November 2011

November 25, 2011 (Fri)Tokyo Green Change Makers Unite

Dear Eco Channel Friends,
It’s Ginger here. Last weekend I helped coordinate a session called “Green Change Makers,” for Global Entrepreneurship Week in Tokyo.  It turned out to be a great opportunity to learn about how green entrepreneurs are kicking off worthwhile business endeavors in Tokyo and around the world.  Read on for more..

Reina OtsukaThe speakers and guests trickled in one by one, slowly filling up the modest workshop space for the session titled “Green Change Makers.” Reina Otsuka, founder of Eco Waza magazine and I had joined hands as part of Global Entrepreneurship week to help shed light on what Eco-minded entrepreneurs were doing in Tokyo and to help entrepreneurs in hiding (like me) get motivated to take some steps forward in their business ideas.
*Photo:Reina Otsuka, Eco Waza magazine stands by a presenter at Foresta Cafe.

So what was the week all about anyway?  Well, Global Entrepreneurship Week is the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators, who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare.   Our session featured  “Green Entrepreneurs” (those whose business involves environmental issues), who had started their businesses in Japan and were so far managing to get ahead.

Peo Ekberg and SatokoThe keynote speaker kicked off with Peo Ekberg, a friend and colleague from “Green Style Japan,” who has launched a sustainable services business with his wife Satoko.  He presented their progress regarding their Banana Paper project in Africa.  The two founded a way to make banana paper from dried banana threads to create high quality paper which helps protect forests, is highly sustainable, and engages the local community (it provides jobs for poor women in rural Africa). As the emcee of the session, I asked Peo, “Why did you start this project in the first place?”  He answered, “We love animals in Africa, and we wanted to support the local community in a place that was so rich in wildlife and nature.”  
*Photo:Peo Ekberg and Satoko from the "Banana Paper Project" are all smiles.

Ivy Oldford, an independent director supports the event.Eco Channel team Yuka Kawamura and Takeshi Hattori members were a great help.Upon hearing his answer, I looked around the room to see many others nodding in agreement as they also were supporting projects that they truly believed in. The rest of the afternoon was filled with a 7-minute speaker series, which consisted of speakers giving a brief overview of their business and products, which included everything from green design projects like:  Newsed Project, NPO Good Day, Gobai Midori (5xGreen), and one of the most memorable “Tie for Change.”
*Photo:Eco Channel team Yuka Kawamura and Takeshi Hattori members were a great help./Ivy Oldford, an independent director supports the event.

The founder of “Tie for Change,” Hiromi Morimoto did a great job of incorporating the theme of “fun” into her business.  Based on the thousands of neckties she discovered were discarded every year in Japan, a city chock-full of suited up salary men, she began an initiative where she not only did necktie exchange parties, but also made new products such as clips and trinkets from necktie fabric.

The necktie project reminded me of the clothing swap movement in Japan that is gaining popularity called “Xchange,” which was featured on Green Style Japan last year

Clothing Xchange(Green Style Japan)Clothing Xchange(Green Style Japan)

I’ll have more on Green Change Makers in the future. Have a great weekend and see you next time.

Posted at:17:18  |  Category:Columns  |  Tokyo Green Change Makers Unite   |  Comments(0) | Trackbacks(0)

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November 18, 2011 (Fri)Forest Therapy For Stressed-out Tokyoites

Dear Eco Channel Friends,

Autumn perfection in Uenomura Village, GunmaIt’s Ginger here.  Yesterday I went to Gunma to learn about a new kind of natural healing called “Forest Therapy,” that is recognized as a serious form of therapy within medical circles here in Japan.  Read on for more.. I met Dr.Michiko Imai, a renowned doctor and mountaineer at the breakfast table at a remote hotel deep in the forests of Uenomura village in Gunma prefecture, north of Tokyo.  We both had arrived late the night before and I was wiping sleep from my eyes when I ran into her.

Dr.Imai teaches me about “Are you ready to start nature therapy?  But first we have to check your stress level,” said the energetic Doctor, clad in flannel and hiking boots.  Although she was dressed for the outdoors, there was something very official about her and I knew I was in more than just a walk in the woods.

I put litmus paper under my tongue to test levels of corticosteroids, basically stress hormones.  “Your stress level reads 41…that’s not so good.  But you did just get back from Tokyo and everyone’s level is high coming from the city. Blood pressure is okay though…the number will improve, you’ll see,” said an optimistic Dr.Imai.

(Dr.Imai teaches me about "Forest Therapy")

I thought I was feeling pretty good, but I had a rough week of traveling and work, which I was told produced underlying stress that would take a while to work out. 

“Follow me, walk slowly, very slowly, and smell what’s around you,” explained the doctor as she took super slow steps down a forest path.   “And don’t forget, just you're your senses.” 

The crisp air filled my lungs and the sounds of animals, birds and deer in the woods took over. I could hear the sound of water from a distance and soon we were facing a glorious waterfall, bursting with ice-cold water from high above.   I leaned over to touch the water…ice cold!  If it was summer, I would have been in the clear pool gathered at the base of the waterfall, but I was shivering from the chill and carefully watched my steps not to fall in.

View of trees from belowNear the falls stood an elevated wooden platform the size of two parking spaces.   “Lie back and relax.  Listen to nature, and take it easy.  You can sleep, but don’t think too much,” said the doctor.  “Yes, I can definitely do that,” I said, laying back and focusing on the intricate pattern of naked branches above.  A sudden breeze brought the few remaining leaves down on top of me, and I was literally being sprinkled by nature’s best. 

“How’s the stress” asked the doctor lying next to me.  “What stress?” I responded with a smile, and then reclosed my eyes to let nature continue to do it’s healing.

(Photo:View of trees from below)

We’ll have more on “Nature Therapy” in the newest Green Style Japan series coming up February 2012.  Fore more on how healing experts are using nature, check out  this video clip on “Heart Healing Food”

Heart Healing Food(Green Style Japan)Heart Healing Food(Green Style Japan)

And for you Eco Channel Entrepreneurs out there, stay tuned for next week’s blog.
This weekend, I’ll be helping host an event focusing on staring your own sustainable business called “Green Change Makers” with Reina Otsuka from Eco Waza magazine.  This event is part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, which highlights the merits of starting your own business.  We’ve invited young Japanese entrepreneurs to share their stories about how they got started and also veteran green entrepreneurs who are leaders in their field.

See you next week!

Posted at:16:48  |  Category:Columns  |  Forest Therapy For Stressed-out Tokyoites   |  Comments(0) | Trackbacks(0)

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November 2, 2011 (Wed)Joining Hands For Ishinomaki-Part 2

Dear Eco Channel Friends,
It’s Ginger here.  Last weekend I volunteered with Peace Boat as part of Team United Nations University to help clean up a debris-ridden coastal area, Kobuchihama in Ishinomaki city.   Read on for more..

36 other volunteers.I received the email just as I was contemplating what I would I wear for Halloween. It was from the United Nations University and read: “Last Opportunity” in red letters followed by “Volunteer Trip to Tohoku Affected Area.”  Hmmm, I looked at the two costume choices I had, either a pirate outfit that came with a cheap styrofoam sword and some shoe polish to black out a tooth, or a very unconvincing gypsy getup that didn’t excite me in the least.  It was a no-brainer, I quickly wrote to the organizer,Dr. Akhilesh Surjan from the United Nations University, that I'd be on the bus Friday evening, that heads up to the Peace Boat facility in Ishinomaki with the 36 other volunteers.

When I got on the bus, I was pleasantly surprised to see it filled with volunteers of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds.  Many were from the United Nations University and related groups, and included family members and friends.  At 6:02am, we arrived in Ishinomaki at the Peace Boat base, which is Kaska Fashion, a two-story building, which used to be a clothing warehouse. After setting up our “space” which just meant throwing down your sleeping bag, we geared up and went to our group meeting.

After the ritual morning exercise with lively background music and all, it was decided that our group would head to Kobuchihama, a fishing port about an hour away by bus that had been badly damaged by the tsunami.  It had been worked on by other volunteers for weeks and this would be the final day of clean up. Our main group leader, Asuka said, "This place was destroyed by the tsunami and we've been working at it. It looks a lot better, but there's still work to do. This is our last day of work and we'd like you to think about those people who are returning here, those returning to their home. It will be unsettling for them to come back to this area with it still covered in debris. Please do your best."”  What she said had made an impact and I looked at the volunteers next to me and we exchanged nods, as that was all the motivation we needed to get going.

The hour bus ride provided views of the devastated city, which helped me re-grasp what I had seen for myself just over a month ago.  Images of the tsunami sweeping over the city came to mind as I stared at the window, looking at the desolate land with many tilted homes with the lower floors completely demolished and the foundations of buildings swept away.  The bus was quiet although we were all thinking the same thing; how terrible and frightening it must have been on March 11th.

We got to the Kobuchihama, our clean up site, and were told a few things that raised a few eyebrows, by our team leader Askua:
1)    If you get bit by a snake, I’ll take you to a hospital
2)     If you get punctured by a nail, you might get tetanus, so I’ll take you to a hospital
3)    The tide comes in between 2-3pm, it’ll flood so be ready to work hard until then
4)    Be careful and work hard

Ginger with Peace Boat team leader Asuka.Hmmm, I couldn’t help but ask. “Excuse me, what do you mean the tide comes in?” I asked with a lot of curious volunteers listening intently, also wanting to know the answer.  She told us the ground had literally sunk half a meter or more in some places due to the earthquake and would flood our clean-up site.  The bus would not be able to get through the water, so it would park on a hill and wait for us there.(Ginger with Peace Boat team leader Asuka.)

Ginger with Peace Boat team leader Asuka.From a distance, the area we were assigned to clean up looked okay.  But upon closer examination, we could see that a lot of little items from plastic bags, and broken bottles to caps, to larger things like sludge-soaked tatami, fiber-glass boat pieces and wooden planks were strewn around the area, deep into the surround forest covered in sludge.  Some of the items that got my attention: a new cassette tape from the 1980s still covered in plastic, a woman’s hand mirror, and a plastic hair barrette with an elephant on it.

Clam shell mystery solved!And that’s when they appeared!   Those short hard plastic tube parts, which I had seen before and picked up at least 300 (lost count!) of last time I was in Ishinomaki, were starting to surface.I couldn't contain my curiosity and asked, "Excuse me, does anyone know what these are?"No one knew, but next to it lie a string of large shells, maybe 40 or so knotted together, similar to a giant necklace.  One of my teammates who had come all the way from Osaka to volunteer, told me the stringed shells were used to breed oysters and that’s when it all made sense.  Each shell and knot was a short piece of hard plastic tubing, just like the ones I had seen littered all over Nagahama beach just a month ago.   The ones we found then were brand new and we had concluded just by the sheer number of them, they must have been a bulk shipment lost at sea for some medical parts firm.  We were wrong, but I felt a sense of satisfaction to know the truth to that little mystery.

We used baskets with handles on the sides, the same ones used by fisherman to load sludge-covered debris.  The big debris on the surface had been picked up weeks ago and we were pulling at deep-rooted fishing nets, car parts, and boat pieces that was lodged so deep in the soil that it required many hands and tools to cut them out.Volunteers I had just met less than 12 hours before helped me lift heavy debris-filled baskets, which we carried over sinking planks as the tide came in to the dump sight.

As the tide came in, we called it a day. I walked through the water in my high rubber boots and looked back at the affected site that we had worked on, hoping that one day it would look and feel like home again to the locals here.

Now for this week’s video features the “Tohoku Unity Project”

Tohoku Unity Project(Green Style Japan)Tohoku Unity Project(Green Style Japan)

a recovery-assistance effort, which combines the resources of 60 firms and organizations to help provide sustainable energy in disaster-hit areas.

Thanks for staying tuned.  See you next week!

Posted at:16:59  |  Category:Columns  |  Joining Hands For Ishinomaki-Part 2   |  Comments(2) | Trackbacks(0)

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