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Emphasizing the positive

New NGO aims to put Japan on 'green' world map

by Stephen Hesse

Perhaps more than any other individual today, Junko Edahiro is striving to share Japan’s environmental successes with the world.

Her new prominence comes after working for many years behind the scenes as an interpreter, translator and journalist striving to bridge the language gap that prevents foreigners from hearing about Japanese advances in environmental policy, law and technology.

Despite her best efforts, though, she explained in a recent interview that she became disheartened by how much needed telling — and just how little was being told.

“As an interpreter at many international meetings in Japan,” she said, “I became frustrated by the huge imbalance between the import and export of information.

“In the field of environment, there are wonderful achievements, inspiring initiatives and grassroots activities at all levels in Japan, including government, companies, nongovernmental organizations and citizens. But many of these good examples and models have not been presented to the wider world, which is a great shame.”

To help rectify this imbalance, last year Edahiro and several others formed a membership-based NGO called Japan for Sustainability, whose primary purpose is to share information about Japan in English over the Internet.

“By disseminating environmental information from Japan to the world, we can stimulate similar activities in developed nations, guide developing nations so that they can leapfrog us on many fronts and promote activities in Japan with feedback from the world,” she said.

Impressive encounters

One of JFS’s and Edahiro’s most enthusiastic supporters is Lester R. Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute and founder and director of the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute.

Edahiro first met Brown several years ago after reading Worldwatch’s annual “State of the World” report. Impressed with his work, she contacted him directly and asked how she could help. Soon after, she began working on Worldwatch translations, and now acts as Brown’s interpreter when he visits Japan.

Brown, in turn, has been impressed with Edahiro’s work, and he now serves as one of three directors of JFS. “Japan for Sustainability is an exciting new venture,” notes Brown on the JFS Web site. “This new organization will be a valuable means for moving Japan, and the world, onto a sustainable path. It also represents an important advance in establishing a strong NGO presence in Japan.”

The other two directors are Professor Ryouichi Yamamoto of the University of Tokyo and Professor Tadahiro Mitsuhashi of the Chiba University of Commerce. JFS also has two chief executives, Edahiro and Hiroyuki Tada, a businessman in the field of environmental communication.

Interestingly, Edahiro was heading in a very different direction before she took up English and environment studies. Initially, after receiving a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Tokyo, she joined a company developing educational materials. Then, 11 years ago, at age 29, she accompanied her husband, a PhD student, to the United States.

“At that time I couldn’t speak English well and I couldn’t understand English TV or radio well,” she recalled. “But during our two years in America I studied hard.” In fact, while raising their infant daughter, she studied as much as 10 hours a day.

When she returned to Japan, Edahiro embarked on her career as a translator and interpreter and gradually became more and more interested in environmental issues.

“I found the environmental field very stimulating and inspiring,” she said. “Environment is about people. It is people who have damaged the Earth and people who are trying to save the Earth. My major was psychology, so I have long been interested in people, their motivation, interaction and communication.”

Edahiro’s interest in people, the environment and information have clearly shaped both the philosophical and practical aims of JFS. As noted in the JFS mission statement, “We share information on developments and activities originating in Japan that lead toward sustainability, with the aim of building momentum toward a sustainable path for the world.”

More specifically, she sees the Web site as having two main strengths. “The JFS Web site is like a ‘one-stop shop’ for law, corporate activities, local government initiatives and NGO activities. We are also an independent NGO, so we can put any information we find interesting and stimulating on the Web,” she explained. In addition, the site provides links to English-language Web pages by Japanese local governments, companies and NGOs and will offer other resources, including historic examples of sustainability from Japan’s past.

Search and deliver

The Web site is free and can be accessed in both English and Japanese. Users can search for information from news clippings, reports and columns in various ways: selecting a category (e.g., energy, technology or material reduction); selecting a player (university/research institute, government, manufacturing industry, and NGO/citizen); entering a keyword; or using a combination of search options.

Some of the latest articles on the site, which also appear in JFS’s most recent newsletter, include: “Japan Green Fund for Renewable Energy Established”; “World’s First On-site Recycling System Eliminates Waste Concrete”; an article on green purchasing and procurement; and the first in a series on “Initiatives and Achievements of Local Governments in Japan” — this one on Nagoya City’s success in reducing domestic waste by 23 percent in just two years through separating it into categories and recycling.

In the future, Edahiro would like to broaden the scope and depth of information on the JFS Web site, as well as pursue an in-depth domestic discussion of the meaning of sustainability for Japan.

“Our name, Japan for Sustainability, has two meanings. One is what we, Japan, can do for the sustainability of the world. The other is moving Japan toward sustainability. We would like to fulfill both missions,” she explained.

Not too surprisingly, JFS has attracted considerable attention overseas. “I have been invited to lecture abroad and to join an international meeting as chief executive of JFS, although we are just four months old,” Edahiro said, clearly pleased that there is so much interest in news from Japan.

Now, if only the added input from JFS can help to invigorate Japan’s environmental sector, perhaps — just maybe — misguided efforts to stimulate the economy by encasing the nation in concrete can be laid to rest, once and for all.