Japan or the “the land of the rising Sun” is a nation that lives up to its name and on August 2022, 10 students from TDU and 10 students from ATREE were fortunate enough to be selected for an opportunity to a funded visit to this glorious nation and be part of the Japan Training Summer Program toward SDGs from October 13th to October 21st, 2022.
The students were selected as part of the JASSO (Japan Students Service Organisation) Scholarship and were given 80000 Yen as part of the scholarship. The program is an Intergenerational Dialog toward SDGs and focuses especially on SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), 13 (Climate Action), 14 (Life Below Water), and 15 (Life on Land). It focuses also on learning from UNESCO Designated Sites in Japan.
This is a detailed report on the visit and all the events and activities of it.
The day started with an opening ceremony at Kanazawa university. We were joined by Professor Shimura Megumi, the Director of the Organisation of Global Affairs, Professor Aida Mammadova and Ms. Emi. We were given a general introduction to Ishikawa prefecture, Kanazawa in particular, and also to Mount Hakusan Biosphere Reserve. A brief picture of Shiramine Village and a few traditions and cultures to be followed there were also told. After lunch, we were taken to the nearby UNU-IAS OUIK (United Nations University-Institute for Advanced Study of Sustainability, Operation Unit, Ishikawa, Kanazawa). A general picture of the projects going on was given. Professor Juan Pastor explained in detail the SUN (Sustainable Urban Nature) Project of the UNU-IAS OUIK which dealt with conserving traditions, transforming the present, and utilizing the future of nature in Kanazawa.
We left in the morning for Shiramine Village. We met Mr. Takashi Yamaguchi, or Boss, as we lovingly called him, who was our instructor and guide in Shiramine. We were also accompanied by Kyle and Leo, who are undergraduate environment students. Kyle and Leo helped with translation for our whole time in Shiramine.
We were given a short orientation to the Hakusan Biosphere Reserve and the Hakusan Tedo River Geopark, which is one of the UNESCO Global Geoparks. Hakusan is a dormant volcanic mountain and shiramine lies at its base, in the buffer or transition zone of the Hakusan Biosphere reserve. Shiramine is one of the places with the highest snowfall in Japan.
We learned something fascinating about the resource management and benefit sharing of National Parks in Japan - that it is owned by the people and all resources belong to them, the Government does not own the area. We also came to know about the major problem of Shiramine village, which is a drastic decrease in its population. People were abandoning their homes in villages and shifting to cities and the left-out population majorly consisted of senior citizens.
Shiramine also had another specialty. The houses here usually do not have showers of their own as the village had hot springs which were used as public baths by the villagers. So we were also warned about some basic etiquettes to be followed at the public baths. We were given a short tour around the village where we saw the Japanese traditional houses, Buddhist temples, and other such major locations of Shiramine. After a traditional Japanese-style lunch, we visited the Hakusan Roku Folklore Museum and also tried making straw work artifacts of our own.
After a traditional-style breakfast, we were taken to visit the Million Rock which is a huge rock that flowed along with floodwaters of the Tejo river. It is said to change its position during each flood. After that, we went to the Visitors Center of Hakusan National park and had a trek up to the gate of Mount Hakusan which is around 650 meters above sea level. Along the way, we saw the ruins of earlier houses which were destroyed due to landslides in the mountain.
After the trek, we went to visit a traditional wasabi garden and had our packed lunches from there. Following the garden visit, we had a brief talk about alien and invasive species and an activity of identifying alien species and removing them from a field.
Following breakfast, we listened to a talk about Kampo medicine from Kampo practitioner Mr. Hirotake Naoda. We learned that Kampo medicine is derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine and follows mostly the basic principles of TCM. The talk equipped us with enough information to compare Ayurveda and Kampo and to also understand the challenges faced by Kampo Practitioners in Japan. During the talk, we also had an opportunity to taste ginseng tea, which is a widely used Kampo medicine. We also learned about a traditional Kampo preparation called “Kakkontou”, which is a 7-herb mix used for fever, cold, etc.
Following the talk, we visited a ragi/finger millet field and understood the traditional way of millet cultivation in Japan. We were told that such traditions were now becoming rare and forgotten. We were also enlightened about the immense, to a limit, unwanted care and effort they were putting into each cultivation. We even helped the owner of the farm harvest the ready, ripe millets. Then we proceeded to have a Japanese curry and rice lunch, which was lovingly made for us by Boss and the team.
After lunch, we took a brief detour to the Jurassic era. Mount Hakusan is a dormant volcano and is said to be rich in fossils. We visited the Hakusan Dinosaur Park which had many visual treats for us. We also participated in fossil excavation activity where we could keep the fossils we find for ourselves. After this, we went to a village which was once famous for its puppet shows. We were allowed to hold and play with the puppets or “Deku dolls”.
On our last day in Shiramine, we visited the backyard of the Hakusan Alpine Botanical Garden which was launched in 1998 to protect the indigenous alpine floral species of Hakusan and also protect it from alien and exotic species invasion. The actual garden is located around 800 meters above sea level and is only open to visitors in June & July months when the flowers are in full bloom.
After this, we visited a traditional silk factory where we saw the processes behind the production of silk. We even got to weave a 15 cm length cloth of our own using traditional Japanese handlooms.
After a delicious lunch, we had a group activity where we were divided into 5 groups and were asked to prepare a poster and present about the similarities and differences between Japanese and Indian culture and traditions. It was an interesting session and helped us realize the uniqueness of Japanese culture.
After returning from Shiramine to Kanazawa, on our last day at Kanazawa University, our morning session was with Professor Yohei Sasaki who gave us more information about Kampo medicine and also about the work going on at Kanazawa university to uplift Kampo medicine. There were projects on the Kanazawa Thread (inspired by Ayurveda’s Ksharasutra) and also on the cultivation of Kampo medicinal plants. Almost all of these projects were inspired by Prof. Sasaki’s visits to TDU and Kerala and his realizations from them. After lunch, we had the closing ceremony, where each of us was awarded the completion certificate of the JASSO Scholarship.
After the closing ceremony, we visited the medicinal garden of Kanazawa university where we learned about the methods of cultivation and harvest of medicinal plants were briefly discussed. It was also interesting to know that the students of the university were the ones who maintained and cared for the garden.
On our last day in Kanazawa, we moved to Toyama University by bus. At Toyama University, we visited the Museum of Materia Medica which is one of the largest raw drug repositories in the world. Here again, we were given a lot of insight into the reasoning behind each type of formulation and combination in Kampo and also the evolution of it. We also got a short briefing about the free, online databases of the Institute of Natural Medicine, Toyama, and also about how to access them.
After lunch, we visited Ikeda Yasubei Shoten, a Kampo medicine store where we got a hands-on experience of pill rolling using the traditional pill roller mills of Japan. Then we also visited the Museum of Folklore at Toyama Municipal Folkcraft Village.
On the last official day in Japan, we visited the United Nations University, Tokyo, and had a talk by Mr. Bruno about the Sustainable Landscapes and Seascapes (“Satoyama and Satoumi”) Initiative for Biodiversity Conservation. We learned about the dynamics of SEPLS or the Socio-Ecological Production of Landscapes and Seascapes. We learned about how societies can live in harmony with nature and saw a few case studies from around the world. Following this, we had a quick talk about RCE (Regional Centers of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development) by Ms. Miki Konishi.
This trip was a wonderful opportunity to understand the culture and traditions of Japan and to have a close interaction with Japanese people. It taught us many valuable lessons like the importance of the preservation of biodiversity, culture, and traditions. We also learned a lot from the amount of care and importance Japanese people put into protecting nature and also on sustainable use of energy. We also hope they learned from us Indians about the value of upholding traditions and also about the importance of maintaining and uplifting traditional systems of medicine.