Japan in Transition: an antidote to post-Fukushima despair
By Hide Enomoto, co-founder of Transition Fujino and Transition Japan
This article is based on the presentation I prepared for the conference called Communal Pathways to Sustainable Living held in Findhorn, Scotland in June 2013. What I wanted to achieve through this presentation was to show how Transition Movement can become a source for hope even in the face of severe devastation such as the one Japan has experienced almost 3 years ago; namely, the “triple disaster” of earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear radiation in the Tohoku (north-east) area of Japan which we often refer to as “3.11.”
In this article, I’d like to share two stories both of which are about how people who are involved in Transition Town movement in my own community, Fujino, have responded to 3.11. Fujino is a small town of approximately 10,000 people located just outside the Tokyo metropolitan area. In 2008, Fujino has become the first official Transition Town in Japan and 100th in the whole world. Although Fujino is located far away from the disaster-hit area including Fukushima and was not directly affected by either of the triple disaster, people were deeply shocked and immobilized at first by the sudden exposure to an unprecedented crisis. If I were to describe the atmosphere that was covering not only Fujino, but entire Japan at the time, it was despair, especially in relation to the devastating state of nuclear radiation.
The two stories began exactly in the midst of such despair. One story is that of Fujino Electric Company. Shortly after 3.11, someone in Transition Fujino sent out an email to a mailing list that had about 200 membership saying, “We’ve gotta do something about this. Let’s create Fujino Electric Company.” It was met by energetic response from many people in the community and the first meeting was packed with people who were wanting to get on board. Although it’s called “company,” FEC is not a legal entity. Rather, it’s a company of people. But because we called it a company, it elicited a lot of interest nationwide. The name itself gave others an impression, “Oh, we can create our own electric company? I’ve never thought of that!”
After a couple of brainstorming sessions regarding what FEC could do, we decided to start with giving a workshop on how to create a mini-solar power system. FEC would provide the tools and gadgets needed to create such system and teach people how to connect them so that they can use to produce electricity at home. The point was to have them actually create one, rather than selling the ready-made system. What happens when one make the final connection of the cable and the light bulb go on, his or her face light up, too. This is the “empowerment moment.” We often hear people say, “I made this electricity!” Now, this workshop is in such a high demand and the FEC members are called in to offer workshop almost every weekend somewhere in Japan. FEC’s success inspired other communities to create their own electric company and there is now a network of such local electric companies.
The second story is that of a relief mission that arose spontaneously in response to a call for help from one member of the community. A woman who moved to Fujino not long before 3.11 from Natori-city which was severely devastated by the tsunami sent out an email to the mailing list saying, “I have many friends who helped me while I was living there and I want to return their favor. They have lost their family members and their home and now living in temporary housing unit that becomes really hot in summer. They have asked me to find 108 fans that are exactly the same because they are under the control of local government and they won’t accept the fans unless all 108 households get the same ones all at the same time.” Now, this may sound quite absurd, but such is the case with the Japanese bureaucracy.
It turned out that the fans were in high demand that summer and the shops and stores had to put limits to how much one can buy at a time; which was, one per person per visit. So we decided that whoever amongst our members goes to a shop or a store that sells fans, he or she will ask how many stocks they have and shares the news on our mailing list. Then, other members who are available would carpool together and go to that particular shop or store and get the fans. When we first received this call for help, no one thought it would be possible to get that many fans in a short time frame. But, to our greatest surprise, we were able to secure 108 fans within two weeks’ time!
The same thing happened that winter; the temporary housing unit gets so cold that they needed “kotatsu” which is a Japanese traditional table with a heating device attached to it. We scrambled a team to secure 108 kotatsu and again succeeded within short time frame. This whole story got an attention from a major TV station and was covered in the national news. We even received a letter of gratitude from the mayor of Natori City for our efforts to support the people living in temporary housing units.
The important thing here, however, is not necessarily what we have achieved. What is more important is that, by engaging in these activities, the people in Fujino had restored their hope in spite of what had happened. The title of Rob Hopkins’ new book says it all; the power of just doing stuff. By doing what we can, that itself became an antidote to the despair which was so prevalent after 3.11. And that power didn’t stop there. These two stories I shared in this article were featured in various media and thus gave hope to others in different communities around Japan about what they can do themselves. Based on these experience, I now believe that the most important transition we have to make is a transition from “I can’t do anything about it” to “We can do something about it.”
Hide Enomoto is co-founder of Transition Fujino and Transition Japan
Images: Tsunami wave hit north-east part of Japan; Tsunami wave hit north-east part of Japan; The mini-solar workshop offered by Fujino Electric Company; Securing fans for the temporary housing unit in Tohoku area