Being a part of the Student Exchange Program regarding Sustainable Development Goals by Kanazawa University gave a chance to visit and know more about Japan.
Japan shows that a country can be clean and well maintained, and it can be achieved with the cooperation of the citizens, who have the mentality to follow rules rather than break them. In Japan, we can’t see many the road side food stalls and shops, which also add to the reduction of wastage of road space. People in Japan are generally calm, quiet and helpful. They value their tradition and their culture a lot.
The 10 days Japan Training Summer Program towards SDGs by Kanazawa University started with an opening ceremony. An orientation was given at the university, where the professor talked about Japan and the problems it was facing. Metabolic diseases like diabetes are very less in Japan and cancer-like diseases are more. This is because Japanese people focus more on perfection, which in turn increases the use of pesticides and chemicals to make their products look attractive. They also gave a brief introduction about their food culture and traditional medicine system.
In their talk I got to know more that more people in Japan don’t want to live in villages and they have started moving to cities like Tokyo. This has reduced their traditional culture and life but they are still maintaining it in a healthy way. The expenses to live in Japan are really high. The food and stay are expensive. I was surprised to hear that a developed country like Japan doesn’t produce medicinal plants to make medicine for their traditional system of medicine called Kampo. Most of the medicines are taken from China.
We start to love a place when we know it from its origin. Shiramine, a village in Japan, is where its real culture and tradition came from. Four days in Shiramine made me love Japan and gave me that feeling of a home away from home. In those four days I got to enjoy the real taste of Japan. Rice was their major food, like we use in India, but the quantity is very less. For three meals, they provided rice which is a sticky variety and soups are also used more. They serve food in small portions in separate small bowls, and this includes vegetables, mainly radish, sea weeds, mushroom, tofu, carrot, peas and lotus stalk. They use very less spices, in fact no spices. Soya sauce is used more. Raw fish, octopus, chicken served with salads are given, which should be dipped and sauce and taken. It was a good experience to taste Japanese dishes like sushi, sashimi, okonomiyaki, sukiyaki and Japanese sake, which is a alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin made by fermenting rice. It was interesting that in the cold climate of Japan, along with these meat and foods, they served ice cold water with extra ice. The fact that Ayurveda says we should take hot water with rice and cold water with wheat for better digestion, here it was again different. It made me think another concept of Ayurveda lokha purusha smayavatha in which it says whatever it is present outside is present inside. We are a part of our environment where the local medicine has importance. It has the ability to know the people, and the medicines which are suitable for them. In our country metabolic diseases started when we adopted cultures from other places, which may be good for them but not for our surroundings.
The stay was really nice. Even it was named as a village, it can’t be seen as a village from the eyes of an Indian. It was so neat and clean, and the place where we stayed had many facilities. The Boss was our guide during the visit. Though he could not talk English, he was able to communicate well. There were Japanese students who joined us, Leo and Namko and they supported us throughout the journey. On the 1st day we visited Sabo science museum, where traditional Japanese equipments were seen, and also some temples in Japan where mainly Buddhism is practiced. We also made some traditional handcrafts during that day.
In Shiramine, we visited Hakusan National Park. It has a good collection of insects and animals that were present earlier in that place. Bettodeai Hakusan mountain climbing was a good experience. In that mountain, many plants that we use to see in our place were found. They had a lot of similarities to our plants. Plants like centella asiatica were seen there. Horse chestnut was present everywhere in the hill and also pine trees. It felt like a real forest experience. We visited Wasabi Garden. It was in the forest area itself, and was really beautiful. The water they used to irrigate the plants were taken from the river, and arranged in such a way that it is suppled without a motor system. Then some volunteer activities was done in Ichinose garden to remove the exotic plants grown in the place. Prior to that a class was given on exotic plants in Japan.
Our third day was about Japanese traditional Kampo medicine in Line House. An expert of this field gave us a lecture on this. There are many similarities in Kampo and Ayurveda. Both have a panchamahabootha concept in which the elements and idea is different. They explain it with body organs and fluids. In Kampo, there is not much dosage forms. They have medicines given in the form of tea, tablets and powders, and they also use acupuncture. Other than that, there are few options for treatments. I also understood that most people in Japan don’t prefer Kampo medicine, rather they go to allopathy hospitals and have heath insurance. Kampo medicinal plants are not cultivated in Japan, they import it from China and processing is done in Japan. They use Ginseng in their medicine, which is very good to relieve stomach problems. We made tea and tasted the tea. Kakkontou was also made and tasted. In that kakon, taiso, maowa, Glycyrrhiza, cinnamon, peony and ginger is used. The medicines are also really expensive.
Then we visited finger millet field and harvested the Ragi by ourselves. It was fun and after coming back, we had that ragi with sugar and water mixed. Ragi looks a bit different from the ones which are grown in our place.
Oguchinodekuwamashi traditional arts in Japan. It was in the place Higashifutakuchi, history and folkare museum. We saw many puppets, which was similar to pavakoothu in Kerala. Each of the puppets have a different history behind and it was really nice that we experienced it by ourselves. Boss guided us through the way. Next was the Hakusan Dinosaur Park, Shiramine. It has a good collection of fossils of dinosaurs from each era. A 3-d show showed both friendly and dangerous dinosaurs. It is good spot for children. Then we moved on to dig for fossils in the rocks, that was also a nice experience. I got a basic idea to find which is leaf, and which is root fossil.
On the fourth day, we visited the Textile Museum in Hakusan and made clothes using the loom. At the end, there was a session in which we discussed similarities and differences in Japan and India. Hida also shared her experience living in Japan. The interaction was really good, and I liked hearing the thoughts from others.
Coming back to Kanazawa University, there was a lecture by Prof. Sasaki regarding the experiences in Kampo in Shiramine and Japan. He also put an effort to compare Ayurveda and Kampo medicines. Then we went to see medicinal garden and lab in the university.
Then we went to visit Toyama University, Museum of Materia Medica, Institute of Natural Medicine. They had a good collection of Kampo medicines, but it was the the collection of Ayurveda medicines which surprised me. It was collected from very long back and is well preserved. There is a separate section for this. They have a good collection of formulations also. Animal-origin medicines were also there. They have good database about the plants which is used in different traditional medicines, edited by the experts of the field. Ethnomedicine database and shoruhombi data base. Then we visited the Museum of folklore at Toyama Municipal Folkcraft Village, where their ancient machines were shown, and millets and cultural representations in the form of statues.
Finally, we had a UNU visit. It was regarding the sustainable management of landscapes and seascapes for biodiversity conservation and socioeconomic development. It talked about the history of the country, how they tackled and various developments.
Overall, this visit was really helpful in learning about how things work in a different country. It also me gave a chance to appreciate our country for many reasons and would also like to take so many good things that Japan follows back to India. Food plays an important role in our health, so it was clear from this journey that what is healthy differs across countries. Traditional medicines are always the root way to cure illness, here kampo medicines uses different types of plants which feels like studies should have been carried out, but the government does not promote that much research in that particular f ield. As adeveloped country, it was sad that Japan doesn’t promote agriculture and focuses more on cures. Their waste recycling is really amazing, and the effort to keep the city clean still fascinates me.