Pop artists band together to tune young people in to alternative energy

by Asako Murakami

OSAKA — Solar and wind power generators were probably the last thing the audience came to see when they went to an open-air concert by the rock group Glay in summer 2001.

But the event, held in Ishikari, Hokkaido, not only gave them the opportunity to enjoy music but also to learn about renewable energy via the generating devices displayed at a booth at the concert arena.

It was the first project undertaken by Artists’ Power, a group of musicians and artists promoting alternative energy that was launched by renowned musician Ryuichi Sakamoto and Glay guitarist Takuro.

The movement, which now has more than 40 members in Japan and has expanded to include artists overseas, all began when Sakamoto met Masaaki Shibata, president of Eiwat Co., a small manufacturer of renewable energy equipment and other machine parts in Mihara, Osaka Prefecture.

“Sakamoto’s wish is to hold a concert using (only) renewable energy sources, and although it has yet to be realized due to the high costs, he is trying to accomplish this,” Shibata said, adding that other artists who do not belong to Artists’ Power also come to him for advice on promoting renewable energy.

The 46-year-old businessman said artists have the power to raise public awareness in environmental issues, especially when they reach out to young people who generally have little interest in such matters.

His prediction seems right so far, judging from comments sent to Artists’ Power’s Web site that show the Glay event and other environmental activities by the artists have helped fans become more aware of environmental problems.

“Getting the audience involved is important” to spread the word about energy issues, Shibata said.

In March 2002, Shibata helped DJ Hisashi Yamada organize a one-microphone concert at Tokyo FM Hall in which the audience was invited to pedal a bicycle to generate electricity.

But Shibata, who inherited his father’s metal processing company in 1994, initially had little interest in environmental issues.

This changed six years ago after he heard a lecture on environmental business and went on a two-week trip to Denmark, Germany and Monaco in September 1997 with the heads of the environment sections at major companies.

“I was very impressed by Denmark’s commitment to wind power, as well as environmental policies in Germany, and thought the future of (Japan’s) business lies in environment-related businesses,” he said. Upon returning to Japan, he shifted his to renewable energy.

Only in recent years have major Japanese companies like trading house Tomen Corp. entered the wind power business. While Shibata welcomes such moves, he said it would be better if energy is managed by communities so that “it creates jobs and raises public awareness.”

Greater public awareness is also one reason why movements such as Artists’ Power target youths, as the younger generation is seen as holding the key to changing perceptions about energy in Japan, according to Shibata.

Full of innovative ideas, the businessman has held key posts in many civic and business groups. He is also on a municipal committee tasked with drawing up a blueprint for a new energy policy and gives lectures at business seminars and universities.

What he emphasizes on such occasions is the need for both environmental projects and the integration of environmental aspects into business to pay.

“I run a company and I’m always thinking about how I can stay in business,” Shibata said. But he added that his aim is not to make a profit or expand his business but to achieve a society that is both environmentally and economically sustainable.

“Money has to be spent on things that contribute to creating a better society.”