Japan’s First Environmentalist

January 15, 2009

‘Tis the season when the youngsters are running around eating Kit-Kats (キットカット,きっと勝つ, kitto katsu), and looking for pentagons (五画, 合格, gokaku) in the architecture while trying to endear themselves to various deities in order to find favor in the hopes of scoring a few more points on their junior high entrance exams.

Many private schools also have a little interview process. The interview takes a backseat to the test scores, but is still often done as a part of the admissions testing process.

I was talking to a friend recently about the questions they ask in the interview. (Just for the record, I’m talking about the short Japanese language interviews done at many of the private junior and senior high schools.) He mentioned that his least favorite question to ask is ,”Name someone you admire and explain why.”

Although this question is a staple of Japanese interviews (along with such favorites as asking about a favorite book), my friend tries to avoid asking this question because he said students tend to give one of the three following answers:

  • Dad
  • Mom
  • Shozo Tanaka (pictured)

Shozo Tanaka is a former politician (with an incredibly storied past) who spent the later years of his life fighting to protect the environment, specifically the Watarase River in Shimonotsuke (Tochigi) Prefecture. He spoke out against the poisoning of the river by the Ashio Copper Mine at the beginning of the twentieth century. His ideas about politics, philosophy, and the environment made him a visionary before his time, although I sense that he is largely unknown outside of Japan (and not as well known as he should be here).

If you are interested in reading more about Tanaka Shozo (as the tradition of last names first for historic figures in Japan would order his name), then look no further than this superb academic article about his life and work.

Remake Politics, Not Nature: Tanaka Shozo’s Philosophies of “Poison” and “Flow” and Japan’s Environment” (published in the Asia-Pacific Journal Japan Focus).