'Buy Nothing Day' adds weight to buying season

by Gary Tegler

KYOTO — “Look, it’s Santa Claus,” said the excited little boy as he passed in front of Hankyu Department Store here Sunday afternoon. Well, not quite. This is Zenta Claus, the antithesis of jolly St. Nick, who advocates recycling those toys and trinkets he lugged around last Christmas.

For the third straight year, members of a loose coalition of activists and students participated in “Buy Nothing Day” in front of the major department store, passing out leaflets urging shoppers to temper their purchases as the Christmas season gets under way.

First begun in Canada in 1992, Buy Nothing Day was inaugurated in Japan in 1999 and is now observed in 35 countries. Gabriele Hadl, spokesperson for the event in Kyoto, said there are three levels on which organizers hope to influence consumers.

“The first level is simply to get people to rethink their personal shopping habits,” said Hadl, a native of Austria. “It’s to get people to take responsibility for their actions because it’s easy to say there’s no recycling system (in Japan) or it’s the government’s fault. But there is something you can do for the environment and even for labor issues. It makes a difference whether you buy something that you know has been produced by sweatshop labor or under fair trade conditions.”

The second level, according to Hadl, is to bring people together who would like to effect systematic and infrastructural changes in their own communities regarding environmental protection.

The third level is to heighten awareness that measures of wealth, such as the gross domestic product, do not take into account environmental degradation.

“We’re using up all our natural resources and calling that making money,” said Hadl. “We think we’re getting ahead but we’re actually just losing capital. So Buy Nothing Day is another campaign to help rethink the economic system very concretely, to rethink GDP.”

According to figures released from the Kyoto City Environmental Office cited by event organizers, a Kyoto resident disposes of some 1.5 kg of garbage every day. Most of this waste, and that produced by businesses and manufacturers, is incinerated at several facilities around the city. The result is high levels of dioxin in the atmosphere, said Hadl, who also pointed out that Kyoto lags far behind other cities around the world in setting up recycling centers.

This year, Buy Nothing Day is one of several events being staged in Kyoto, Kobe, Osaka, Tokyo and Nagoya to heighten awareness of excessive consumerism. Other Kansai events include a street demonstration in Kobe on Wednesday, the screening of two documentaries on Thursday and Friday in Kyoto, and a “Trashion” fashion show featuring recycled clothing on Saturday, also in Kyoto.

Although Buy Nothing Day is aimed at all consumers, Hadl feels that women should be the focus as they constitute the majority of shoppers in this country.

“If you look at our flier, the target audience is mostly female,” she said. “On the other hand, women are the ones most targeted by advertisers for commercial purposes. I think women need to be de-marketed.”

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