I'm living in Kusatsu-shi, Shiga-ken for an undetermined amount of time and teaching English as a second language at a local high school. This journal is to document my experiences, thoughts, and to stay connected with others at home and abroad.

Monday, April 21, 2008

地球の日のため琵琶湖を掃除する活動:Cleaning up Lake Biwa for Earth Day

For those who don't know, International Earth Day is on April 22nd. In order to help celebrate this, I helped organize a group of ALTs here in Shiga to clean up a part of the shoreline in Nagahama, at the northern end of Lake Biwa (Japan's largest and dirtiest lake). As you can see, we had our work cut out for us, but in about 3 and 1/2 hours we collected 33 bags of most useless crap.


But seeing how much of an impact we could make with around 10~15 people in such a short amount of time was really uplifting. I'm hoping that we can make this a monthly thing, and that in the process other Japanese citizens will see us taking care of their (and our) home and begin to take more strict efforts to maintain the environment.


I have quite a few more photos from the event that you can see here on Flickr:
Biwako Clean-up: 琵琶湖を清掃

Thursday, April 17, 2008

2008 BEE Japan Cross-Country Ride (日本一周ライド)

Hey everyone,

I originally posted about these guys about a year ago, and I put their website on my side bar of links. Recently I've gotten involved with BEE Japan, and I'm helping coordinate BEE SIG, one of their websites associated with AJET (a National JET Program run by JET participants). If you find anything interesting and/or want to help in any way, please let me know.

Peace, Salem

最近私は下に説明するBEE Japanチームと活動しています。BEE Japanについて質問があったら、もし手伝いたいと思ったら人、是非メール下さい。すでに横のサイドバーにBEE Japanのリンクが貼ってあいます。

Greetings from the BEE (Bicycle for Everyone's Earth) Team. BEE is the
name of the AJET Eco SIG, a group of JETs who promote environmentalism
in Japan.
Every year during the summer months an intrepid band of JETs cycle
from Wakkanai in northern Hokkaido to Kagoshima in southern Kyushu.
Riding an average of 70km a day the BEE team covers over 3000 km in 2
months all the while spreading the message of environmental protection
and sustainable living.

In 2008 the team will depart from Wakkanai on August 2nd and ride
their way down to Niigata Prefecture along the Sea of Japan before
tackling the Japanese Alps. Arriving in Tokyo in late August they will
be hosting some events for a few days then will head out along the
southern coast of Honshu, skirting round Mt. Fuji and heading for
Shiga Prefecture and Lake Biwa by early September. After a few days in
Fukui Prefecture the ride goes through Kyoto and Osaka, crosses to
Shikoku and travels on to Hiroshima via Ehime Prefecture. By late
September they will take the ferry to Kyushu and spend the last 10
days of the month travelling toward Kagoshima Prefecture and the
finish line. All along, the team will host events to promote
environmental awareness.

Sound exciting? There are still a few positions left on the riding
team. Right now we have several riders committed to the entire trip
with some more coming along for certain sections. We are still
recruiting riders. You can get an application form at
www.beejapan.org/index/2008/join (our rider application deadline is
the end of May).

BEE is really a national effort involving hundreds of individuals
across Japan. It really can't happen without your support. Here are
some of the things you can do to help.

Become a supporter
Do you have some spare futons? Can you cook for a small band of hungry
cyclists? Are you a local AJET rep who can help organise an event? Are
you interested in learning more about how you can live a sustainable
life? Maybe you are an avid cyclist and would like to come for a few
days of the ride? Or perhaps you rock the nihongo and are willing to
give some of your time to translating for us? If you can think of
anyway to help us then we need to hear from you.

The most help we need is in fact along the route. If you are willing
to host the team (or part of the team) in your house or apartment why
not check out the route and see if we are coming to your area. Check
out the route plan here at route. Just send us an email at
teamleader@beejapan.org if you are willing to help us out. Even if you
just want to suggest some cool places in your area then please send us
an email.

On of the best ways to keep up to date with what is happening on BEE
is to join our mailing list. Just send a blank email to

You can also lend your considerable support by ordering one of our
sweet new tshirts. Not only will you get a cool shirt but will be
helping BEE, thereby helping the earth. The shirts are very reasonably
priced at 2500 yen each. You can view the design at

Details on how to order will be posted on the website and also sent
out on our mailing lists.

A message from the BEE SIG coordinator
Hey everyone, My name is Salem Willard, I'm a second-year high school
ALT in Shiga Prefecture.
I recently inherited the BEE SIG (Bicycling for Everyone's Earth
Special Interest Group), and I'm hoping to revitalize it this coming
year. BEE SIG functions to raise environmental awareness, provide
information about these environmental issues, and to support BEE JAPAN
and their yearly ride around the country to promote sustainable

If you feel passionately about reducing waste in Japan (such as
plastic bags, waribashi, etc) and maintaining a clean place for us all
to live, please contact me at coordinator@beejapan.org. Yoroshiku.

Thanks for your support!

Colin Johnston - BEE Ride team leader
Salem Willard - BEE SIG Coordinator

Visit www.beejapan.org

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Waribashi (part 2 or 3)

It's been a few months, and that means I need to loosen my atrophying vocal chords and get back to hollering about waribashi (disposable chopsticks, the devils). As I've foamed before, they are a key component to Japan's senseless and ignorant destruction of the world's (mainly China's) forests, and there really is no reason for thing to have continued as far as they have. Given the technological capacities of thus country, there is no reason for Japan to continue using 26,0oo,ooo,ooo billion pairs of waribashi every year.

So I've gotten past the point of wishful thinking and strident echoes against my own righteous sounding wall that is this blog, and I decided recently to take action that would have a larger impact on my community, my world, because if we cut down any more trees without respecting the boon they provide for all living creatures, there is going to be no more oxygen to exercise my angry lungs.

My solution is to go to the power. I wrote a letter to the governor of Shiga Prefecture, Mrs. Yukiko Kada, explaining why I think that ending the use of waribashi in Shiga is important for the environment, and suggesting ways in which we could reduce or recycle waribashi. I have already received an email from Mrs. Kada saying that she supports the idea and has passed along my ideas to the environmental department to think of new ideas/policies regarding waribashi.

I'm including my letter to The Governor below.

In addition to this, I am also attaching a photo and description of a recent piece I did for the Shiga JET Art Show. As expected, the theme was waribashi. As you will read, the waribashi I used to build a model of Japan's most famous famous Ise Temple were all waribashi that had been sneaked into my shopping bags when I wasn't looking. (The horrible dual-edge of waribashi is that once they are distributed, they cannot be returned because they are assumed to be dirty and therefore used.)

First the letter, in Japanese and English, then my artist interpretation:




しかしながら、滋賀県をもっと地球にやさしくさせるために、 私の考えをお伝えし、いくつかの提案をしたいと思います。

ご存知のように、日本全国で割り箸の使用が環境に非常に悪い影響を与えます。1日にほぼ1億膳の割り箸が使い捨てられています。 東京大学の環境活動団体「環境三四郎」(http://www.sanshiro.ne.jp/)の全国調査 によると、「2005年現在、日本国内で年間約260億膳の割り箸が消費されている」ということです。 日本らしい表現で言うと、これは「もったいない」ではないのでしょうか。

私は来日してから 毎日お箸で食べなければいなくなったのですが「マイ箸(毎箸)」を使うことにしいます。周りの友達や同僚に「マイ箸」をあげたり、英語の授業で生徒と「割り箸の問題」についてディスカッションをしてもらったりしています。相対的にこの活躍は小さいですが、地球温暖化を抑えるためこの「割り箸はもったいなくて、いりません」というメッセージをみんなと申し上げたいと思っています。


1) 滋賀県が「割り箸禁止」という規制を作るのがひとつの方法です。そうすれば、飲食店では再使用お箸に変えるしかなく、そして、コンビニアンスストアでも、割り箸を配ることも禁止になります。一面ではこの提案は最も厳しいかもしれませんが、他の方法よりも効果的だと存じます。一方で、最近地方分権化が進んでいますので、条例を定める方法もあります。
2) 割り箸税金という方法もあります。現在は、県民がコンビニアンスストア、飲食店、スーパーなどでは無料で簡単に割り箸をも 貰うことができます。でも、もちろん割り箸の環境に悪い影響は値段に含まれていないでしょう。もし地球のための「割り箸税金」を導入すれば、幅広い効果があると存じます。2〜3円でも、その「割り箸税金」が集まったお金を原資に、例えば滋賀県内で特別な割り箸をリサイクルのシステムを設置できる可能性があります。または、これで滋賀県民がもっと環境のためを思うようになって、割り箸を使う人が自然に減るかもしれません。




Dear Governor Kada,

(I am aware that you speak English as well as Japanese, and so I have provided this version of my letter in English as well. I hope that where my Japanese is lacking, my wishes and thoughts will be understood here in English.)

My name is Salem Willard, and I am currently working at Kusatsu High School as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for the JET Program. My home is in Atlanta, Georgia of the United States of America. I graduated from the University of Georgia in May of 2006, and I came to Japan in July of that year.

Since coming to Shiga I have been very surprised and impressed with the way Japanese people think about the environment. For example, many people bring their own ‘Eco-bags’ to the grocery store instead of using plastic ones. In Shiga people also recycle many things, and even at Prefecture High Schools toilet paper is made from recycled milk cartons. I think that these are wonderful ways of taking action to protect the environment.

However, I believe that there is more we can do in Shiga to be more Earth friendly.

As you probably well know, in Japan waribashi are a big problem that has seriously harmful effects on the environment. In one day about one hundred million pairs of waribashi are used and disposed. According to research done by Kankyou Sanshiro, about 260 pairs of waribashi are used every day in Japan. To use a customary Japanese phrase, isn’t this a bit wasteful?

Since coming to Japan where I must use chopsticks everyday, I have decided to use Mybashi. I have given Mybashi to many people around me, and in English classes I have had the students discuss the waribashi problem. Although these actions are relatively small, I would like the share this message about waribashi with everyone.

In order to make Shiga cleaner and remove waribashi, for the time being, I have two proposals.

1) One way is for the Shiga government (Kencho) to pass a regulation or law. This regulation would make restaurants change to reusable chopsticks, and it would also forbid convenience stores from giving away free waribashi. On the one hand this proposal is quite strict, but I believe it could be very effective. Due to the continuing decentralization movements by local governments, however, making a general Shiga policy that the cities could pursue themselves is also an option.

2) Another way is by introducing a “Waribashi Tax”. Shiga citizens can easily get free waribashi from convenience stores, supermarkets, and restaurants, yet the cost of the negative environmental effect this has is not included. If we add a “Waribashi Tax” for the sake of our planet, I think we could make a big impact. Even just a few yen per pair of chopsticks could possibly fund a special Shiga-wide waribashi recycling system. Or even better, it could get people to think more about the environment and reduce their use of waribashi.
--In 2007, part of Nagoya began a similar “plastic bag charge” that has had dramatic effects. Stores that have introduced a 5 yen charge for plastic bags have seen up to 90% of their customers refuse plastic bags in recent months, resulting in 30 tons of reduced waste from plastic bags in the past two months.

Here is the URL to the article about Nagoya’s steps to reducing plastic bag waste:

I’m sorry for taking so much of your time when I know you are extremely busy. I hope that together we can make Shiga Prefecture and Lake Biwa a more beautiful place by thinking about our home and its future.


Salem Willard

Now for the aesthetic side (or lack thereof) to environmental statements:

Katie Middendorf ケイティ・ミデンドーフ
Inspirer, Conspirer of otherworldly impressions

Salem Willard セイラム・ウィラード
Construction worker, Interpreter  (建築家、翻訳)

National Treasure 国宝

Building Materials: 建設材料

Waribashi, tape 割り箸、テープ

*all waribashi used were unsolicited like hidden daggers or unwanted impositions slipped into shopping bags, Osho take-out, when we failed to keep a vigil eye

We made this temple with the idea in mind that something positive can come from trash. In addition, our wastefulness has a cost that threatens our natural forests, a vital source of life, a living treasure. The temple was modeled after the Ise Jingu (Shrine), which Katie and I visited last November. Ise Jingu is the home of the Japanese Imperial Family’s deity, the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu—Ooikami. It is a sacred place symbolizing a connection with and respect for nature that people forget in their use of waribashi. We believe we must protect our treasures symbolic and living in creating a hopeful and healthy future.


Shingo and Chika's wedding

I met Shingo during my senior year at UGA when I began taking Japanese classes. He was studying business at Terry College and playing club men's volleyball, but I met him through the Japanese department, where he was helping with Japanese foreign exchange students assist the courses. Shingo had been living in America four three years at that point (after a year in Singapore and Australia).

As I said he was helping teach Japanese classes, but not the one that I was taking, so ironically we didn't really know each other that well at first. However, when I came to first visit Katie in Shiga in the winter of 2005, I was talking to Shingo and he said, "Really, you're going to Shiga? I live in Shiga!"

During that vacation when I came to see Katie, Shingo was also home to see his family, and he and his fiancée, Chika, took us out for yakiniku (Korean BBQ) and karaoke. Shingo, a friend of his, and I also went to Shigaraki, the major pottery town in Shiga and one of the most famous in Japan. He also introduced me to the Japanese sento (public bath), for which I am very grateful. Not knowing the dos and don'ts, it could have been quite awkward being naked for the first time in a large room of strangers--not exactly the time one wants to make an egregious social blunder.

The ironic twist to meeting and becoming friends with Shingo, is that for the past 1 1/2 years I've been living in Japan, his home country, while he's been finishing out his business degree at UGA, my home state and alma mater. After quite a long absence (albeit with a few visits here and there on holiday) Shingo finally returned back to Minakuchi in December of 2007 (while I was in Cambodia), and he and Chika begin making the plans for their wedding in March.

As you can hopefully see, the ceremony was splendid. I'm suppose I was a bit surprised, because there were few differences between their wedding and what I would assume what a similar event would be like at home (it's been long enough to forget). Katie and I, as well as some other American and Japanese friends from Shiga, Kobe, and yes, Athens, were all in attendance. The food was amazing, good enough to forget being a "vegetarian" for a few hours (how could I let such succulent sushi and duck go to waste?). Hearing the story of their relationship (too long too enumerate) also helped Katie and I to feel closer than we have been in quite a while. There's nothing like love to bring lovers closer together.

Sadly Shingo's new job has taken both he and Chika to Tokyo. No less than two weeks after the ceremony in Minami-Kusatsu (a bike ride from my apartment), Shingo and Chika were moved into their new apartment in the world's largest black hole of human inspiration. I actually visited them during a research conference I participated in (in Tokyo, my favorite!).

Best of luck in Tokyo! I'd be worried and very reluctant to make a similar move, but I hope their love can help them to make it into the 24th century and 7 dimensions that are the Tokyo subway. Godspeed!