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If you are reading this blog, you must be interested in sustainability. In that case, you would benefit a lot by coming to Shiga not just because you can experience Japanese traditional culture and the countryside, but also you will have higher chances of meeting sustainably minded people here; people practicing organic farming or natural farming, people raising children naturally, people interested in alternative education, people interested in Permaculture, people interested in restoring or reusing old things such as Kominkas, and so on.
Shiga has a history of a strong green movement, which began back in 1970’s as the soap movement. The soap movement was an initiative by citizens to use natural soap instead of synthetic detergent in order not to pollute Lake Biwa, which was contaminated with phosphorus from the household use of synthetic detergents.
The “Soap Movement” and Environmental Conservation
We had a female environmentally conscious governor for 8 years, and the present governor is her successor. I suppose it is the case in most countries, but especially in Japan, people in urban areas tend to be more liberal, and people in rural areas tend to be more conservative. So, having a liberal governor, let alone a female governor, for 2 terms and her liberal successor has been serving the 3rd term is quite significant as a rural prefecture.
The former govenor, Kada
We can see that from the grassroots level. There are many monthly organic markets held in Shiga; the Full Moon Market in Yasu, the Organic Market in Otsu, and Shigaraki Market in Shigaraki.
Many parents are bringing up their children naturally, and it is clear from the number of forest kindergartens. If you include unofficial ones like some mothers get together to let their children play in the forest regularly, there are over 20. There is one in Hino, there are two in Koka, our neighboring municipality, and there are two in Higashi-Omi, another our neighboring municipality, as far as I can remember.
I told you that there is a local network in Hino which is similar to a transition initiative, there are similar types of network in Shigaraki, Yasu, Omi-Hachiman and Hikone area as far as I know.
What is wonderful is that all those networks are interrelated. In Shiga, everybody knows one another. People in Hino know people in Shigaraki, Yasu, Omi-Hachiman, and Hikone, and they know one another, too. I personally know about 100 people who are interested in sustainable ways of living in Shiga. I have never seen a prefecture like this. There are sustainable people living in other prefectures, too, and yet I haven’t seen this degree of interconnectedness. They might have many independent networks of people, but each network may not have as much contact as we do in Shiga. And it isn’t even organized; it just happens organically.
There are “Progressive” towns regarding their sustainability such as Kamogawa in Chiba prefecture, Ogawa in Saitama prefecture, and Ayabe in Kyoto prefecture, but as an entire prefecture, I can’t think of any other.
Satish Kumar and Helena Norberg-Hodge, whom I talked about in my book Zen and a Way of Sustainable Prosperity, have both come to Shiga, and there once was a plan to hold an Economics of Happiness International conference here, which didn’t materialize due to technical problems, but at least there was a potential to organize an event like that backed up by the prefecture.
Mrs. Kada sitting next to Satish Kumar.
She is having a joint talk with Helena Norberg-Hodge.
Anyway, there is a lot to see and do in Shiga, and going to organic markets, organic farms, forest playgrounds, and meeting the “ Right Minded” folks should definitely be on your itinerary.
Visiting the Land of Omi-merchants part 4: Satoyama Experience
Visiting the Land of Omi-merchants part 3: Satoyama Cycling in Hino
Visiting the Land of Omi-merchants Part 2: Hino
Visiting the Land of Omi-merchants Part 1: Omi-Hachiman
Why Should Foreign Tourists Visit Shiga Instead of Visiting Tokyo or Kyoto?