MACROCOSM & MICROCOSM
THE EARTH & MINAMIYAMA
By Paul Coleman (June 2009)
Part 1 SURVIVAL & SUICIDE IN TOKYO
Minamiyama, a name virtually unknown outside of Inagi City, a suburb of Tokyo, until the local government decided to chop down a forest and replace it with housing. Minamiyama Mountain is not much more than a well forested hill that rises out of the concrete jungle of the largest, most populated metropolitan region on the planet. 36,000,000 souls exist in a state of developed shock, many working all the hours god sends, commuting like sardines in subways, racing to another day spent in the artificial world of Tokyo. Daily, people decide they've had enough, and for a while the trains stop, passengers are inconvenienced, while another person is scraped off the tracks, adding to the suicide toll that averages 100 people per day in modern day Japan.
There's not much green space in Tokyo, streets aren't lined with trees, highways follow the course of the rivers, not besides them, but in and over them. Parks when you find them are large, but manicured, crowded and never far from the sounds of the city. Song birds are rarely heard and even rarely seen. In the summer the city roasts, heated by the sun and all the paving. Is it any wonder people go mad, seeking to escape, driven to suicide as they despair over what has become a desperate struggle for survival in a concrete artificial world.
It is now recognised that green is not only clean, it is also healthy. Insurers in Japan and at least one former Sony Executive that I know, are promoting forests as a way to relieve stress. Their goal is to create a sign as easily recognizable as the ones you see outside toilets, or exits. This sign would denote that here lies a forest of relaxation, a place where you can find peace, tranquillity and space to reflect and relax and ease away the stresses of city life. The reason insurers are involved in this revolutionary concept is because they are facing increasing medical and other related costs due to a work force that's over stressed and depressed. They believe, quite rightly, that forests can relieve that stress and act as a preventative medicine, thereby saving the insurers money and ensuring that companies like Sony can have a healthy well focused work force.
So why on Earth is the local government of Inagi, with the backing of the Tokyo Prefecture Government, seeking to destroy it's last natural green space? Why are both governments injecting millions of dollars of tax payers funds into the project? Who gains with the destruction of Mount Minamiyama and its eighty seven hectares of forests?
As usual it all comes down to money. And when lots of money is involved human nature takes a turn for the worse. In the case of Minamiyama trouble began a few years ago, when the city of Inagi decided to change Minamiyama from a forest tax zone to a city property tax zone, which drastically put the land owners into mounting debt. Mr. Uchida, who owns a small piece of the forests, which he uses to grow Shitaki Mushrooms, now owes million dollars to the government ? yet he is a leading forest defender. However he is one of just twenty, out of 260 landowners, who want the forest preserved.
The rest want to sell and have worked out an agreement with developers and the local government to share the costs of the development. It is their hope that the housing that is sold can lead to a profit. This is probably a vain hope. Japan's population is decreasing and recent development in the surrounding area has seen many apartments and houses going unsold.
For generations the land owners of Minamiyama looked after the land in a responsible and sustainable manner. By increasing the tax on the land the government has essentially forced the people to sell. Adding to this is the National Government inheritance tax, which is so high that it is forcing parents to sell their land before they die so their children can get some money.
The people who own the land on Minamiyama are not the children, but the fathers and the fathers decided years ago that they could not make an income out of the forests and so the land just sits there, being taxed and all the time the people who should inherit valuable land are despairing at the fact that they will get no money unless it is sold for development
These double whammies, inheritance tax and the change to higher property tax bracket have created the dilemma that is Minamiyama. That is the Microcosm.
What this means for the nation of Japan and for that matter the rest of the world is the Macrocosm. When I was young growing up in Great Britain, taxes were so ridiculous that the Beatles were being taxed 98%! Inheritance tax was so high that I personally know one land owner who was threatened with bankruptcy unless he destroyed his families castle to fall into a lower tax bracket. He kept the land, the world lost an ancient castle. The first UK Inheritance Tax came into being in 1894 and is credited with breaking up many land estates. Things have changed for the good in Britain, but not so in Japan, where the old are being forced to sell their land to ensure their children get money upon or before their death. Japan's population is ageing and the children don't like farming. Villages in the mountains are still just as beautiful as ever, but you rarely see a young or middle aged person, they are all in places like Tokyo. So, as the farmers grow old and die, there land sits idle and worthless to the children who are now separated from the land and the farming culture. Before this Inheritance Tax the land would have remained in the family, perhaps been used as a place for vacations or even a home in later years ? now that land is being sold off, when it can be sold, or returned to the government when it can not.
So, the government gains land, developers and politicians, often with very close ties to the developers, gain, more land, more money, more power. The people are being separated from their land at a time when people need to be reunited with it! This is why Minamiyama has such global importance. What is happening here in Japan can and probably is happening elsewhere. Forests all over the world are being destroyed for one form of greed or another. Minamiyama is just one one tiny mountain of trees, but it sits in the middle of the biggest city on the planet and offers either despair or hope to us all. If we cannot save even the smallest natural treasure how on earth can we expect to save the largest?
Part 2 STALKERS AND RACCOONS
Over the years it has not been my way, to get involved in what might be called a fight. I have never seen saving life on earth for our survival as a struggle or a fight. It's always been the right thing to do and to be done. The way I have been able to most help has been through inspiration and creation. My philosophy is that if we see we are involved in a struggle then our lives will be a struggle. If we see we are in a fight, we are in a fight. I want my life to be happy. Through personal joy, I can raise the energy of myself and others and increase the volume of the message. It's worked very well and I have witnessed what we can do with this positive energy. I have seen successes. Recently I founded Celebration Earth, with leading activists on the island of Okinawa, this Celebration Earth is now spreading around the world and due to the spirit of Celebration we were one day able to save an Okinawan bay from the hands of developers and a government so keen on landfill that years of protests had not deterred them ? only when activists wanting to save the bay got together and did a 'Coral Fish Dance' did the media splash them with coverage and the government decide to halt development.
It was in the spirit of Celebration Earth that Konomi, Cliff Spenger (The Walking Treeman) and myself were invited by local group Team Pom Poco to Minamiyama Mountain in early May this year. Our presence was enough to draw a crowd of 120 people to the mountain, to sing and dance and celebrate it's beauty. It was a pleasant day in beautiful surroundings painted with sadness and destruction. All were there to Celebrate Minamiyama's beauty, all were their to be inspired, to be change the energy of destruction for development to the energy of forest salvation. People danced in the forest and stared at the trees that recently cut down.
Team Pom Poco, was recently created, by citizens of Inagi, to help protect Minamiyama. They are not the only organisation trying to save the mountain from being flattened, other groups have been extremely vocal in their protests with much anger and frustration being shown. The angry protests put the local citizens off and empowered the cause of the landowners, who use their self righteous anger to get their point across. I was warned over the anger attached to the destruction of the mountain and advised to be careful not to have my energy sucked dry by this negativity. I heard. But I must admit, keeping above the battle, fight and struggle of others, has not been a small thing to do.
Soon after Konomi and I got involved in the Minamiyama cause we drew our own little stalker who tags angry messages wherever I appear on the internet. These verbal assaults and barrages get nastier and nastier. At first our stalker appeared to be a man interested in saving Minamiyama and we took his initial postings as a man who simply wanted to state the tax facts facing the landowners in a quest for a solution. We didn't particularly like his tone, but reasoned that 'hey it takes all types' and encouraged him to be a little more proactive. This only opened the door to increasing repetition, rising with anger and growing more personal, with assaults on our integrity and character that led us to recognise that contact with this man had to cease. I commented to Konomi only half jokingly, that this type of irrational behaviour and fixation led to the assassination of Gandhi and John Lennon and advised that on future appearances in Tokyo she might not want to be standing to close to me less she be shot by mistake. Fortunately on the internet you can block nasty messages and strange people and so this what we have done. There's no point in going down someone else's path of anger, attack, pain and despair, far easier to just log out and continue on your merry way. And that's what we have done and will continue to do. In order to save the forests and life on earth we will not use the same tactics and emotions as those who destroy. We will have fun!
And that is what team Pom Poco is all about and fun seems to be advancing the save Minamiyama cause better than anyway so far. Team Pom Poco was founded to offer an alternative and more friendly way to saving the mountain. The name 'Team Pom Poco' sums up the spirit of the group and comes from the Japanese classic animated movie 'Pom Poco' which was produced in 1995, by Studio Gibli, Japan's international award winning animation studio famed worldwide for such films as 'Spirited Away' and Howl's Castle'. The movie 'Pom Poco' told the story of Raccoons who attempt to save their forests from development. This much loved movie was based on the true story of a gigantic housing development that destroyed a forested mountain on the edge of Inagi around the time of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
In Japanese folk lore Raccoons have the ability to change into other creatures, including humans and the movie focused on this. Minamiyama still houses a Raccoon population which will surely disappear with the mountains development.
At the end of our day in the woods we watched 'Pom Poco' on a giant screen. The movie was as enchanting and powerful as the day it was produced and left an indelible mark on us all. Pom Poco Movie Director, Mr. Takahata, was invited to Minamiyama and when he came expressed his sadness and shock to see history being repeated. His visit was well covered by the media and the story of Minamiyama went nationwide. But all concerned realised that nationwide media would not be enough to save the mountain. International help was need. And this is where I come in.
Over on the other side of town, a 'Sea Forest' of 88 hectares, virtually the same size of Minamiyama is being created on a one hundred meter pile of garbage that has been dumped into Tokyo Bay. This 'Sea Forest' is being used to promote Tokyo's 'green' bid to win the 2016 Olympic Games. When asked for my advice on how to save the mountain I said, gIf the government is not prepared to listen to you, appeal to the Japanese Olympic Committee to save Minamiyama. I doubt they even know of the issue of Minamiyama and would be appalled to see how the destruction of a well established forested mountain could well have a negative impact on their bid for the 2016 Olympic Games. And let them know that if they are not interested that you will take it one step further and appeal to the international Olympic Committee (IOC)h
On the spot it was decided that I and members of Team Pom Poco would write a letter to the Japanese Olympic Committee. Team Pom Poco got no response. Mr. Takahata, the director from Studio Gibli visited the mountain, giving Minamiyama national media coverage. An article written by award winning freelance journalist Mr. Yokota, appeared in Friday magazine, the nations leading weekly, and my involvement was mentioned. I wrote a letter to Tokyo Governor Ishihara, who happens to be the Chairman of the Tokyo Olympic Bid Committee and then something astonishing happened...
PART 3: ANGRY WORDS FROM THE TOKYO GOVERNOR INSPIRE POSITIVE ACTION
On May 29th, Governor Ishihara of Tokyo, Chairman of Tokyo's 2016 Olympic Games bid committee gave a press conference, briefing the media on his upcoming visit to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. At the conference was Mr. Yokota,. The conference was all very jolly, until Mr. Yakota, who recently wrote a two page article on Minamiyama Mountain for Friday, Japan's most popular weekly Magazine, raised the issue of Minamiyama and asked for the Governor's response to the letter I had sent him regarding the contradiction of using a 'Sea Forest' created on a pile of garbage dumped in Tokyo Bay to help promote Tokyo's Olympic Bid as being 'green' while destroying a forest of the same size on the other side of town.
At this stage the governor went incomprehensibly ballistic. I meanwhile was a thousand kilometres away on a speaking tour of Japan with Konomi and Jeunesse Park, Founder of Food and Trees For Africa. Still, word of the Governors Press Conference reached my ears. People were shocked at the Governors response, at how he described Minamiyama as a 'Devil's Mountain That Eats Children' and dismissed my letter on the grounds that I was just a foreigner and questioned the nationality of the journalist for raising the issue.
People sent me a link to a video of the press conference and I must admit that I was deeply saddened by what I saw. I could not imagine how much stress the Governor Ishihara must be under to respond like that. But why get so angry and irrational? Why present such a bizarre excuse for the forest destruction?Whatever the reasons for his public outburst, it has not helped his cause. Rather, it has inspired the defenders of the mountain. Universally people are shocked when they see the video of the conference, and feel that there is something seriously wrong. And now people are going further. Before people were a little afraid of challenging Tokyo's Olympic Bid. Now they are not. One man has even written a letter to the Emperor of Japan and in this land this is a thing I have never known anyone to do!
So the press conference revealed the depth of the Minamiyama Issue. The Government, landowners and developers are intractable. It does not seem to matter that Tokyo could loose the games over this issue and more and more residents wonder, how can this be so? In my letter to the Governor I explained how saving Minamiyama would have a positive affect on Tokyo's bid for the games, and how destroying it would have a negative affect. It never was my intention to see Tokyo loose the 2016 Games, but following the press conference I see that tiny Minamiyama has global importance.
From September 2007 to August 2008 Konomi and I walked over 3000kms from Hong Kong to Beijing promoting China's 'Green Olympics'. At the end of our journey which was curtailed right before the opening of the games, due to China's increasing sensitivities, we recognised that the only thing green about the Olympics was the mountain that had been painted and the rivers that had been dyed. We witnessed the most incredible pollution and knew that all the heavily polluting industries that were moved out of Beijing had been set up elsewhere and that the result of the cities power stations being shut down for the games meant cleaner air in Beijing and increased pollution in the surrounding regions forced to produce more power to compensate.
Since leaving China we have shocked people into positive action by showing our video's recorded during China's 'Green Olympics' and have come to the conclusion that no games, no sport, no industry is sacred when it comes to protecting life on earth. Like all other economic ventures the Olympic Games needs to practice sustainability and needs to be accountable to the general public. Our earth and perhaps most importantly to us, our lives are at stake. The Olympic Games, offer a golden opportunity to advance the cause of sustainability and should not only claim to be green, but actually 'BE GREEN'.
If the destruction of Minamiyama leads to Tokyo loosing the 2016 Olympic games then so be it. This would not be a disaster for Tokyo, rather it would be a victory for the planet. Other nations would recognise that by truly being green, they would have more of a chance of winning the games.
Mr. Yokota came, along with a councillor and several members of Team Pom Poco to meet up with us prior to a speaking engagement to discuss where the Minamiyama Movement went from here. I was informed that at least one previously uninvolved human rights lawyer said I could have a legal case against Governor Ishihara for angrily dismissing my opinion on the grounds that I was just a foreigner, but I don't want to go that path. Our goal is to celebrate life and I cannot imagine that a courtroom and confrontation would lead to that. Then came an invitation we could not refuse. gWould you be interested in flying to Switzerland, to deliver our letters to the IOC at the same time as Governor Ishihara is making his presentation to them? Funds will be found.h
This was less than a week before the event. Several days passed with no apparent money being raised, then, out of the blue, a phone call. gWe've got the money if you want to go!h
That was on the 14th June. The Governor was set to be in Lausanne from the 16th to 18th. Not much time and a lot relied on a reasonable air fare. But, when the universe wants something to happen, all the pieces fall into place and miraculously we found airline tickets from Osaka to Zurich for less than $1000 and two days later arrived at the IOC Head Quarters in Lausanne Switzerland.
PART 4: THE DIRECT APPROACH CAN HAVE UNEXPECTED BENEFITS.
Our journey to deliver the letters to the IOC in Switzerland was not all easy. We travelled for twenty four hours and arrived in Lausanne only to find that every hotel and pension was fully booked due to three or four conventions inconveniently taking place at the same time. This meant a thirty minute train ride to the distant town of Yverdon-les-Bains where I searched for hours to find a reasonable priced room. Reasonable price is not a Swiss thing and very poor accommodation can be a regular European thing, so after checking out one of the worst rooms I've ever seen going for $90 without breakfast, toilet, running water, carpets, or clean sheets, I found a ridiculous $240 night hotel, that was I must admit very nice. This was our base for two days while we found a way to deliver the letters to the IOC.
You might think that
something as grand as the IOC would have a place where you could walk in and
encounter a person at the reception. According to the Lausanne tourist board
this was simply not so. gNo you cannot go into the IOC building. Tourists are
not allowed. You should visit the IOC exhibit on the other side of town.h
I have always found that the direct approach is the best way to get things done. Countless time I have walked into City halls and offices from China to Africa to Europe, asking to meet the Mayor, or even the 'boss' and within a few minutes have found myself in their office and later planting trees, meeting the media and onto another town to do the same thing next day.
So, with this in mind, off we went. It was a nice day and a pleasant five kilometre walk to the banks of Lake Geneva where we found the HQ of the IOC nestled discreetly amid a sea of trees. The IOC is not necessarily known for its transparency and if you wanted to disappear a building and an entity this might be the way to do it. The building was small, covered in glass and amazingly did not appear overly secure. All around were wide lawns that people could and did sit on and not a security camera appeared to be insight. A statue dating from the year 2000 proclaimed this was the IOC and that is where we posed with our letters and photo copied article from the Friday Magazine. Then we went to the main entrance, made a little video to record the fact that we were there and what we were about to do. Then we stood and stared at the glass doors and the little panel full of numbers that people push to gain entry. Could we get in?
A chap in a very expensive, yet discreet suit, walked up and magically the door opened for him. But we noticed at the same time a chap coming out and figured that maybe the door opened for him and the other man used the occasion to simply slip in. We watched a while longer. Aha! A man walked up and walked in with no code punched and no one on their way out. We could enter. In we walked and my impression of the IOC building looking like an art gallery was reaffirmed. In a large almost blank white space a rather attractive iceberg sat at a reception desk. gHello.h I said. gWe've come from Japan to deliver some letters.. Can we meet someone from the 2016 Olympic Bids Committee?h
gNo. They are all in a meeting.h
Which was delivered in a very final way.
gCan you give us the name of a person the letters should be delivered to?h g
gNo. But you can call this number.h
The number was the
same number for general enquires given to us by the tourist information lady.
No luck. So, we made our call next day and we're told gSorry, they are all in a meeting, but they will finish meeting at about 2pm. Please call us back after 2pmh
At this time I decided that it might be best if Konomi, a Japanese citizen called to explain why it was that we had come from Japan.
After 2pm she called.
A woman answered the phone.
This was as close as we were going to get. To be sure we were a little disappointed. We knew it would not be easy to enter the secretive halls of the IOC, but nevertheless we hoped for more. Even so, we were relieved that the letters could at least be hand delivered.
We put the letters, into an envelope, including one sent via email the day before, by Movie Director Mr. Takahata, into an envelope, enclosed with my hand written cover letter to explain the contents. Konomi then delivered them to the IOC headquarters, where she found much more activity. The meeting and presentation from Tokyo's Olympic Bid Committee was now over and she noted much more security, limousines and people she took to be journalists from Japan and elsewhere hanging around outside. The heightened security encouraged her to move away from the main entrance of the IOC before she recorded events on video. Once that was done she entered the building and walked over to the reception.
This time their were two receptionists, different ones from the day before.
Hi, I am here to deliver letters from people from Tokyo and Japan regarding 2016 Olympic Bid. Could you hand this to the people in charge, please?h Konomi said.
gSureh Said the receptionist as she took the envelope, and stamped it with a gReceivedh mark.
Konomi left the office, feeling accomplished. Those letters will be read. We left Lausanne that day, to take a much needed break. We went to France, stayed in the beautiful medieval city of Annecy, ate fine food (all at our expense) and enjoyed our vacation. We took a boat ride on a most gorgeous lake sparking beneath the sun in a most gorgeous graduation of emerald and turquoise colours. And there we reflected on the purpose of our journey. Was it worth it? Travelling all the way from Japan to deliver letters and messages to the IOC in the hope that this will somehow lead to saving Minamiyama. Undoubtedly it was!
Sending these letters by Email, would not have given us confidence that they would be read. Sending them by mail, would have been just a little better, but delivering them by hand, from thousands of miles across the sea, and ensuring that they were marked 'Received' gave them a sense of value and a sense of urgency.
Recently a lot of media has been given to Minamiyama ? no less than two national TV channels have covered the story. A TV anchorman flat out said that the government should save the mountain by changing the local tax laws and by giving the land owners tax credits. This video footage also includes angry scenes from past demonstrations, which must serve to give the IOC pause to think about the justification of Tokyo wining the Olympics of 2016. The Olympics is said to be all about a global event that inspires friendship and unity among nations, about something that crosses the great political and cultural divide. And yet, as can be seen in the video of the Governor's Press Conference, the message seems to be anything but welcoming and friendly to foreigners, or to people who disagree. I truly wish that for once I was a fly on the wall, when those in the IOC take a look at this and the other video's that we gave them links to.
But there is more to this story, than just the simple act of delivering the letters. People from all over the place, responded with great positivity to our journey. On our numerous websites and communities we've received more comments on our visit to Switzerland than at any other time. People who admit feeling despair at the extreme careless attitude of the Governor of Tokyo, the Mayor of Inagi, the landowners, the developers, the local councillors have been inspired ? they tell us so and they do it over the internet and tell of our journey to those who did not know of Minamiyama.
The movement is growing with positive energy and is travelling afar. People outside Japan are taking up the cause. A new website community will soon be developed. Answers to the problem are being supplied. People are suggesting government bonds sold to the citizens to put the land in trust, something that has worked before. Others are saying change the tax laws.
Minamiyama's story is being told. It's forests are being shared. The movement to save the forest is leaving the anger and protests behind. A new path is being created.
MACROCOSM & MICROCOSM is an ancient Greek schema of seeing the same patterns reproduced in all levels of the cosmos, from the largest scale (macrocosm or universe-level) all the way down to the smallest scale (microcosm or sub-sub-atomic or even metaphysical-level). Wikipedia.