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‘Pandas’ warmly greeted by ‘Sloth’ of Japan

November 11, 2011

Among many groups or figures visiting here to ally with slow movement in Japan, perhaps guest from China has been considered to be one of the last. In the more tremendous speed, China outpaces Japan in terms of economic growth, the more doubt people may have if any grass rooted civic group from there will start benchmarking their neighborhood seeking for the other side of ‘growth’. But we have a happy surprise ! PCD (Partnership Community Development) is one of a homegrown NGO actively running multiple vital projects in mainland China. Their project sites extend from Guangxi to Guizhou Province including Sichuan and Yunnan, mostly west side of China – which are benefited by rich multi-cultural bases of racial minority groups and beautiful natures fitting to agriculture and tourism – Above all, still less pampered by strong growth of economy and development fevering entire China. The group of 20 people from each province including their staffs, allied researchers and activists visited Shiga and Nara Prefecture, Kansai area of Japan in September 2011.

Shiga and Nara, next door of Kyoto, an ancient capital of Japan has much to share with visitors from China, local’s love and pride on the nature and their millennium preserved tradition, featured with sustainable and environmentally friendly life style. However, the real catch was lessons and learned from their experience of deadly destruction of environment and an incessant effort for restoration over the last century – how regrettable it was when they found the detrimental outcome of industrialization to the nature and the community, while being indulged in economic growth, and how much effort had to be made to follow through even no where near to the full recovery.

Shiga prefecture is famous with the biggest lake of Japan – Biwako (named after Chinese Lute, Biwa, due to its shape), which is located at the center of the region and her ecological system is also centered at the People’s traditional life – rice paddies along the lake, fishes and a pre-dominant water reservoir itself for all the life activities. The itinerary has been arranged to visit various spots located along the lakeside.

The journey had been set off with an evening speech by the incumbent governor of Shiga Prefecture, Miss Yukiko KADA at Otsu city. As one of the researcher and activist who had been engaged with an environmental subject of Biwa lake since 1980es, she could deliver very comprehensive historical and even religious context of the lake in addition to the restoration projects of Biwa lake- which is not just the quality of the water but also sustainable economy and associated lifestyle. Especially, her last comment with the photo of sunset scenery conjecturing Buddhist Paradise (West Pure Land), that she wishes Shiga Prefecture to be a place where people could not only live well but also die in peace, moved many attendees.

Governor Miss KADA explains about Shiga at the first night

For the following 2 days, the group paid a visit several sites focused on agriculture and local community.

1st Day –

The morning site was an organic farming school, Hareyaka Farm (http://www.umaretateyasai.com). This is a NPO and also a government subsidized entity for helping those who want to find their new career in farming. Among trainees, there were also young people who migrated from Kanto area in the fear of radioactivity contamination from Fukushima nuclear plant.

The PCD participants try dissemination of onion seeds at Hareyakafarm

In the afternoon, the group enjoyed a boat trip to one of rarely preserved inner lake, full of reeds. Like typical mistakes of reclaiming project for wetlands along the river and the costal area, the functioning of inner lake for breeding of fish and purification of water has not been properly counted when most of them turned to rice paddies in order to increase the rice production after the world war II. Gonza (http://gonza.jp) is a small village living off rice plantation and fishing along this inner lake. The group has been invited to community centre of Gonza afterward.

Sukuyaki served at Gonza with great entertainment

Three presentations have been made in a row about history of Gonza, nationwide project of ‘rape flower’ and general introduction of PCD. Last but not the least, tasty Sukiyaki dinner followed. All ingredients produced from the region – freshness guaranteed including local Sake. Even the expensive local delicacy cuisine (Funazushi – Fermented Sushi) has been tasted. When everybody well mingled and got upbeat, entertainment couldn’t be missed. The PCD participants from Guangxi province sang a folk song of local minority group (Zhuang Tribe) and a few more from each region of China, then Gonza residents also responded with local song. The warm mood and friendly chat about Japan and China lasted till late.

2nd Day –

The schedule started from e-Mura where a local farming union shares the land and the labor to protect this small but cozy community. For that purpose, the group is exclusive to the original residents. Hourly pay for any type of effort and skill is the same and even most of elderlies over their age of 80es actively participate. The chief of the village stressed the idea is to build resilient community and to protect the common asset of the village under any circumstances, being the shelter and the last resort.

The next site was in the deep mountainous area of Ibuki. On the contrary to e-Mura, villages here are welcoming outsiders to settle to revamp the community. Several young and new settlers with various backgrounds shared their story and the dream over the delicious mountain bento lunch.

at Ibuki lifestyle museum

The last site of the day was Doppomura (http://doppo.jpn.org), a school-based community with apprenticeship of carpenters and farmers. Young people with working experience under age of 30 can apply for the 3 years course of co-work and living. Mr. Shimizu and Mr. Matsumoto, founder of the community, believe this unique combination of skills enable young people to stand on their foot for living, i.e. Housing and Food. The traditional Japanese carpentry skill is complemented by modern design and technology – composting, solar panel, maximum utilization of sun ray and natural ventilation, say ‘passive house’. A fresh vegetarian dinner was arranged with a presentation by Miss Chen, an environmental researcher from Sichuan province, Supported by PCD. Miss Chen explained the effort to protect the Jinsha River, a upstream of River Yangtze. Promotion of organic farming was the key point to reduce the usage of herbicide and pesticide flown to the river from the neighboring farms. But she also highlighted the basic principle that a natural eco system of curved river stream is the best and the most efficient water purifying mechanism never be rivaled by any man-made environmental technology.

Refreshing Vegeterian Supper at Doppomura

There was a wrap-up session of the Shiga prefecture at the accommodation of the night. The coordinator of the tour, Mr. UEDA delivered a heart-felt message about his project – folding screen drawing of heartland, Shiga. Each piece of painting on the screen is made by local kids and painters, collating the past and the present of the region. Much thought and feeling shared among PCD participants before closing of the day – then what impressed them most was all the amazing effort by local people of Shiga to preserve local culture and nature of community was not made in ‘big project’ promoted by government or large institution but made in ordinary people’s daily life based on the affection and passion for their hometown.

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