Seacology Japan: Off the Beaten Path

One of the many things that sets Seacology apart from other nonprofit organizations is our roster of international affiliates.  We now have branches in Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and Scandinavia.  Recently, Seacology's Executive Director Duane Silverstein and Development Director Susan Racanelli traveled to Tokyo for a memorable visit with our good friends at Seacology Japan. Here's what Duane had to say about his trip: 

Our first stop in Japan's capital was speaking at a seminar in front of 300 people.  This seminar was brilliantly organized by Seacology Japan cofounder Akemi Yoshida.  After my speech was completed it was a rather unusual experience to be surrounded by large numbers of people wanting my autograph or asking to have their picture taken with me (a photo with some supporters appears below).  Some were so overcome with emotion they were even moved to tears.  I don't think what I said or how I said it inspired them so much as the people of Japan having a strong affinity for Seacology's important work:  the wonderful island people we help as well as the beautiful island species we protect.  Whatever the reason we can only say domo arrigato - thank you very much!

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Before Susan and I were called upon to give another speech -- this one organized by Takemi and Michie Sekiguchi -- the Sekiguchis took us to the Old Tokyo (Edo) Museum.  We were very fortunate that this museum has English speaking volunteer docents, one of whom spent an hour with us explaining the terrific exhibits.  Besides enjoying ourselves we learned a lot.  I did not know Japan was one of the first nations in the world to have bookstores available to the general public and that hundreds of years ago the publishing industry there was more active than its counterparts in the west. After a quick sushi dinner it was off to make our second speech of the day.  This time it was Susan who was surrounded by crying admirers.


Early the next morning we headed north to the small village of Tadami where Seacology Prize recipient Koichi Kariya helped preserve an endangered ancient beech tree forest. (At right, a photo of us with the sign to the new Seacology path.)  Tadami is quite remote and not easy to access, particularly in the winter as it receives more snow than any other village on Japan's main island of Honshu.We left bright and early on the Shinkansen, or bullet train, which travels at speeds of up to 185 mph. The ride is so smooth you have no sense you are traveling that fast.  To  say the shinkansen is efficient is an understatement.  A few years ago, 160,000 Shinkansen trips were surveyed and the average Shinkansen train arrived within 6 seconds of the scheduled time!

Before we knew it we arrived at the station where Mr. Kariya picked us up.  From there we had a two and a half hour drive to Tadami.  The views of the snow capped mountains and rivers and lake below were spectacular (see photo below).



At Tadami we stayed at the Yurari Hotel.  This is a very traditional inn.  Most rooms were Japanese style with very little furniture, though the Yurari has a few western style rooms mostly for the younger generation of Japanese travelers.  Susan and I were told that we were only the 9th and 10th westerners to stay there in the last year.   When in Rome do as the Romans do, and when in Tadami do as the Tadamians do.  And what the locals do here is take traditional Japanese baths in the mineral rich hotsprings.  Men and women bath separately and do so au natural.  Cleaning yourself off with a shower nozzle while sitting on a low stool before entering the baths is mandatory.  After having visited the local hotsprings I can now see why this is such a popular custom in Japan.  These springs are where the village members get together after a long day of work and not only relax in the hot water but share stories and bring each other up to date on the goings and comings in the village.  I am sure tongues were wagging after my visit as very few westerners have ever visited this particular onsen (Japanese spa.)

That night, wearing the same traditional robes we wore to the onsen, Susan and I were the guests of honor at a Japanese banquet (see photo below). I don't know how many courses were served but I think I stopped counting at ten.  The mayor of Tadami joined us and it was good to meet him and find out that he is a  big supporter of Karyia san's work to protect the local forest. Akemi Chiba, the president and co founder of Seacology Japan, led the toasts and presented the mayor and us with gifts.  Susan reciprocated on behalf of Seacology.  After our remarkable dinner, the mayor invited us to join him in the adjacent karaoke bar.  I have never sung karaoke before but it is impolite to say no in Japan.  Since the mayor was asking, and we wanted to thank him for his support in saving the nearby forest, I took one for the team.  Let's just say that my rendition of ABBA's Waterloo made up for in enthusiasm what it lacked in talent.

Tadami__077.jpg The next morning Karyiya-san led us on a four and a half hour hike of the surrounding beech forest, much of which would have been logged if not for his successful efforts to protect it.  He is an inspiration to anyone who meets him and a terrific illustration of how one person can indeed make a huge difference. The hike was exhilirating and exquisite in its pristine beauty.  The highlight was seeing the forest path now officially called Seacology Road.

We were only in Japan for four nights but we accomplished much.  We recruited many new Seacology supporters, rekindled the excitment of existing Seacology supporters, visited the beech forest and Seacology Road and spent time with Kariya-san strategizing how he might continue to protect the forests that are so dear to him and such a precious natural treasure of Japan.  It is nothing short of amazing to see how much Seacology Japan has accomplished in its short existence.


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This page contains a single entry by Carynne McIver published on May 27, 2010 2:44 PM.

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