From Fukushima – Pt.6

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

I have come for a short weekend break to the port city of Niigata on the West coast of Japan at the mouth of the large Shinano river which also serves the huge areas of rice fields that lie between here and the inland mountains.

My first day here brought two cultural experiences that took me to the extreme ends of cultural life in Japan.

Fighting Kite Museum,  children's kites below the large ones.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

Fighting Kite Museum, children’s kites below the large ones. Photo and permission Su Grierson

With several major attractions shut for renovation and total re-hangs, I decided to head out of town to the Large Kite Museum. With not so much English being spoken here finding my way on local buses was the first challenge. And with only a very rudimentary tourist map to assist me, knowing where to get off the bus proved an even greater problem. But it was certainly worth the effort.
As the only visitor in the Museum on a Saturday afternoon I was given privileged treatment. I had a private viewing of a 3D film in English outlining the annual Shirone fighting kite festival. It is a year long community effort to construct and paint the massive 7m x 5m, 30kg, bamboo and paper kites. The strength of the handmade grass ropes that are needed to keep these massive constructions airborne is critical to the outcome of the battle. It takes great skill that is passed down through the generations.

9m bamboo poles are split to make the frames.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

9m bamboo poles are split to make the frames. Photo and permission Su Grierson

Handmade grass ropes are crucial for success.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

Handmade grass ropes are crucial for success. Photo and permission Su Grierson

With teams on either side of the Nakanokuchi river the aim is to catch the opposition by twisting lines so that both kites come down in the river. This is when the real battle begins as both sides enlist their whole community to tug the kites towards their bank of the river. The winner is the team with the fewest broken ropes. It can take 30 to 40 people on the ropes to get the kites airborne and hundreds of all ages pulling together when the kites are in the water.

Kites preparing for battle Photo and permission Su Grierson

Kites preparing for battle Photo and permission Su Grierson

The day before the main battle there is a children’s festival with smaller kites and a large street procession. As the film points out, these battles which are always carried out in a sense of friendly rivalry, are important in keeping old traditions and skills alive in a way that is still embedded in the community as well as promoting a genuine inter-generational unity in their society.

Museum curator laying out kites for me. Photo and permission Su Grierson

Museum curator laying out kites for me. Photo and permission Su Grierson

The Museum itself also has examples of kites from around the world, and the curator who came and laid out some kites for me to see, said they had an example of a traditional English kite. I protested that I didn’t think we had any but had to laugh when he showed me the example. It was a cane bent over and tied into an oval shape with newspaper pasted over. It had along string tail with twists of newspaper slotted into the string. I do indeed remember making a kite exactly like this, as a child in the frugal years at the end of 40’s and early 50’s. There were a few other examples of small kites made with leaves and feathers. Such simple and natural toys.

Part of Sake festival.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

Part of Sake festival. Photo and permission Su Grierson

My second cultural experience came late in the afternoon when I set off to visit the Annual Saki festival held in a very large conference venue on the river banks of Niigata City. The hundreds of people walking (or more accurately staggering) towards me as they left the event was a clue to what was to follow.

Sake Festival  part of the Tasting Hall. Photo and permission Su Grierson

Sake Festival part of the Tasting Hall. Photo and permission Su Grierson

I had originally intended to buy a ‘tasting ticket’ where you are given a label and small ceramic Sake cup in which to freely sample up to 900 of the varieties on display. But one look down into the main hall quickly decided me otherwise. Thousands of people formed what looked like a monumental scrum gathered around the drinking stalls. It seemed quantity rather than quality was the aim. The palette would be so quickly flattened that I doubt it would be possible to distinguish one variety from another anyway.

Going down into the hall as a visitor I was constantly jostled by inebriated drinkers and the smoke and food smells from the surrounding stalls was sticky and oppressive, nothing like the aroma of the interesting and subtle food I have been eating while here.

The Japanese make the most clear and amusing illustrated public signage. You can never doubt that you will drown, crash you bike or walk in dog poo, but the ‘no fighting’ signs at the Sake festival really did give an idea of what might happen as the evening progressed.

No Fighting Sign.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

No Fighting Sign. Photo and permission Su Grierson

Sake is the national drink made from fermented wine. Like wine it ranges from sweet to dry depending on brewing times and water quality. It is also made into rich fruit liqueurs and can be added to many cooking sauces and dishes. Mr Sato owner of our local Yamatogawa brewery and many members of the public have donated so much Sake to our events that we need some extra gatherings just to use it all. In Kitakata generosity and levels of support for our projects are both humbling and inspiring.

Finally after reaching Kitakata again, we are faced with the news that there has been an electricity failure at the crippled Daiichi nuclear plant. It seems they do not know the cause which seems even more worrying. The online Japan News Today says:

“Electricity has been cut to pools used to cool spent fuel at the reactor 1, 3 and 4 units” as well as to the equipment to treat contaminated discharge including radioactive cesium, TEPCO spokesman Kenichi Tanabe said.

However, the incident had not so far affected cooling-water injection to the number 1, 2 and 3 reactors, which suffered core meltdowns soon after the start of the March 2011 nuclear crisis, he said.

The temperature at the pool for spent fuel from reactor number 4 was believed to be the highest and slightly above 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit), still well below the safety limit of 65 degrees, he said, adding it was rising by 0.3-0.4 degrees every hour.

If the system is not restored, it will take four more days for that pool to reach the limit, he said.

“We are trying to restore power by then,” he said, adding the deadline would be about 14 days and 26 days for the other two.

This was on breakfast news today (Tuesday 19th) but I have the feeling that the people are almost numbed to disaster now. There are endless TV programmes about potential Tsunamis and personal security, yet I find that most of the people I speak to have no faith in the new Government to handle these situations. They believe they will bend to the industrial companies desire to re-open the nuclear plants, and I have seen for myself that some sea defenses broken two years ago have not even begun to be restored. There are some small anti-Government public protests in Tokyo, but few people seem to believe it will make any difference.

Based purely on the people I talk to here, I find that while they are individually inspiring, the country seems to be still struggling to cope with all that has happened and are a long way from finding a constructive way forward.

I fly home in 3 days time and by then the first cooling deadline will have been reached. Let’s hope there is only good news to report.

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Somewhere That’s Green — TCG Circle

Per its mission statement, Atlanta’s 7 Stages Theatre devotes itself to “engaging artists and audiences by focusing on the social, political and spiritual values of contemporary culture.” One such value—environmentalism—has yielded a clever campaign that simultaneously promotes the theatre and sustainability.

…marketing director Charles Swint says the theatre asked itself, “What are some creative ways we can promote our shows without spending a lot of money?” Piggybacking off the green kick, 7 Stages partnered with the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) in a campaign where, in return for select buses featuring theatre advertising, 7 Stages will encourage its audience to use environmentally-conscious modes of transportation, like MARTA. “Our staff carpools, bikes and takes MARTA to the office and around town,” says Swint. “We want to encourage our patrons to do the same.” The deal is sweetened by a $5 discount offered to MARTA Breeze Card–holders.

From  Somewhere That’s Green — TCG Circle.

First Day in Cancun, Pre-#COP16 debrief

More soon, but a quick post at the very end of the day about how things are looking here in Cancun.

Today started out leisurely, we were on the shuttle to Cancun Messe around noon and got there in the early afternoon. The roadways are lined with police in a number of forms, but most foreboding is the Federal Police with their large automatic weapons.

There is less of a mass outside this initial meting place than the Bella Center, and it is just a stop over to most of the other sessions at the Moon Palace resort. Both locations are remote. The only reasonable transportation is the semi-hourly shuttles for various spots in the surrounding area.

With no lack of trying to be helpful, a staffer directing buses attempted to put us closer to the small town, where we could pick up the shuttle to this year’s Klimaforum. It instead put us at an equally remote resort from which we took a cab. Originally we were going to take the taxi from the resort to the shuttle stop, but I opted in for the full ride.

We arrived at the Kilmaforum hopeful, it was fairly well signed up to the gate, but once in it was a slow downhill. We traveled into the back of the El Rey Polo Club and found a hand drawn “Registro aquí”. The table to which it referred was staffer by temporary relief for the women who had been there. They assumed we would want to camp there, but we just were there to visit. We were also informed the shuttle wasn’t running on any schedule, just when people want to go and there was critical mass (10 people). We asked about getting the shuttle from the shuttle stops to here, they were puzzled.

Whereas the Klimaforum in Copenhagen for COP15 was the conference for everyone else that wasn’t in the Bella Center, this did not follow in it’s footsteps. Closer to the Climate Bottom Meeting in Christianshavn, even with tents for meeting spaces, it was more of a temporary commune than a conference. They had faster Wireless than our hotel, but were otherwise unprepared for visitors. We were directed to a press person who didn’t speak english, which is fine, it’s Mexico, where spanish is spoken, but we had made it clear to someone from an english speaking country (USA or Canada) that our spanish was minimal. So we hung out waiting for some film we were told was going to be shown at 5:00pm, then 5:30pm, but it never happened.

I’m pretty sure we overheard some people involved with the film talk about how this set-up wasn’t what they expected. They expected the meican sequel to the 2009 Kilmaforum, as had I. The response they got was: “Hey, we’re volunteers, we’ve been trying to get this together since Friday, we’re trying to do something different, this isn’t like every other conference you could get anywhere.”

After a guy who had hitchhiked from the Netherlands came to talk to us, since we’re press, we tried to leave. We asked about the shuttle and were told, that it’s only $1o pesos/person if there were 10 people in the shuttle, since that’s how much it costs to make the run. Since it was just us 2, it would be $50 pesos/person… just to leave we did it. The most comfortingly reliable and convenient transport of the day was the bus we took back to cancun.

A few things:

  • If you say the conference is from the 26th of a month, but don’t intend to have public until the 29th, just say it starts on the 29th.
  • If you tell someone that you’re going to show a film at 5pm, show a film at 5pm or make an announcement.
  • If you say you’re open and you’re running a shuttle, run the shuttle  and put it where people, thinking you’ve started, will expect to find it.
  • Also 2 shuttle vans for 10 people each running each journey for what you think is going to be even just hundreds of people is not enough.
  • Be upfront about how your systems work, and commit to it, even if it’s not going to be the best thing in one particular way.
  • If you’re going to do the communal living, camping in the woods, contemporary hippie thing… please be aware that it isn’t the most inclusive way to do things. You may be all friendly and want to love everyone warmly, but not everyone is bought into an extreme lifestyle like that, but they still might care about the climate.

We made it back to our hotel, even more so an oasis after the frustrations of the day, and set about dinner. We wandered nearby to the central square, which reminded me of home around area like Echo Park and McArthur Park. We had some food and wandered to the UNESCO photo exhibit on disappearing climates. Not unlike some of the photo exhibits in the public squares of Copenhagen. It was the first real, accessible, publicly engaged  moment of the day.

Tomorrow should prove to be better, I’m spending the day at the Villa de Cambio Climático, while Moe heads to the opening plenary. HOpefully more to report tomorrow, when the real fun begins!