News: Let’s Do It! Japan leader is raising awareness in already ‘trash-free’ country

If you have ever visited Japan you know how difficult it is to spot a trash on the street. At the World Cup it became news that Japanese football fans cleaned after themselves and other people after the match. Takao Asai, the Japan leader of Let’s Do It!, however, points out that his country has […]

If you have ever visited Japan you know how difficult it is to spot a trash on the street. At the World Cup it became news that Japanese football fans cleaned after themselves and other people after the match. Takao Asai, the Japan leader of Let’s Do It!, however, points out that his country has a huge trash issue which many people don’t realise. The land may be clean, but the situation is not that good with the sea and rivers. Japan is taking part in World Cleanup Day to spread the word and getting Japanese people interested in environmental issues.

As a Japanese person it seems to me that Japanese streets are already too clean to do a clean-up…
That is true, indeed. I agree that Japan has a high standard of manner when it comes to cleaning. We don’t really see any garbage in public. But this time, we are not aiming just to clean up the streets. We are focusing on spreading the word about World Cleanup Day and getting Japanese people interested in environmental issues, which I think still has a long way to go.

What kind of environmental issues does Japan have?
Japan actually has a lot of invisible garbage issues. Yes, there is a little garbage that you can spot on the street, but what about the sea or rivers? Actually we have a lot of garbage, especially plastic garbage swimming in the sea and in rivers. There is a research that says the sea around Japan has 27 times higher concentration of micro-plastics compared to the average of the world.

That is so high.
Yes. But it is very difficult to notice such an issue, as most of the Japanese people think Japan is a clean country. It is clean as to the land, indeed, but if you take closer look on the sea or rivers, the picture is not that beautiful at all. Also, we have a problem of frequent usage of plastics. For example, when you buy things in Japan, they often come with unnecessary amount of plastic packaging. I think the education about cleaning in Japan has been quite successful, judging from the manner of people, but we still need to raise awareness about plastic garbage and especially garbage in the sea.

When did all those environmental issues become so important for you?
I would say that since I was a child. Environmental issues have always meant a lot to me. I grew up in an area where one of the most damaging water pollution in Japan had happened. A metal mining company threw cadmium away into the river, and people who ate rice made with that water got an itai-itai disease (it hurts-it hurts disease) which made bones really weak and the people had tremendous pain from it. When I was born, that pollution and the disease were already widely known. So for me, environmental issues are something that took naturally interest in me.

How did you start leading Word Cleanup Day in Japan?
At first, when my friend, the leader of World Cleanup Day in Taiwan, introduced me the movement, I was not very interested in it, to be honest. There are already tons of organisations and groups that locally do clean-ups in Japan, so I didn’t see the point of creating another group for the same purpose. However, what attracted me eventually about World Cleanup Day is its concept: if 5 per cent of people participate all over the world, we can change the world together. Many of those clean-up groups in Japan tend to operate separately. As to the World Cleanup Day, I love the idea of getting people from different countries to do the clean-up together on the same day.  That can impact more people than when we do it on our own.

How many people are involved with the World Cleanup Day in Japan?
Around 2000 people will participate on September the 15th. We have also been creating partnership with some environmental organisations, and their responses have been very supportive. They are especially impressed by how Estonia, a small country, started such a global movement. We are also considering continuing with the movement, not just one day action. This is just an idea right now, but we would like to educate more Japanese people or local governments on plastic garbage problems.

Doing all that, what motivates you the most?
For me that process itself is motivating. Connecting with people who are interested in solving the garbage problem and also getting more people involved. Also, the movement itself is very motivating for me. I am not sure how big this all can be, but I am confident it will have a positive impact on the planet.

Is there anything that has suprised you while preparing for the World Cleanup Day?
It was shocking for me to know that Estonia with a population of 1.3 million people started such a big global movement with as many as 150 countries participating. When I tell people about World Cleanup Day and mention that Estonia started it, everyone is impressed how big this is now. Especially in Japan, where we have an image of Estonia as an IT country. So, this is something we couldn’t imagine from Estonia. Also, I like how Estonian leaders of WCD let every country take their own initiative. I can see that people from any countries really enjoy participating.

Yumiko Kijima