|

Here’s Japan’s big, white hope

by Amy Chavez

I read a piece of news the other day that makes me feel that “Japan as No. 3″ may finally be headed in the right direction.

The news is that celebrity actor and general all-round hunk “Wasao” was appointed as special envoy for World Heritage-related activities by the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan. Wasao, originally from Akita Prefecture, stars in a film titled “Wasao,” about his life at a broiled squid shop in the small town of Ajigasawa in Aomori Prefecture. His fans, who include housewives, children, animal lovers and environmentalists, eagerly await the release of his movie next Saturday.

In the meantime, in a ceremony in Tokyo, the film star celebrated his election for the one-year term flanked by lead actress Hiroko Yakushimaru. Wasao reportedly arrived at the ceremony in a white fur coat and a display of big hair that a Harajuku girl would die for. As he walked on stage, Wasao’s cool demeanor and handsome looks elicited shrieks of jubilation from the crowd.

As special ambassador, Wasao will be “engaged in activities such as tree-planting” (presumably digging holes and fertilizing each tree after it is planted) in the Shirakami Mountains, a designated World Natural Heritage site which spans Aomori and Akita prefectures. These mountains are home to the last remaining virgin Siebold’s beech trees that used to cover most of northern Japan. Wasao, known for his love of wildlife — especially birds — is keen to increase awareness of the endangered birds in the Shirakami mountains, including the golden eagle and the black woodpecker. Japanese serows and black bears are also said to live there.

Japan has two other World Natural Heritage sites that Wasao will also represent: the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido (named a World Natural Heritage site in 2005) and the Yakushima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture (inscripted in 1993).

Wasao hopes to help preserve Shiretoko’s endangered species including endemic animals to Japan like the Blackiston’s fish owl and some endemic plants as well, like the Viola kitamiana. Although Shiretoko is best known for its seasonal formations of sea ice, the site also provides a habitat for globally threatened sea birds who, rather than taking direct flights to their destinations, prefer to go via Shiretoko on their migrations. Thus, Wasao is hoping to preserve this important airport for migrant birds. He really has a passion for birds.

Regarding Wasao’s plans for Yakushima Island, famous for its ancient Japanese cedar trees, he once again turned to his passion of birding, hoping to bring attention to the Ryukyu robin and the Japanese wood pigeon who live in the forests of Yakushima. While most people are already familiar with the sacred yakusugi cedar trees that can live up to thousands of years, there are also kosugi, trees younger than 1,000 years. To help preserve these trees, Wasao would like to take more fire prevention efforts, mainly by having more fire hydrants installed in the forest.

How exactly Wasao plans on moving around Japan’s three designated World Natural Heritage sites, from his home near the Shirakami Mountains in northern Japan to Shiretoko Penninsula in Hokkaido and then down to Yakushima off the tip of Kyushu, is unknown. However, rumors are circulating that he will lease Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel, for an undisclosed amount, throughout the one-year term.

Congratulatory letters to Wasao have poured in from around the globe: one from Tama the Station Master cat in Wakayama (promoted in 2007); London-based originator of feline bling, “Hello Kitty” (named Japan Tourism Ambassador in 2008); and also from Japan’s “anime ambassador” Doraemon (appointed in 2008). At the ceremony, Wasao acknowledged the contributions of these mascots in helping pave the way for his election as special ambassador in 2011.

All I can say is that it appears that Japan is finally waking up to its ineffective leaders and is at least thinking outside the box. I mean, can these animals do any worse to the country than the current leaders? These animals, all of them up-standing citizens who have never been convicted of corruption, scandal or ethnocentricity, are risking their lives to lead this country in the right direction. Everyone should paws to think about this.

There are those who doubt Wasao’s abilities and it remains to be seen if he is mature enough to endure the rigorous work schedule ahead including exhausting travel, frequent meetings with VIPs and celebrity functions. On the other hand, his fans point to his reputation for being able to sleep and bathe anywhere while on the road, and his ability to breeze through even the most boring meetings with just an occasional sigh. One thing you’ve got to love about Wasao is that he just keeps on smiling.

It may be true that Japan as a country is going to the dogs, but at least it is going to a big, white, furry dog like Wasao who doubles as a movie star.

If Wasao proves to be an effective ambassador, it may show us that after all these years of electing ineffective leaders, we’ve just been barking up the wrong tree.