Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Where the Grass is Greener..

Pic from nomadicwriter-kate.blogspot.com

If you were given a chance to migrate, which country would you choose?

Tough one, isn’t it? The thing about being in a foreign land is that it’s almost always better in it being a short to medium term stay. Maybe. I wouldn’t know for sure as the only foreign countries I have ever visited are England, Singapore and Japan.

In Japan, however, is a country this country should (and did, some time ago) look to for a clear direction of where we could be in the near future with the right actions today.

It was mid last year that I manage to squeeze into a short trip to Kitakyushu in the island of Kyushu; the southernmost island of Japan’s big four including Honshu, Hokkaido and Shikoku.

The sky was deep blue the day I arrived in Kitakyushu; the highway bus trip bypassing a clear (though, not crystal) Murasaki river, tall bamboo forests, beautiful paddy fields - some sandwiched between factories - and traditional Japanese homes dotting hill slopes.

Kitakyushu city itself was a mixture of old and new buildings. Once one of the most polluted in Japan, the city literally took charge of its cleaning up process.

It took the bull by the horns (I do so love clich├ęs…) by enacting several environmental laws, setting up pollution monitoring centers, reorganizing its sanitation and public sewage facilities and dredging up the Dokai Bay; once dubbed “the Sea of Death” by locals.

Apparently, it was a group of mothers – tired of their children being maligned by the soot-filled skies – who fired the first salvo for Kitakyushu’s future with a documentary, "We want our blue skies back".

At the time, the annual average dust fall was a stratospheric 80 tonnes (!!) per square km every month. Ironically, it was Kitakyushu (and Japan’s) relentless march towards industrialization that was the cause.

Nothing signaled this long gone days then the now-decommissioned Yawata forge; a mammoth monument of how far the city has progressed to ensure its future generations do not suffer the way its children of the 1950s and 60s did.

The forge stood right in horizon outside the city’s Environmental Museum, where I witnessed a delightful one hour-long diorama on the dark days. Perhaps it was the soft female voice narrating the story that fascinated me, but I found myself empathizing with the “actors” and their concerns.

I might not have understood every single word, but the message stood out clearly. Shifting from villages to schools, from backlit rooms and shadowy actors to open courtyards, from the views of mothers to fathers and children, the script said without shouting: "Enough."

Later when freed from the formal itineraries, I took a walk along the Dokai bay one late afternoon, and saw that it was not empty boast that the clean up had been successful. The water was as blue as the sky was blue and the breeze calming.

There were several fishing boats docked at the harbour area, but you could second-guess that fishing was not the main economic lifeline of the city with several large factories located at the bay’s edge.

Kitakyushu is, however, an early sleeper with the major shops and shopping malls closed by 9.30pm latest. The smaller shops continue late into the night. Non-Japanese speaking tourists would find it a bit difficult as most of the signage and maps are in Nihon-Go.

Traveling around the city is nonetheless a chinch with a well-integrated public transport system. My Japanese friends claimed that the trains and buses hardly ever miss their appointed schedule. It was a boast well justified with a self-witnessed attention to punctuality from the few days of commuting I managed to do.

A typhoon hit Kyushu the day I left. From my window seat, I could see the rain dropping on the island even as I kissed a soft goodbye to a city that impressed me with its dedication for its future generation of populace.

(This posting is inspired by Jailani Harun’s EMail From Yasuo Fukuda's Cabinet . )

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