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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).