Excuse me for a moment if I boast, but I am delighted with the progress my backyard is making in its quest for biological diversity. No doubt my neighbors view my garden as unruly and overgrown, but as it’s no bigger than a parking space, I let it have its way.
I limit yard work to sporadic weeding and trimming, which means that whenever I do venture beyond my postage-stamp-size lawn into the rest of the yard, I always find something surprising. Just last weekend, I found three lizards and a spiraling, delicate purple flower — a unique and endangered species in my yard, if not globally.
Anytime is a good time to learn about our natural environment, but summer is perhaps the best. Family vacations, summer-school programs, beach visits, walks, even hacking through garden weeds, all offer a chance to explore the natural world.
Japan is blessed with incredible geographic and biological diversity, but more and more young people never look beyond their own backyards. Despite being more “connected” to information than any previous generation, Japanese kids now know less — or care less — than their parents do about the world around them. In fact, according to Francoise Simon and Mary Woodell, authors of “The Industrial Green Game,” Japan is the only developed nation whose young people are less environmentally conscious than their parents.
We are never too young, or too old, to learn more about the environment, so here are some suggestions for connecting kids, and ourselves, to the world around us.
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Parents looking for hands-on environmental education programs for kids might like to get in touch with the Ocean Family-Hayama Center, an organization started by Jack Moyer, a marine biologist, and his colleague, Yoshiaki Unno, an environmental educator. Ocean Family runs summer programs for sixth- through eleventh-graders as well as some marine courses for adults. The programs focus on coastal species and ecosystems and also introduce some of the threats to the oceans — from pollution to warming temperatures.
Ocean Family programs offer young people a chance to explore and understand both the mysteries and the problems of our seas. The instructors are also particularly interested in providing an opportunity to develop human relationships, so they aim to help participants build self-esteem and peer friendships, as well as develop important social skills, while learning together.
This summer, Ocean Family programs will be held in Okinawa, on the Izu Islands, on Oshima Island, and on Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture. Though most of the programs are already full, there are still places on the Sado Island program (Aug. 23-28). This five-night, six-day program will give children a chance to experience snorkeling, diving and fish observation and also to explore coastal ecosystems, both marine and terrestrial. The cost is 57,000 yen.
In August, the Ocean Family team will hold two instructor-training courses for adults. These Ocean School programs will be held on Sado Island prior to the children’s program, and places are still available.
Families and individuals of all ages may also like to check out the opportunities offered by Ocean Family in Hayama, Kanagawa Prefecture, on the coast near Zushi City. The staff of the new center there provide nature-experience programs for local schools as well as snorkeling, diving and sea-kayaking programs for the public.
Moyer has been living on Miyake Island for more than 50 years, working as a biologist and educator. A dedicated conservationist, he has written a number of children’s books and is an environmental education consultant. He also writes for The Japan Times. Unno is a nature and environment education instructor, specializing in wildlife. On Miyake Island he has worked as a nature guide and helped elementary schools and citizens’ groups promote experiential environment education. A third instructor, Takashi Otake, specializes in mammals and has taught environmental education programs in Kiyosato, Yamanashi Prefecture, and on Miyake Island.
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Also this summer, an event that may be bringing environmental awareness closer to you is the sixth annual BEE ride, sponsored by Bicycle for Everyone’s Earth. BEE is a nonprofit organization working to foster environmental awareness in communities across Japan, and in addition to promoting environmental-education activities, it raises money for nonprofit environmental organizations working to preserve the natural environment.
The annual BEE Ride is a bike-a-thon from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Along the way, the BEE Team holds classes on environmental issues, organizes beach and trail clean-ups, holds press conferences and meets with local and national policy-makers.
In years past, BEE riders have held more than 100 events focusing public attention on issues such as energy conservation and alternative energy sources, waste minimization, sustainable agriculture and fair trade. They have also raised more than $40,000.
This year, between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31, the BEE riders will pedal through 31 prefectures and hold more than 50 educational and fundraising events, including school visits, clean-ups, community forums and broadcast events. With support from sponsors, BEE organizers hope this year to raise more than $22,000 for nonprofit organizations.
Six riders, representing Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States, will take part in the 4,000-km ride. According to BEE-rider Tucker Gilman, two of the main events this summer will be a presentation and charity party in Tokyo on Aug. 31, and an Ishikawa Eco-weekend — a series of seminars and clean-ups in the Kanazawa area of Ishikawa Prefecture — on Sept. 14 and 15.
The BEEs are eager to involve as many people as possible in this summer’s events, said Gilman, and want to “encourage people in Japan and [the riders’] home countries to think about small changes they can make in their daily lives to help preserve our shared environment.” The riders embrace the maxim, “Think globally, act locally,” and hope that this message — not just their bright-yellow outfits and trailers — will catch the attention of those they meet this summer.