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Strong in the Rain Paints a Portrait of Survival

The aftermath of a natural disaster is no simple affair. Even in Japan, a country long accustomed to earthquakes and the tsunamis that inevitably follow, there is an element of unpredictability. The 9.0 magnitude quake that struck on March 11th, 2011, brought with it a tsunami the likes of which had not been seen for 500 years.  Still, it was the nuclear wild card that threw this country of calm and order, the one most prepared for such kinds of calamities, into new realms of environmental degradation, community displacement, and crisis management. For those living in Tohoku, the northern region of the country directly impacted by this triple calamity, recovery is underway, but the catastrophe lingers two years later as a dull ache of temporary housing, economic crisis, and energy turmoil.

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Sustainable Living Tips from Japan: A Review of Azby Brown’s Just Enough

Detail of a screen at Koyasan.

As the world faces a future of global warming, increasing economic disparity, and a fiery mix of political turmoils, Azby Brown asks us to take a moment to look back to find the solutions. Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan (Kodansha, 2009) takes readers on an intimate tour of Edo Period Japan (1603-1898). In it, Brown points out that then as now, Japan faced severe environmental degradation, economic crises, and a discontented population. Yet, shortly after the country entered a time of unprecedented economic and environmental stability. Brown believes answers for today can be found in these previous times.

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Growing New Life in Ishinomaki with Peace Boat

At work in one of Peace Boat’s gardens.
Photo courtesy of Ikumi Sasaki.

A garden, as every gardener knows, is more than just plants and dirt. A person might first turn the soil out of a desire to save a few pennies or to taste a rare variety of tomato or pepper. The garden often moves beyond plants and harvest to become a beloved space, one where the cares of the day get worked into the soil and tossed in the compost bin. Later, they emerge as surplus fruit shared with neighbors or a bright bouquet picked for a friend. Sore muscles and a slight sunburn garnish a family meal grown from seed and recently harvested. However, some residents of Ishinomaki, one of the cities hardest hit by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, will also attest that a garden can change lives.

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More than Cotton: bioRe’s Organic Initiative

Following is the first in a new series of articles about organizations doing a bit of ecotwaza, using traditional practices with a modern twist, to achieve sustainability. We like to think of these global initiatives with a very local focus as going ‘glocal.’ bioRe, the company where IKT sources the organic cotton used to make their wonderful towels, seemed like a perfect place to begin. – The ecotwaza Team

Indian woman harvesting bioRe organic cotton.
Photo copyright Panoco Organic Cotton/Remei AG.

It began with a question on a doorstep. Patrick Hohmann, on a routine business trip to India for Remei AG, his textile company in Switzerland, stood talking with a spinner outside his office. He asked where the spinner got his cotton.

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Ami-kumi Basketry

In Aizu region, where it is known to have heavy snow during winter, people have learnt to utilize the time by weaving baskets and other tools with ingredients collected from the local mountains. During spring and summer, twigs, vines and barks are gathered and dried, using the long winter nights as a time to craft. The handmade baskets and daily items have a face of its own, and no two are alike. Over time, these items grow with the user, and the more you use it, the more you will cherish it.

The history of basketry can go as far back as the Jomon period, which is about 10,00 B.C. to 300 B.C. Baskets that were made more than a century ago still exist, showing how sturdy these items can be. Materials like yama-budo (Vitis coignetiae) are known to be durable, hence chosen to create tool baskets and other things. Being handmade, you will know who made your special basket, so when they need mending, you can bring it back to have it fixed.


One typical plant used for basketery is Hiroro (above photo).

Hiroro is a wild sedge grass that grows in a half shaded land.
Depending on how much sun it receives and when you pick it will differ the strength and suppleness of the vine. When you are picking it, it is important to leave the roots in the soil, so that there would be more to be harvested next year.


Another plant willbe Mowada (Tilia japonica). Mowada is a deciduous broadleaf tree, and you can collect strong fiber from the bark. Mowada trees were grown everywhere to create ropes. Also, Akaso (Boehmeria tricuspis) is a wild grass similar to a nettle, and they are picked in the rainy season.

The grass and bark will then be dried in the sun and then weaved together to become a basket.



Another commonly used plant is Matatabi.
Matatabi (Actinida polygama) is a wild vine that grows wild in a half shaded area of a mountain. It is picked after November before the snow, but when gathered too early, the bark would be too thin. You have to always look up at the sky and predict the weather to pick them at the perfect timing. After a basket is woven, it would be dried under the eaves outside, where ultraviolet rays reflected from the snow will bleach it white and the cold wind maximizes the strength.

Matatabi is strong against water, so it will make a perfect rice strainer-an essencial everyday tool for the Japanese household.

So… after steaming some rice, how about making a rice ball and carrying it in a Yama-budo (Vitis coignetiae) basket? 

> See Oku Aizu Ami-kumi Selection