Protect the earth, a lesson learned in Japan [Archives:2007/1043/Reportage]

April 19 2007
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.
Learning about the art of shodou, Japanese calligraphy.
Learning about the art of shodou, Japanese calligraphy.
At the farewell ceremony, a final photo to remember. PHOTO BY PABLO OLEAS
At the farewell ceremony, a final photo to remember. PHOTO BY PABLO OLEAS
By: Nadia Al-Harithi
For Yemen Times

The annual Global Youth Exchange Program for 2006 organized by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs through their embassy in Sana'a presented an opportunity to visit Japan via a competition. The program was themed, “Environment and Economic Development – Searching key ideas to create harmony in the 21st century.”

Because of my relevant background as a postgraduate student in Sana'a University's Integrated Water Resources Management, I thought it an excellent opportunity, so I entered the competition and was thrilled to win! Thus, I was on my way to Japan in 2006 with participants from 31 countries, as well as an international organization that joined the program.

We all participated in the event in order to exchange general ideas and experience, but specifically, to exchange thoughts on how to achieve harmony between environmental preservation and economic growth.

As an international participant with a local and regional perspective, I effectively participated in order to learn from others coming from Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and the United States. At the end of this practical experience, group discussions and their global ideas yielded a proposal submitted to Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Midori Matsushima.

Welcome to Japan: Konnichiwa

Before traveling to Japan, I read a little about its people and nature, but it was only when I set foot on Japanese soil that I realized that “seeing is believing.” Our program lasted 15 days, during which we visited three cities: Tokyo, Kyoto and Aichi.

In Tokyo, we visited Asakusa, the old part of the city, where we ate our first Japanese meal in a traditional restaurant. The second day, we visited Tokyo's largest gardens built by a shogun as a hunting ground.

Our stay in Kyoto was like a beautiful dream. We visited tourist attractions such as Nijo Castle, representing the power of the Tokugawa shogunate, and many temples begun by Saifukuji, where we practiced calligraphy at Nishi-Hongwanji and Zazen meditation by sitting peacefully and detaching from daily tension. I learned how to write my name in Japanese and felt deep respect for the art.

We also visited Kinkakuji Temple, the “Temple of the Golden Pavilion,” which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I made a wish to revisit Japan at Kiyomizudera, the “Pure Water Temple,” where you can drink from fountains, and your wish will come true. We also visited another marvellous temple called Sanjusangendo.

I still remember the Shimadzu Corporation logo, “For the well being of mankind and the earth.” The company aims to develop and supply products related to environmental monitoring systems and was linked with my group's sub-theme of economic growth and environmental preservation.

The third city, Aichi, is an industrial prefecture where we spent seven days. Our first visit was to the Toyota Motor Corporation, where the process was explained to us, as well as the automaker's environmental efforts, principles and guidelines to provide the global market with hybrid technology.

We next visited Nagoya Public Aquarium to view marine species and hear about the coastal and marine problems affecting their habitats. However, it was in our visits to the New Energy Research Plant and the Central Japan International Airport (Centrair) that we realized the extent of Japanese efforts to conserve the environment.

The airport authority conducted various environmental impact assessments during the airport's planning, implementation and operation in order to mitigate negative environmental impacts, which provided a practical example of such assessments' processes and measures.

Additionally, we attended various lectures and sessions on environmental awareness and preservation at EXPO 2006, in which 121 countries participated. The expo's aim was how to promote economic development without harming the environment.

The Nagoya University exchange program gave presentations on bullfighting in Japan, immigration and citizenship in Japan, the transformation of forest vegetation in Fujioka and establishing an environmentally sound material cycle society based on citizen participation. Through these presentations, we learned a lot about various cultural, environmental, economic and political aspects.

To gain an inside feel of the Japanese family, the program included a daylong home-stay. I stayed with a nice, typical Japanese woman named Kiyoko Ohta, who treated me like her daughter. She was eager to learn about my country and culture and shared much about her experiences in hosting 300 people from different countries and cultures, linking between those cultures in an amazing analytical approach.

With my host family, I visited Nagoya Castle and the Expo 2006 site and exhibition. A small party featuring traditional Japanese drumming also gathered the participants and their host families.

Our contribution to the program

Returning to Tokyo, we participated in a public symposium where we were to submit a proposal on the program's theme, searching for key ideas to create harmony in the 21st century.

We integrated different opinions and ideas into our proposal, which addressed global environmental issues, including the fact that a new holistic learning paradigm must be adopted in order to ensure diversity, flexibility and creativity in the dynamic changes of the world's cultures toward nature.

Additionally, harmony between economic growth and environmental conservation leads to promoting green purchasing, information sharing about good practices, creation of real participatory processes and better education.

I was delighted and honored to be selected to represent the participants at the farewell ceremony, where I submitted our proposal to Vice Minister Matsushima. I'll never forget that moment, how we all contributed to this valuable program and how it gave us more insights about Japan's environmental issues.

Because of this experience, I've become more committed to playing a strong role in creating harmony between economic development and the environment, which can be achieved if the key players in both the public and private sectors, individuals, NGOs and the global community work collectively at local, regional and international levels to establish a sound material cycle society.

I'm grateful to the Japanese government and its embassy in Sana'a for giving me this opportunity (“Arigato gozaimashita”) and I'm happy to have met all the nice people I know I'll never forget.