Stewards of the Sea
As a technologically advanced island nation with very strong ties to the ocean, it is the opinion of this author that Japan take a greater lead in becoming a champion of the seas. It’s no secret that the oceans have become a waste-bin for the world (see Ocean Health Index), with increasing amounts of plastic debris, industrial waste, and all manner of human refuse polluting the waters.
Human activity has not been kind. Off-shore drilling, over-fishing, chemical dumping, and climate change are all taking their toll. This post however is intended not to highlight all the wrongs that we have been doing, but encourage greater action on the part of those who share such vital connections with the sea. All life on the planet is dependent on the oceans, so it is certainly within everyone’s interest to do more to protect it. In Japan’s case, there exist substantial ties of national identity and culture, as well as the all the socio-economic benefits. Furthermore, Japan has the capacity to do something about the ocean’s current imbalance. This represents an excellent opportunity for Japan to do more for the welfare of the oceans and set an example for the world.
A Great Impact
Japan is a fascinating country with a lot going for it! It has a robust economy that includes some impressive technology, remarkable management expertise, and a highly-skilled and educated workforce. As I’m writing this, Japanese robots are traveling through space on their way to investigate the Asteroid Ryugu, while Japanese scientists (and their robots!) are working on exploring the ocean depths (see Team Kuroshio). I propose that the country leverage its many capabilities and adopt the role of ocean champion.
A Deep Relationship
Japan’s relationship with water runs deep. Whether in using the mountain streams to grow rice (see My Japanese Farming Experience) and nourish their gardens, or in harvesting the vast bounty of fish from the surrounding seas, Japan is perpetually surrounded or inundated by water. The connection is both persistent and ambivalent.
For instance, there were times when the sea was considered a great defender of Japan. It protected the Japanese from the Mongolian Invasions (see Japan’s Kamikaze Winds) in the 13th Century, and insulated the country from foreigner influences during the Sakoku (closed country) period that lasted from the 17th Century to the 19th (see the historical rundown).
In other cases, the ocean has seriously thrashed the country, battering it with tsunamis (giant waves) and typhoons (hurricanes). The Tōhoku Earthquake of 2011 (Magnitude 9!!) was especially deadly as it triggered a catastrophic tsunami that literally washed away villages and damaged nuclear reactors. Thousands died and the damage was in the hundreds of billions. With each new disaster, people have had to learn to better protect themselves from the wrath of the ocean. Clearly the Japanese need to remain considerate of their temperamental neighbor.
For The Love of Sushi
Despite the climate disasters, the ocean is a predominantly generous benefactor, and lavishly provides all wonder of fish for the Japanese. Fish is a dietary staple in this country, and raw fish in particular is a national delicacy. Indeed, the Japanese love their sushi! It is the country’s preeminent gourmet food and those in the industry take it very, very seriously. In fact, Japanese cuisine was designated a national heritage by UNESCO back in 2013 (see Washoku), and Japanese traditional foods (like sushi) follow very strict guidelines.
When you hear the sushi aficionados discuss the process and preparation of this idolized food, you can’t help but learn about the ocean. They talk about ocean temperatures and pH levels as well as the conditions and currents that all contribute to really amazing and delicious sushi (see below). Given this attention to detail and the grandiose appreciation, I would encourage these sushi enthusiasts to take it one step further and work to protect that which they love. We know that the ocean can certainly use the help. There are increasing amounts of plastic choking up marine life (see What About Us?), as well as an assortment of toxic chemicals that are making their way into the fish we eat (see Scientific American). If Japan cherishes sushi as a healthy and delicious national treasure, surely it can take a lead in its preservation.
The Tuna King at Tsukiji Fish Market
Taking A Lead
Japan is no stranger to leadership. The country is already a prominent international player. It provides significant funding to the United Nations (the second largest contributor after the US), as well as all manner of support for assisting developing countries and humanitarian projects (see JICA). Furthermore, Japan will be hosting the world in 2 years time during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It’s looking to be an enormous affair, and Japan is implementing an extensive array of preparations to be able to effectively welcome everyone.
Clearly, the country is concerned with its role in the international community. If that’s the case, I would strongly encourage Japan to be an environmental role model, and feed two birds with one scone. Japan can do right for itself and the world by becoming an ocean champion.
Call to Action
I have tremendous hope for Japan and its ability to do more to contribute to ocean health, protection and regulation. It is already a role model through the expression of its Peace Constitution (Article 9), which is unique in the world. After the devastation and horrors of the Second World War, Japan adopted a pacifist resolution and chose to, “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation,” (see Japanese Constitution).
As such, Japan has been in the uncommon position of not having an extensive military. Banking on peace can certainly lead to substantial financial savings as well (money that can be used for other initiatives, like ocean protection)! However, Japan does still have what they call a “Defense Force.” In reality, it doesn’t look any different from any other national military force, but it does have clear mandate to offer protection and disaster relief. Why not extend this protection for the oceans, and help clean and patrol the waters that sustain us all?
I’m convinced that if more Japanese citizens become aware of the gravity of our ocean’s distress, they will rise to the challenge. Japanese people are already famous for their numerous demonstrations of respect and empathy. Just this past summer Japanese soccer fans made international headlines once again for having helped clean up the stadiums after the World Cup matches (BBC). It’s considered part of the Japanese culture (see Why Japanese Fans Clean Up). Combined with the awesome power of Japanese kaizen (continuous improvement), and I think you have some compelling motivational forces!
Make The Pledge
The need to protect our oceans is in no way limited to Japan. We all need to do our part. In sharing my thoughts I am simply looking to implant the idea, and potentially spark some action and debate amongst my friends here in Japan and beyond. But we cannot wait for others to decide that this issue is also important. We must take it upon ourselves to recognize the harm being done to our oceans. Take the pledge.