Shinkansen, Yokkaichi, and Bureacracy

When I first learned that we would ride the 新幹線 (Shinkansen, or bullet train) during this trip, I became immediately excited. I’ve grown a fondness for traveling long distances by train and to me, the Shinkansen is the apex of travel. As the sleek, white train began to accelerate away from the station, the familiar site of downtown Tokyo megastructures passed by, still at the pace of a normal Shinkansen. Once south of Shinagawa and Shin-Yokohama stations, the high-rises began to sink and sweeping views of the ocean and coastal towns and rice paddies dominated the landscape outside of the train windows.

Our journey on the Shinkansen ended at Nagoya where we transferred to a train to Yokkaichi city. From Yokkaichi, we took a local train to our destination: The International Center for Environmental Technology Transfer (ICETT). Before I go into the proceedings of our day with ICETT, I want to mention the revered 田舎 (inaka). The inaka is a term that evokes a romantic view of the Japanese countryside. It is represented as the ideal setting for life in important cultural drivers such as Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. On either side of the train tracks between Yokkaichi and The ICETT campus was the inaka. The implications of the importance put on the countryside indicates that farming, especially rice cultivation, is an essential part of Japanese interactions with nature. But I think there is a danger in ascribing too much importance on the inaka since Japan is every increasingly urbanizing, and interactions with the environment become based on creating and sustaining urban life.

At ICETT, we were quietly guided to a seminar room where a staff manager, Mashita-san, gave a presentation about the work done at ICETT and its goals. His assistant, Kanda-san, offered lengthly answers to questions in addition to Mashita-san. The presentation and following Q and A session also provided a general observation of the intersections of business, government, and environmental work in Japan. Mashita-san and Kanda-san were joined by a company representative for whom Mashita-san carefully structured his presentation and responses. So our visit not only demonstrated an example of environmental work in Japan, but also the close ties to industries. Furthermore, leaders from municipal and prefectural government sat on the board for ICETT. I was inspired to learn more about the relationship between various branches of society in this setting almost more than wanting to know about the actual work done at ICETT.