Safia Minney writes:
Have I ever told you about why I started Global Village in Japan when I was 26?
People Tree grew out of Global Village, a voluntary group I set up to promote sustainable living – a topic that I have been revisiting recently in my new short film.
Newly married, aged 26, I moved to the supposedly swankiest part of Tokyo, Roppongi, near the clubs, ice cream parlours and celebration of all things ‘western’.
The culture shock was not about fitting into Japan, but more where was the real Japan? I remember with humility the night I decided that I had to do something about sustainable living; it was humid August evening, I refused to use the air-con, suddenly the heavens opened, with sheet lightening, the kind that new town girls from temperate Britain are not used to. What looked like barely-used electronics and rubbish bags were lying in heaps around our luxury low rise block. It was surreal. This was nature in its rawest roaring with disgust at our huge over consumption and laughing at our flimsy modernity. Well, that’s how it felt at the time. How does it all add up? When the whole world starts to consume and waste like westerners?
I took photographs of long-suffering friends sitting in piles of rubbish, we designed a campaign and sent these pictures to my local authority and asked what they were doing to promote recycling and second hand – the answer was nothing! At this point I was shopping once a week, with a trolley, travelling across town to the iconic Gaia – one of the pioneer organic eco stores of Tokyo.
Essential Japanese phrases for ecologists …
The first Japanese phrase I learnt was: “sono mama de ii desu!” (I’ll take it like that, no need for more packaging).
I set up Global Village, with friends and students, to promote recycling, organic and local produce and non-animal tested cosmetics. We published guides on thousands of places where you could recycle in Tokyo and Yokohama – all run by local groups, women’s groups, community groups.
We had photo shoots with people wearing their weeks’ worth of waste. We researched and published lists of where to go to buy and eat vegetarian food. 30 years being a vegetarian was met with some hilarity. Sometimes rightly so, there were cult-like macrobiotic practices like chewing 40 times for each mouthful before swallowing … which rather killed off fun conversation over dinner and set you apart from the rest of humanity.
I would take my container to the ‘mom & pop tofu-making shop’ and they would let me buy whatever I wanted – with a little smile: “you’re like the old people around here, we never used to waste when we were growing up”. In Japan, ‘mottainai’ expresses a sadness of being wasteful and has always been a central concept in the environmental movement.
A couple of years later, many of the 55 local authorities did start to set up recycling departments. We also ran talks and events to raise awareness on social justice, fair trade as well as sustainable living.
I recently moved from London to Letchworth, and rather like my move to Japan all those years ago, I thought that three decades later, it would also be a good chance to update my sustainable living habits and skills. The gorgeous, Stephanie Killingbeck, A Life with Less, helped me find my way around zero waste shopping in Letchworth and we looked at what it would take to promote zero waste living in our locality. After protesting with Extinction Rebellion with Steph and other friends we set up Letchworth Regen as a way of proving that as citizens we are ready to reduce our carbon footprint.
Please watch and share our journey…..
With thanks to Amanda Skinner and Shani Crofton Bamboo Turtle Letchworth
Arzuhan and Gulay Cay Miss Green Fingers Letchworth
Stephanie Killingbeck-Turner @A_Life_with_Less
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