Being part of a worldwide grassroots “festivity” later this week comes at a price, of course — but the price is no price at all, because Nov. 27 is “Buy Nothing Day,” and all you have to do is spend no money.
Launched in 1992 by Canadian activists against the harmful effects of mass-consumption, the annual campaign day aims to encourage consumers not only to refrain from spending money for a day, but also to think about what we are buying every day: Where do all these things come from? Where are they going from here? Are we sure we’re buying what we really, really need?
Globally, the day is set annually for the fourth Saturday in November. In North America, though, it is held a day earlier, on Friday — the day after U.S. citizens celebrate Thanksgiving Day and the beginning of a shopping frenzy that merges seamlessly into Yuletide excess.
Far from being a killjoys’ charter, the campaign’s concerns are serious social and environmental issues that organizers believe more people should consider.
For example, according to a report released during the 2002 UN Earth Summit in Johannesburg, the 15 percent of the world’s population living in developed countries account for 56 percent of total global consumption; while the poorest 40 percent, in low-income nations, account for only 11 percent.
OK, having second thoughts about getting that brand bag you almost bought on impulse wouldn’t hurt. But we do have to get on with our lives, so what about daily needs like food? How about train and bus fares?
Simple as it may sound, a day spent without spending money isn’t easy to achieve. So, to succeed on Buy Nothing Day, perhaps it’s best to play safe and stay home.
According to BND Japan spokesperson Gabi Hadl, this is exactly the point. “It’s a great chance for people to realize how much we depend on money, so much so that we can’t even get out of the house without it,” says Hadl, a native of Austria and a Kyoto resident who first networked the event in Japan in 1999.
Last year, Japan was one of 62 countries to join the celebration of BND, with most supporters here being individuals and nonprofit organizations whose concerns range from environmental issues to ecologically sustainable business and lifestyles.
Although the basic idea of the day is not to use any money, Hadl says it’s up to each person to decide how committed they want to be to that goal. “If someone is concerned about waste issues, they can try not to buy commodities but can be easy about receiving services like transportation. But if you want to really feel what your money buys, you might want to try spending nothing at all,” she says.
While many people may be participating in BND individually, sharing your concerns with others is another way to spread the anticonsumerism word. Consequently, parties and events are scheduled in several areas of Japan, some to raise awareness and others to present alternatives to the usual pattern of production and consumption.
In Tokyo, an NPO called Slothclub is inviting people to its Cafe Slow in Fuchu City to participate in the act of consuming — not by using regular currency, but by spending “local money” in the form of vouchers that promise goods or services from people in the community — as a shift from yen to en (people’s connection). In Osaka, there will be a hunt for BND participants around the Shinsaibashi area; at the Slow Cafe Maki in Niigata Prefecture, a cup of organic fair-trade coffee will cost you 100 grams of rice, 200 grams of flour or five sheets of konbu seaweed. Meanwhile in Kyoto and Okinawa, “Zenta Claus,” a meditating Santa Claus, will be out meditating in the streets, or distributing leaflets about Buy Nothing Day.
It sounds like a fine notion to buy into.