During this course we have, of course, spent a lot of time discussing rivers. One thing that’s remained in my mind is the pollution of the rivers of Tokyo and the fact that these are no longer suitable for humans to be in. Playing in the water mixed with waste from the sewers after a heavy rainfall could be harmful, and so the rivers are there, but not interacted with by the average citizens. You might walk along the river, maybe even dip your feet, but you cannot jump into it, spend you summer days floating in the water and playing in it, swimming and diving. This is very different from my home city Stockholm. Like Tokyo, Stockholm is a city with plenty of water – being built on 13 islands – but unlike Tokyo, interactions with the water (rivers, lakes, brackish waters) are common. Especially in the summer.
In the summer in Stockholm, many spend their days by the inner city bodies of water. These are relatively clean and thus safe to be in, and there are very few children who do not swim in these. Smaller children run along the beach shrieking with excitement whenever they find some kind of creature or a shell or a plant they haven’t seen before, while the older children swim and the grownups lay basking in the sun, occasionally cooling off in the water.
Summer in the middle of Stockholm
I think this is one of the first experiences many city children have with “nature” in a more or less uncontrolled form. It doesn’t take long for them to get over how “icky” the lake bottom might feel, or how scary water creatures are at first. They get used to it and can enjoy the water together with them.
So I think it is a shame that Tokyo children miss this wonderful opportunity to emerge themselves, quite literally, in nature while still in the city. If you spend time in nature when young, it seems to me you’re more likely to enjoy it and feel at home in it as an adult. It creates an awareness of the fact that nature is in fact not absent in the city, but is actually part of it and part of our surroundings wherever we are. I believe this creates a bond with nature, a feeling of closeness that might lead to greater care for nature at an older age.
If the rivers of Tokyo could be made available for humans to submerge themselves in again, I think we could all have a lot to gain.