Thinking about the environment through culture.
That was interesting. Though easy to understand why culture and the environment are two interwoven factors that constantly affect one another, its not a point of view I find myself or many others looking from when we speak of the environment. Through hands on experience and field trips, this class encouraged such a way of thinking, and taught me several new things as well.
The first field trip we had within the class was to an area called Kamakura. A charming place, really. We were split into groups and tasked with interviewing people around the Kamakura area about various environmental issues, to gauge receptiveness and understanding of people within the area regarding said issues. In short, people were very much aware of the issues, and had in many ways taken even small steps towards maintaining environmental sustainability and friendliness.
After that, we all got to relax at the beach for an hour or so, while also continuing a bit of our interviews and observing our surroundings. What surprised a lot of us was how much trash was actually on the beach. When you just stroll by, sure, a couple empty bottles or wrappers are probably noticeable. Yet when you actively start looking for trash, there is a surprising amount lying just beneath the sand, including glass and metal shards which are clearly hazardous.
Who was responsible for all the trash though? The tourists? The locals? Both?
Honestly, does it really matter? More importantly, arguably, is not who contributed to the waste the most, because I dare say both tourists and locals dumped trash in the beach several times, but why people aren’t picking up the trash at their feet. Perhaps promoting a sense of shared responsibility – promoting the idea that even if it is not our trash, it is our beach – is much more important to maintaining a clean and enjoyable environment.
Our next field trip was to a rural town in the Yamagata Prefecture called Takahata, a few hours north of Tokyo. The Takahata experience was, amongst other things, an enlightening one.
In my childhood I have been exposed relatively often to the world of farming, albeit in Indonesia. It was very interesting – and slightly nostalgic – for me to see how farming is done even in such a rural place in Japan. We were again split into different groups, each getting a different farmer to teach us about their daily lives and how they farm. I was pleasantly surprised to see how they implemented modern technology to make things much more efficient, yet at the same time kept their farming sustainable through the use of traditional methods, such as the manual clearing weeds off of the rice paddies by hand.
I was also surprised by the Junior High School we visited in Takahata, as they taught their students basic farming skills and actually had a small farm in the school grounds. I think it is indeed a very good idea, as the region is historically quite dependent on its agriculture, and the best way for children to figure out if they want to do farming or not is simply by exposing them to it from a young age. Personally, perhaps farming as an extracurricular in schools is not such a bad idea, even if it were limited to simply hydroponics, as it does (at the very least, theoretically) cultivate a sense of understanding and sympathy within students towards farming and ultimately the environment.
In the final class presentation made by my group, we concluded that it was important for future generations to understand and continue to take care of the environment. I still stand by this conclusion, as even if we look at the history of the world in general, we see that the environment and interactions communities had with it has shaped us us in so many ways. It is definitely time we all start taking larger, more confident steps towards environmental protection and sustainability, lest we forget our history, culture, and fail to protect the biggest influence on our lives we take for granted.
1 August 2019