Sustainable Tourism in Japan - innovation & inspiration

Ocean Day 海の日 [Umi-no-Hi] Beach CleanUp 2019

July 15th 2019 (Monday) is a national holiday in Japan because the nation celebrates “海の日 [Umi no Hi] Ocean Day”! It’s fantastic to live in a country where they take a day off to celebrate the ocean! This is a great opportunity to get out and enjoy a day at the beach and also a good chance to make an effort to lend a hand and help take some plastic pollution out of the sea.

My 2019 goal has been to do at least one organized cleanup event each month and July 15th will mark the 9th cleanup activity so far!

Such great news to be surpassing my target- maybe I can up my target to 20 by the year’s end?!

Here’s a brief summary of the cleanup activities so far this year:

1) Jan 13, 2019 (sun) – 20 kg Sun Okimi beach cleanup: 4 adults, 1 kid, 1 dog collected (10 big bags full in less than 2 hours)
2) Feb 9, 2019 (sat) – 10 kg Near A-bomb dome riverside cleanup: 4 adults & collected 4 bags in 1 hour (miserable weather)
3) Mar 17, 2019 (sun) – 30 kg Near Hiroshima castle riverside cleanup: 7 adults, 2 kids & collected 15 bags in 1 hour
4) April 21, 2019 (sun) – 30 kg riverside “Easter” cleanup & picnic: 10 adults, 4 kids (18 bags in under 2 hours)
5) May 5, 2019 (sun) – 90 kg こどもの日 Children’s Day – Ganne Beach Cleanup (Etajima) 7 adults, 3 kids (30 bags in 5 hours)
6) May 19, 2019 (sun) – 20 kg Chuo-Koen riverside cleanup: 5 adults, 2 kids (8 bags in 1 hour)
7) June 16, 2019 (sun) – 15 kg* Chuo-Koen riverside cleanup: 7 adults (5 bags in 1 hour) *There was a lot less to pick up in the same location as previous month]

8) June 22, 2019 (sat) – 15 kg Tokyo Riverside Cleanup: 7 adults (10 bags in under 2 hours)

So, that makes the planned Ocean day beach cleanup on Miyajima number 9!
9) July 15 Ocean Day 海の日 Cleanup on Miyajima’s main swimming beach

Who joins the beach and riverside CleanUps?
Some great people!!
We have only had small groups, the largest being 10 adults, but I think this is the type of movement that can grow well over time as long as we stick with it. My teenage son and I started doing this project as a challenge for his school CASS project (for the International Baccalaureate) and as a part of my personal sustainability branding for Inbound Ambassador.

My son and I made a pact that at least the two of us would do it each month whether others joined in or not, it was still a good thing to do. We’ve had mostly international residents join, but we had a few Japanese moms and their kids join in on Children’s Day once I started chatting with one of them on the beach about the plastic pollution problems.

Anything Dangerous?
In Hiroshima, the most common plastic pollution items found on the beaches are styrofoam and plastic tubing or discs, all of which derive from the floating oyster farms just off the coast of most islands. Along the rivers, most of the waste seems to be from littering- recyclable PET bottles, shopping bags, plastic containers and wrapping of all sorts as well as lots of cigarette butts.

The most hazardous items are the medical syringes and sharp glass, metal or other items which can easily cut through gloves. The most hazardous situations have been walking along slippery rocks or muddy shorelines to collect garbage. I also went out on a SUP board to collect garbage, but the river had brown foam on it (sewage?) and my feet were itchy and I ran a fever for a day, so try to avoid going into any obviously polluted waters from now on.

On a plog the other day (picking up plastic while jogging is plogging), I got scared when I saw two very large snakeskins and stopped picking up plastics in the tall grass along the riverside. So, this hasn’t been a danger yet, but there is always a potential danger to watch out for. Heatstroke and dehydration are more serious concerns for cleanup days in summer.

Local reactions
We often see a local SUP guide on the rivers and beaches cleaning up. For most locals, however, they are bemused as to why we choose to do a cleanup that is not officially organized by a neighborhood association or a big sponsor. Japanese people are fabulous volunteers when it is organized and structured, but our grassroots style likely confuses people.

Japan’s Level of Concern for Plastic Pollution
Certainly getting better. The mothers I talked to on the beach at the children’s day cleanup really impressed me- once I encouraged them to help out, they got all their kids to help and I heard them explaining all about the microplastic problems and oyster farming pollution problems to them. They knew so much more than I had thought. I admit it is completely overwhelming and I often feel frustrated and “what’s the point?!” ready to give up. It’s easy to think it’s someone else’s problem, or if it was really serious, the government would step in. The locals we have gotten to help are now passionate about doing cleanups and I see on their social media they are choosing to buy less plastics and following news about pollution more closely.

For example, a mom of two young girls who joined at Easter finds it hard to come to the cleanups every time but has added “plogging” to her daily runs (plogging = picking up plastic while jogging). Another example is a young guy who joined the river cleanup and I got him to try my SUP board to pick up river plastics has now bought his own board and picks up at least a little each time he goes out on it.

One of the volunteers also told me he is also trying to set up a SUPuraEyes tourist attraction in Hiroshima after watching my video introducing the idea of SUPuraEyes (“Surprise” SUP+ pura (plastic in Japanese) + eyes) : basically picking up plastic while on a SUP board tour of the river at a destination.

What can normal people do to help?
+ Reuse everything!!
+ Stop using anything in PET bottles, they are not being recycled, or even adequately collected and so many end up in Japan’s waterways. Choose cans or glass which have a higher percentage of recycling and do not end up in the same quantities and with the same bad effects as plastic in the oceans.
+ Bring back milk bottle infrastructure all everything made-in-japan and reduce the use of anything that is not easy to recycle or reuse. This means no more plastic PET drink bottles- all drinks in cans (easy to recycle) and glass bottles with a deposit system to make sure they get back to the recycling centers.
+ No more plastic bags- completely ban them! The UK has done this, many countries have done it, Japan can too!
+ Subsidies for zero-waste (packing free) stores and sections of supermarkets in Japan. Start with the farmer’s markets- wrap everything in newspaper, or use a rubber band with the bar code/price on it. Supermarkets have their own reusable containers that local customers pay a deposit (or use their member’s card) and return for reuse next time they shop.
+ Ban on any imports packaged in plastic or difficult to recycle/reuse packaging.
+ Pressure government and companies to stop manufacturing single-use plastics as France and other countries have now done. If the source of plastic pollution is not changed, the problem will never improve.