves and hangers over the pond.


Photo 20B: From inside the house the pipe, bowls and ponds can be seen, along with some of the resident koi (carp) and kingyo (goldfish).


Photo 20C: Reiko samples the water with a bamboo cup handed out on the tour. Very refreshing.

Water House

Photo 21A: A smaller water house from the outside.


Photo 21B: Inside a smaller water house.


Photo 21C: Grills let water enter the pond from the ditch and pass back out from the pond. This flushing action helps keep the water clean. Note that water is also flowing continuously from the pipe inside the house.

The fresh spring water is tested regularly and exceeds all health standards – we tried it at several of the houses. The water that flows from houses into the ditch system is as clean as stream water, and flows into the streams in the middle of the town. Residents get together four or five times a year to trim the grasses that build up in the stream. The grasses, fish and other inhabitants clean the water before it enters Lake Biwa (Photo 22). The cool water is also used as a natural refrigerator for tofu makers and to store fresh vegetables in the summer (Photos 23 and 24).


Photo 22: Houses line the stream and have easy access to the water via many sets of stairs. Note the long green grass in the stream that helps remove nutrients from the water. Town residents cut the grass four to five times each year.


Photo 23: This woman makes tofu with the spring water and keeps it fresh in the water. This particular house has been making and selling tofu for over 100 years old.


Photo 24: Our tour guide has built several small basins in front of his house to keep his cucumbers (and other veggies) cool in the summer. The basins are decorated with a few of the ‘Seven Dwarves’ and other characters. Water flows from the basin into the ditch.

Schools bring kids here in the summer on field trips; the kids love to play in the stream. Lake Biwa has been impacted by agricultural run-off around the lake. In Harie, they have built wetlands between their rice paddies and the lake, to minimize these effects. Also, they have developed protected stretches of beach to foster re-growth of the native reeds (Photo 25).


Photo 25: A restoration project on the shore of Lake Biwa to re-establish native reeds.

An unusual problem faces the residents of Harie. Because the water table comes so close to the surface, it is impractical to put sewage pipes far underground. Instead, they have developed a vacuum system that sucks sewage from homes into the main pipe. This system is powered by solar panels and water wheels; they also power street lights (Photos 26 & 27).

Pump & Solar

Photo 26: A small pump house provides the suction to move sewage from this home into the main pipe. It is powered by a solar panel.

Water Wheel

Photo 27: This water wheel powers another sewage pump – visible through the spokes of the water wheel.

This entry was posted in Japan Sabbatical by Robert Reavis. Bookmark the permalink.

About Robert Reavis

I study fish behavior and marine ecology through direct observation while diving. I also teach General Biology, Marine Biology, SCUBA and Scientific Diving at Glendale Community College. This year (2011-2012) I will be in Japan to study Traditional Fisheries and Modern Environmentalism.

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