The COP10 biodiversity conference now being held in Nagoya has called attention to the preservation of plant and animal species worldwide, but closer to home a grassroot eco-consciousness has been quietly growing in Japan.

One example is the popularity of a new type of low-priced, one-day eco-tour allowing urban residents to get a taste of nature while working alongside rural Japanese. In one such excursion outside of Tokyo, families help local residents cull black bass, an invasive foreign species, from a river. After enjoying a fish fry of the captured bass, the visitors return home. In another eco-tour, city inhabitants clear out underbrush to help restore beech forests located two hours by car from Kanazawa city.

The Japanese are also showing an increased interest in heirloom or heritage vegetables (variously called dento yasai, chiho yasai, furusato yasai or zairai sakumotsu), traditional vegetables that have fallen out of favor as modern, standardized varieties spread in the postwar period. In Osaka one enthusiast has developed her own picture-card show (kami shibai) to teach children about local varieties, while in other regions groups are holding recipe contests or creating bento for sale at local convenience stores.

In the Yotsuya district in Tokyo, residents are attempting to revive the variety of cayenne pepper plant, Naito togarashi, for which what is now Shinjuku Ward was famous in the Edo Period (1600-1868). A thousand seedlings were handed out this year to residents and grown in roadside planters. In August and September, peppers were harvested and the resulting ground pepper spice sold at a local festival in October.

Not all such projects go smoothly. A natural habitat (biotope) attempting to preserve various grasses and insects created by children next to the Eco Plaza in Tokyo’s Minato Ward has aroused the ire of nearby residents, who want the disgusting-looking toads removed. It seems that the toads are gathering at night at the entrance to their condo, as the lights attract the bugs they like to eat.

Such a reaction, showing how divorced urban residents have become from the natural world, highlights all the more the importance of such eco-movements.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.