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Cycling community offers helping hand to fair trade

Around 200 riders hit Tokyo to visit shops, promote products

by Chris Mackenzie

During the three weeks between the Earth Day Festival in Tokyo on April 17 and Waorld Fair Trade Day last Saturday, cyclists and supporters of fair trade were busy threading their way through the dense Tokyo traffic with the help of a map that connected the dots between some of the main outlets selling fair trade produce in Tokyo.

Organized by Fair Trade Cycling, the event marked an effort to connect “ethical” consumers and outlets from around Tokyo, counting on the support of 13 outlets and around 180 cyclists to spread word of the movement, which is aimed at promoting sustainable trade and helping marginalized producers in developing countries.

Participating stores and cafes ranged from high-profile brands like People’s Tree and The Body Shop, both in Omotesando, to smaller and less well-known outlets, such as Lamapada II in Nakano Ward and Earth Cafe Ohana in Setagaya Ward.

“We’ve seen quite a lot of cyclists since the event started, it’s a great idea . . .,” said Youko Yoshida, manager of People’s Tree in Omotesando, a U.K.-based store that is seen as a model for initiative and enterprise in fair trade development and deals with producers in as many as 15 countries.

Her sentiment was typical of the enthusiasm that greeted the fusion of the two activities by the participants.

Created at the Fair Trade Forum (Japan) in December, FTC is the brainchild of Ko Kitazawa, a founding member and the creative driving force behind the group. “I like cycling and also fair trade, so I just combined two of my interests,” he explained.

As a consultant to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, Kitazawa’s involvement in fair trade includes work translating books on the subject and working with a fair trade certification body based in Germany.

As a cyclist, his professional roots extend to his involvement with “Of Spirit” mountain biking and cycling development.

“The approaches of cyclists and of fair trade shoppers are very similar . . . Both are a response to the big global issues, such as energy conservation, global warming, trade justice and poverty,” he said. “Cycling and fair trade awareness are ways that we can respond to these issues in our everyday lives . . . I think they can can be very compatible.”

Despite the economic climate these days, he is cautiously optimistic about the prospects for fair trade in Japan.

“It’s growing for sure, though still not as widespread like in other countries, such as the U.K. Access to fair trade goods can sometimes be difficult. Not many supermarkets have fair trade produce so it can be kind of difficult to buy everyday products easily,” he said.

Along the cycling route, increased visibility for fair trade products is something that resonated especially among smaller establishments that often cut an incongruous appearance against the built-up urban enclosures of Tokyo.

“Our shop cannot be seen from the outside because it’s not on the streets. It’s not like people come into our shop. People who don’t know beforehand can’t find us and through activities like FTC we can become more easily recognized,” said Terumi Hasegawa, whose shop, Patchwork, is located in the Tokyo Women’s Plaza at the back of the United Nations building in what 12 years ago used to be a convenience store.

Participating cyclists that visited her store included a group of university students who came from as far afield as Ibaraki during Golden Week.

Like Kitazawa, Hasegawa feels that awareness of fair trade has grown steadily over the years.

“When we started the shop, only a limited few groups like students or young people were conscious of fair trade, but now people are aware even without my having to explain,” she said.

Ayako Okuda, a store worker at Grassroots in Shibuya, which celebrated its 14th anniversary last month, sees a similar pattern.

“Sales are not going up, but I think that shoppers who are already familiar with fair trade are increasing and more people are asking whether Grassroots is a fair trade shop,” she said.

To capitalize on the growing awareness of fair trade, FTC decided to embrace technology. With the incentive of prizes, participants were encouraged to cycle to each place through a point system that was activated through mobile phones at each location. Its straightforward registration process on the Web site and Twitter are also playing vital roles.

“We’ve had around 4,000 visitors to our Web site and we’re getting about 100 page views daily,” said Tomoya Akiba, communications manager at the nonprofit organization Shaplaneer, who designed and runs the Web site for FTC.

For the future, the group hopes to inspire similar action further afield.

“So far, there has been a good response from organizations in Hokkaido, Osaka, and Nagoya,” said Takako Ueda, a Shaplaneer employee who is one of the organizers of the event.

For Kitazawa, who has recently been busy organizing a season of fair trade films at Uplink in Shibuya, it is all part of the ongoing campaign. “I would like to see supermarkets and mainstream shops playing a bigger role. . . . Fair trade is seen as something special, but I don’t think it should be special. It should be usual. It is growing, but we are still developing.”

The Fair Trade Cycling Web site can be found at: fairtradecycling.web.fc2.com/ Follow them on twitter at: twitter.com/ftcycling. A week of movies involving fair trade will run from Tuesday through Saturday at Uplink Cinema in Shibuya: www.uplink.co.jp/top.php