Environmental activists and forests


We’ve completed our trip preparation discussions and the day after tomorrow we’ll be on a plane to Tokyo. Although I’m elated to spend nine days in Tokyo and then live in Hokkaido for 2 and a half months following that, I will gladly be soaking in these last hours of time in the US. After spending time abroad this past semester, I’ve grown an appreciation for the settledness that familiar settings bring. At the very least, I’ve definitely benefited from some time at home to reflect and recharge.

My classmates Karen and Michael presented today on a couple of articles related to the government’s and public’s reactions to pollution and disasters that put human health at risk. One article focused on the aftermath of the 3/11 disaster in light of the history of Minamata disease. Minamata disease is methylmercury poisoning. The Chisso Corporation began dumping methylmercury waste in 1932 and the substance bioaccumulated until it reached people, bringing devastating effects. Year after year the corporation denied responsibility and the government did not proactively adhere to victims’ needs. With the history of Minamata disease in mind, it could be a long time until the political and social impacts of the 3/11 disaster are settled.

The other article looked at the special power of mothers in protests following the 3/11 disaster. The disruption of their lives and the danger presented to their children gave them a strong voice to sway the government to act on behalf of the victims in Tohoku. These articles and my peers’ presentations shifted our discussion to the political activity of citizens in environmental issues. I’m glad that we got to hear about these articles because the legal process of enacting change in environmental pollution or some kind of injustice presents an important intersection of how the Japanese political system works, how the state views the environment, and how it views its citizens.


Since we will be visiting the Meiji Shrine, we took some time to watch a video produced by NHK on the “primordial” forest surrounding the shrine. This is actually quite a phenomenal space since the forest is only about 100 years old, although it’s meant to appear ages old. Scientists who specialized in forestry carefully planned the construction of the forest so that the ecological succession would follow a particular course — one in which deciduous trees would eventually take over coniferous ones. Recently, researchers were permitted to do a full study of the ecosystems present in the forest and found that the forest has a very unique environment for the Tokyo area. In some ways, this natural space is engineered. There was careful planning of tree placement, but after that the forest was not tampered with and nature could take its own course. Is this a human space since it was created and planned by humans? Do the unique animals, insects, and fungi just serve the purpose of entertaining us? Probably not, but these are the kinds of questions that come to mind regarding this built forest.