Weeks have gone by, but if I close my eyes and tune out the bustling streets of Tokyo, I can still picture myself in the vineyards of Takahada, listening to the slight patter of rain on vinyl and Arae-san’s stories about the local people. I can still remember the elementary school we visited, donned with wooden flooring and filled with the chattering of children. I can see the huge windows overlooking mountains and lush green fields, an expanse of land as far as the eye can see. This fieldwork opportunity was the first time I’ve ever experienced organic farming up close, and Takahada will always have a special place in my heart.
For me, the entire semester had been a slow buildup. While I was intrigued by the idea of exploring environment through culture, I didn’t really start to conceptualize the scale of environmental issues until we started looking at case studies of pollution in Japan. Just like it is with prevalent social issues, we are often well aware that environmental issues exist and with good intentions, we preach everything from recycling to the use of green energy. However, the truth is that no matter how much of a adamant advocate of environmental protection one claims to be, very few people actually take the effort and go out of their way to adopt more eco-friendly habits in reality. While the majority of people would confidently say yes when asked if they care about the environment, a significantly lower number of people would actually use reusable shopping bags rather than endorse the use of excessive plastic ones and only a few would actually pick up litter on the streets. Since taking this class, I’ve made more of a conscious effort to use my own tote bag instead of taking plastic bags in convenient stores and supermarkets, and I’ve become a little more careful when it comes to recycling. However. I still buy drinks and obentos fairly often, and I know that there are still plenty of ways I can cut down on plastic use in my daily life. Taking this class has helped me become a little more self-reflective in my daily choices and I’m a bit more keen on following news regarding environmental policies. Somewhere in the middle of the semester I learned that Taiwan has banned the use of plastic straws in many shops, and I felt gratified that such a policy has come into place. Governmental regulation can be quite an efficient way to reduce wastefulness and curb pollution, but honestly it really is up to every one of us to take environmental matters into our own hands. Environmental awareness isn’t just painting a picture of the Earth on a banner and parading around with nice slogans; it’s a lifestyle that we can consciously choose to adopt. With a modern day culture that prides convenience above pretty much everything else, even simple tasks like bringing your own wattle bottle could feel like a chore for many people. Yet there was a time when people lived in peaceful harmony with nature, and with collective effort, we may be able to head in that direction again.
The very air felt festive. Ukulele chords spiraled up into the air, tangling up with the sweet laughter of kids running around, chasing bubbles. Bright vendors selling goods of every variety lined the grass, and cheerful people managing the stands mingled with customers, sharing a beer and stories and occasionally a hearty laugh escapes, making the day feel brighter than it already was. It felt like just another mid-spring festival; there was just this little added bonus that this particular rock festival was plastic free.
After happily wandering around the premises, we set off to work by interviewing people there to find out people’s opinions on the condition of Kamakura beaches and the environmental situation in Japan in general. Most of the foreigners we talked to said that they have a pretty good impression of Japanese beaches, describing them as clean and well-maintained. Locals however, had quite a different opinion- they thought many beaches had room for improvement when it comes to cleanliness. When asked about their image of foreign beaches, those who have travelled abroad all described their experiences at foreign beaches as a pretty nice experience. We concluded that tourist areas are often better maintained than other beaches that are less popular among foreigners, so as a foreigner, people often see the well-packaged, beautiful side of a country, when in fact environmental issues exist in everywhere in the world.
Later, we went to the beach and started doing some beach cleaning when we saw plastic and other kinds of garbage stranded there in the sand. Much to our surprise, we came across another guy who was also doing the same thing we were doing. When we asked why he was picking up trash on the beach, he simply said that he saw a stray plastic bag lying there on the beach and thought that he could put it to used by picking up some litter. Hopefully one day this kind of mindset wouldn’t be such a rare thing; our planet would be a much nicer place should that be the case.
Some moments are bittersweet; you know even as you are living them that you will miss these times dearly when they’re gone. For me, those moments were when I was riding a truck with my friends down a bumpy road; it was sitting on the bare grass in a circle sipping coffee from an ice-cooler, munching on snacks that taste so much better after half a day of work. It was listening to Arae-san telling us the story of how farmers chased the wild animals away and seeing how his face lit up showing us the electric seat he customized to harvest grapes in a convenient fashion. It was the feeling of being surrounded by nature after being in the sprawling cement forest of a busy metropolitan for so long, the feeling that a dose of fresh air may be enough to quell all my worries.
Takahada was a nice break for the ever-busy life in Tokyo. It also opened my eyes to the struggles of local farmers and challenges of implementing organic practices in Japan. Without the support of the government, it is often difficult and costly for local farmers to change their farming practices, even when health issues and heightened awareness led them to thrive towards a more active push for change. As a shopper at a supermarket, my image of organic products are simply that they are not so affordable. However, after my experience in Takahada, I have more respect for those who are trying to implement more environmental friendly methods and have a more thorough understanding of the repercussions of using chemical pesticides. I also feel that more people should explore the disconnect between urban and rural areas. I feel this disconnect is largely responsible for the lack of informed consumer choices, and by addressing this gap both farmers and consumers alike can work towards life choices that help maintain a sustainable environment.