Take-away Thoughts from HER 2015

DISCLAIMER
These are but some of the sentiments I’ve gathered from our class trip in Hokkaido.
I’ve actually wrote them for my individual paper but I thought it would be nice if I could share them with everyone else as well.

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Environmental concern is not a niche; it is universal.

Even back in high school, I knew I have always had a knack for the sciences. Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental Studies were my favorites, so it comes as a surprise to many why my current major in college is in management economics.

Still, I have to admit: I am equally bothered with the many people who have been asking me why I am interested in the environment. While the question may have been an innocent one, I can’t help but feel bewildered. Is it weird that I am concerned about the environment simply because of my major?

I am not the only one who has probably experienced this ordeal. Many others as well, as most of us in this course are taking majors far from the sciences. And this is a problem insofar as environment protection is involved because society automatically assumes, whether done or purpose or not, that the job of ensuring ecological sustainability can be left off to certain fields–when it fact it should be a universal undertaking.

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On the humbling experience of making a Wanda Grinda proposal

I have learned it the hard way that we can only do so much in terms of our Wanda Grinda proposals.

After having gone through those readings that describe in detail the environmental issues of Hokkaido, having met many stakeholders who have went out of their way to accommodate us in touring around their sites, sharing their concerns, and clarifying whatever questions we throw at them, as well as having received the endless support of professors and assisstants who have blessed us with their presence and insights, we cannot help but feel overoptimistic and adventurous as we brainstorm for ideas in response to the issues facing the restoration movement of Kushiro Wetland.

Eventually, as we went through our trip in Hokkaido, it dawned on us what we are. We’re definitely not scientists nor full-fledged researchers. We’re only staying for more than a week. We don’t necessarily have much funds, and we can only give so much ideas as we stand on the premise that we ourselves can do what we suggest. More importantly, and I suppose this is the most disappointing one to ever strike us all, is that despite our best efforts and the assistance of so many individuals, our end proposals might not even do anything to actually restore the wetland environment itself.

Like what I’ve noticed with many of the viable suggestions that have been raised, most of them have to do with raising awareness and appreciation. Anything directly involving wetland restoration will probably need more than grassroot initiatives, or they may start out as such but as with the case of the Kor-Kamuy Society for example, they eventually needed to collaborate with the local government to see further progress with their goals.

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On the joys of being heard

Though I am a management economics major, I am all the more determined to pursue the field of environmental management for my future career.

This course has opened my eyes to the possibilities of what work in the field might be like, and knowing myself—my interests, capabilities, and experience—plus considering what I have witnessed on our trip, I know I would go well working under some external relations department—be it a government agency, private corporation, NGO, or research institution.

If given the chance, it will definitely be my pleasure to taken on the responsibility of acting as the liaison between different stakeholders, just as how I found myself thoroughly engaged—no pressure at all—in starting a discussion with the concerned parties for Team Tancho’s Wanda Grinda proposal last August 10.

If I had known more Japanese, I would have personally approached them afterwards as well. I had a good time, and I was very pleased to know that our group’s stance was taken very seriously and reflected over thoroughly as they made sure to clarify certain facts regarding venison production and consumption.

I was at first afraid given our own limitations, and in the back of my head, I was actually resolved in thinking that we’d probably just humor the stakeholders at best. But apparently, this wasn’t the case, and I was really glad to find out that our efforts didn’t go in vain.

In fact, the idea of spreading venison cooking recipes through phamplets sprung out of a joke as we were brainstorming as to whether we should stay with our first idea of making sustainable tourism guides for the Kushiro Wetland. Turns out, this was a better idea. It’s a simple idea that is relatively easy to do and yet it bears a promising potential in actually helping with the wetland restoration.

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Suggestions for the course

Although this did not really pose much of a problem, most of the people who I took this course with nevertheless expressed concerns that the Hokkaido trip came like a bomb. For instance, most of the discussions were concentrated around and during the trip. And I suppose what can be done in response to this is to have more pre-trip meetings in preparation for the actual meat of the course.

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Lost…

I enjoy being lost. There I said it.

The day when we were stranded in the middle of nowhere. I was genuinely excited, maybe because while navigating through the long and short bushes, I kept having scenes of “Lost” (television series) flashing at the back of my mind. It was raining intermittently throughout our trekking path, at times I had my foot planted into pits and tripping over tree branches. Probably because I was right up in front with the man in blue, who was a ranger, apparently had not been into the middle of the marsh for 5 years, he then had to trail blaze throughout for 3/4 of the journey, I ended up having my face scattered with mosquito parking evidence. After trail blazing for 30 mins like being in a Jurassic Park 4D Experience except without dinosaurs.

A Thoughtful Conversation with Mr. Kosugi

The Wanda Grinda final presentation session was a great opportunity for me to talk with the representatives of local stakeholders in person. After our presentations, I was lucky to be engaged in a conversation with Mr. Kosugi of the Kushiro Salmon Society. Some points that we discussed were very thought provoking. Thus, I would like to share with everyone, who reads this post.

On the Overpopulation of Deer:

According to Mr. Kosugi, the main problem with deer is the fact that currently, they have no predators in nature. Following the extinction of wolves, the population of deer skyrocketed to such an extent, that it is now a major problem in Hokkaido and elsewhere. We must not forget that this was triggered by human intervention, which gradually destroyed the habitats of the wolves. Such history highlights the importance of preserving the ecological system. It also emphasizes the sensitivity of nature, meaning that a solution cannot be as simple as exterminating the deer population by eating deer meat. Every living creature on earth has its role in the ecosystem.

However, increasing the consumption of deer meat is one possible method of mitigating the present harm done to the livelihoods of humans and nature by deer. The problem is that in addition to the absence of a culture of eating deer meat in Kushiro, there are too many deer in the everyday lives of the people in Kushiro. Mr. Kosugi told me that eating the meat of a cute animal they see everyday, is not something a normal person can instantly do. Therefore, the treatment of deer in Nara prefecture may be a case worth looking into.

On Humans and Nature:

Currently, there is a hierarchy wherein humans are superior to nature. However, nature is unchangeable. As Professor Watanabe had said during the course, a straightened river can never stay straight, for this is opposed to the natural character of rivers. Right now, the world economy is characterized by human production. However, nature is not infinite. It is especially vulnerable to human development. Mr. Kosugi’s question was: “Then why can’t the economy be regulated so that it only circulates within the limitations of nature?”

Maybe human beings are naturally selfish and greedy.

How about the relationship between the so-called developed and developing countries?

There are so many things to think about.

Hunters in Hokkaido

On the last day of our journey in Hokkaido, we each presented on our teams’ Wanda Grinda proposals in front of a local group of audience, all involved in the restoration of the Kushiro Wetland. My team (Team Tancho)’s proposal was to create and distribute simple pamphlets on deer meat to increase the demand for deer meat in Kushiro. With this project, we sought to solve the issues surrounding the overpopulation of deer in Kushiro Wetland by increasing the supply of deer meat for consumption. According to my judgment, I believe that our presentation was somewhat convincing, for there were a lot of responses from the local audience on this matter.

The feedback session following our presentations provided me with many new and interesting insights on the issue of the overpopulation of deer. There is an estimate of 2000 deer currently in Kushiro Wetland. It is said that in order to decrease the overall population, 400 deer must be killed annually. It is not strange to think that hunters should take a huge role in the killing of these deer, but this just might not be the case.

This is because according to a hunter, who had also participated in our Wanda Grinda session, hunters can rarely sell the deer that they hunted. I was very surprised by the great amount of obstacles, which need to be overcome by the hunters themselves, just to sell one deer. First of all, to sell deer to any of the deer meat processing companies, hunters need to transport their deer carcasses to the company within an hour after shooting them. This is because after a deer is shot and killed, gas swells up within the deer’s body. Nevertheless, since only the good parts are consumed as deer meat, hunters usually chop the deer up after hunting, and bury the rest in the ground, not knowing any other way. Moreover, to sell deer as deer meat, the deer needs to be shot in a particular place. Lastly, hunters are not even free to shoot deer anytime. They actually need permission from the Hokkaido prefectural government to hunt nuisance deer.

It is not illegal for hunters to personally dispose the deer, which they have hunted. Therefore Mr. Fujiwara, who had captured 80 deer recently by using the kraal method, have processed half on his own and sold it to his acquaintances. According to him, deer meat companies only exchange deer at a very cheap price. Now I wonder: Who is actually aware of all of these problems surrounding deer hunting? Why not all of these actors: Government, farmers, and hunters join hands? What prevents the State from cooperating with the grassroots level? Otherwise, our team agreed on the efficiency of a bottom-up process of making change.

Although the individual disposal of deer by hunters, seem to be a very inconvenient way of diminishing the population of deer, it may not be so when hunters form hunting groups. Creating a community of hunters is one way of preventing the decrease of hunters themselves, as well as to expand the consumption of deer meat. One example of such organization is a women’s hunter group in Hokkaido called, “The Women in Nature – shoot & eat – “ (TWIN).

Here is a link to a very informative article on the group: TWIN — Women’s Hunter Group in Hokkaido

Back to the Earth 

My previous post about how to think about the environment reminded me about a song by Jason Mraz called ‘Back To the Earth’. When I was reflecting on what Mr. Kosugi was telling us about the appropriate way to think about the environment, I noticed that or factor that affects this attitude is how connected you are to nature. For instance, people living in the country side would have a better relationship with nature as opposed to someone who lives in the city. The more you are closer to or surrounded by nature, the more you would think about it and show concern. Perhaps because it is something you see changing on a daily basis. In addition, without actually being hands on with nature or without having experience with it, one would not give as much attention to it. 

This song by Jason Mraz entitled ‘Back To the Earth’ reminds it’s listeners to engage themselves with nature and how important it is to do that. For instance in the beginning he sings:

“Whenever my head starts to hurt

Before it goes from bad to feeling worse

I turn off my phone

I get down low

And put my hands in the dirt”

This indicates how nature could provide some kind of relief to us when we are too attached to technology and tired from it. In the next stanza he sings about how he puts his feet in the grass when he wants to take a grip from this fast pace, dizzy life. Indirectly, I believe that he is singing to his listeners that nature is the place to escape and let yourself go when you want to separate yourself from technology and reminds yourself how important to go back to our natural self. 

“We are animals (we are animals)

We are wild (we are wild)

And to truly be forgiven

We must all get back to living

With the land in harmony”

Here, the importance of trying to live with nature in harmony is mentioned. He reminds his listeners how we, human being are all animals, who belong to nature. We must all get back to living with the land we came from, and where we once belonged. 

I actually listened to this song multiple times during the Hokkaido trip. I listened to it during the bus rides and during the local train rides, when I would pass by nature. The song really made me reflect on my own attachment to nature and how once in a while, or maybe more than that, we would need to detach ourselves from technology to realize how beautiful nature is.