February 28, 2005


JFS Biomimicry Interview Series: No.5 Junko Kanehiro, a TV program producer, Jump Corporation Inc.

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.30 (February 2005)
Technologies Learned from Living Things: Concepts and Examples - Front Line Reports

We have introduced the front line of "technologies learned from nature" in the past four issues. To dramatically reduce human impacts on the environment, we should learn from the wisdom of living things that survived over 3.8 billion years, roughly 100,000 times longer than the mankind whose history is about several tens of thousands years. If we consider the substantial environmental impacts of modern societies, this may seem to be a logical step, but it is not a common view. In reality, a few scientists and businesses embrace this approach.

"Technologies learned from nature" will not gain popularity unless its uniqueness and potentiality are passed on to children who will forge our future and to those who are not very environmentally conscious. How can we do that? We interviewed Ms. Junko Kanehiro who is a TV program producer, an expert in communication. Ms. Kanehiro has produced "Cannon Special - Earth is an inventive genius! Which is cleverer, human or nature?" (TV Asahi national network), a feature program nationally televised in March 2004, which received positive responses.

Q. What was the intention of the program? What was it about? How was the reaction from the audience?

I planned this program as a one-off two-hour special targeting general audience from children to adults for broadcasting from eight to ten p.m. on a weekday. The intention was to highlight the dynamism and uniqueness of learning from nature from a scientific viewpoint, which is what human beings have always done. The program brings out discoveries that some of the familiar technologies were actually inspired by certain aspects of nature. The underlining message was "we should respect nature since we are learning so much from the inventive genius, our planet Earth," introducing several dozens of examples in Japan and overseas with respect to categories such as, "learning from shapes," "learning from beauty," and "learning from motion."

Some of the examples were: a powerful oven that mimics tornado; a painless injection needle that mimics mosquito; an impact absorbing soccer ball that mimics turtle shells; a beautiful structural color that mimics butterfly; a fashion that mimics plant; a running style that mimics horses; a bullet train that mimics bird; and an aircraft that mimics flies. Some of these are our ancestors' wisdom learned from nature, and others are advanced technology such as a development of NASA's space exploration robot. After showing the program, we received many positive feedbacks from the audience. A lot of students and mothers said, "Science would be more interesting if it was taught like this at schools."

Q. In the first place, how did you come up with the idea, "learning from nature?"

Our president who came up with the idea majored architecture at college, and he remembered hearing that the rooftop of the Yoyogi National Stadium Tokyo was designed based on leaves. He then thought that there must be many other things inspired by nature, and he thought he could produce a TV program that would tell the viewers the greatness of nature with its wisdom that survived for 3.8 billion years, and the greatness of mankind that noticed the nature's wisdom.

So far, we had produced several TV programs relating to the idea: "Takeshi No Banbutsu Soseiki" (Takeshi's Book of Genesis), an informative program that combines evolutionary science and entertainment, and "Jonetsu Tairiku" (Enthusiastic Continent), an easy-to-understand documentary that features enthusiastic people's daily lives with a different perspective. We have incorporated these features, such as science, entertainment, having a different perspective and being easy-to-understand, into the new program, "Earth is an inventive genius!"

Q. Generally speaking, TV programs featuring the environment tend to be overwhelmingly serious. I was surprised that the program was entertaining and still conveyed a clear message. What did you keep in mind to deliver the message?

TV is, by nature, a passive medium compared to a book or the Internet. Viewers casually turn on the TV, change channels with a remote and start to watch the program if they find it interesting. Therefore, the contents of the program should be an immediate matter for them, providing them with an immediate answer for their daily concerns. The so-called golden time, especially from eight to ten o'clock in the evening, is a busy time of a day. Fathers are about to come home and mothers are preparing dinner, or the family may be dining. Under such circumstances, we don't expect people to watch our TV program on "Technology and Nature" if we make the program as serious as it sounds.

So we decided to create a program that can be enjoyed at home by mothers and children. So we thought about different ways to feature the topic. For example, one of the settings was that a woman, acted by a young popular actress, Rei Kikukawa, was making a picture book and read the story to an imaginary character, the voice dubbed by a well-known comedian, Rie Shibata. We also have arranged the sequence of the examples. From eight to nine, cooking, fashion and injection were the themes interesting for both mothers and children. Then from nine, bullet trains, sports and space exploration were broadcast for fathers who have come home.

So that people who watch them would feel that the examples were easily found in their daily lives, we made a point of using live-action shots, and reduced computer graphics (CG) as much as possible. For instance, when we made a program about the bullet trains that were inspired by birds, we shot the high-speed process of splashing water by dropping a mock-kingfisher onto a tank, and also shot the results of a wind tunnel experiment by using the wing of an owl as well as that of a crow, so that people could discern instinctively at a glance the changes in air resistance by adopting the form. We also showed the human drama behind developing the technology, not only the technology itself, so that people would remember the episodes that encompass the human side of the story and amusing thoughts that led to the technology.

Q. I see that a lot of ingenuity leads to creating interesting programs. I have once heard that programs that report about the environment do not fare well when it comes to viewer rating, but would you say that it is not always so?

No, I do not think so. For example, talking about global warming, people know that is happening, because they experience it in their daily lives. So, when reporting about this, it may not turn out to be very good if you start preaching people to do something the other way around because if you keep doing it that way you could get into trouble. But instead, you could say, if you change a part of your house just a little bit, you can save money and be green, or to say, here is a most interesting study, and then people might be inclined to think, that maybe they can do that kind of stuff.

Information about being on a diet, about living, and cosmetics are very popular. That is because people are very sensitive about keeping up their lives. It goes the same with ecology. How much connecting doors can we create in people's lives? I recalled a remark that is most befitting to this concept, in fact, by Mr. Itoh, President of Zephyr Corporation, a company that makes small wind power generation devices and whom I interviewed before. Quote: "The word ecology makes people uptight, reminds people of perseverance and having to put up with inconvenience. People are overwhelmed by such thoughts, but we can start with doing whatever we can do happily, and do not have to discontinue our convenient lifestyle." Unquote. Television can help us by making a connecting door to such attitude.

After the interview: what JFS Learned

The TV program "Earth is an inventive genius!" tells us the following:

- Technologies inspired by nature tend to be too overwhelming for viewers, so it would help if the program is made into easily understandable stories just like the ones told by mothers to their children;

- Make connecting doors that people can identify with, so that people can actually feel that a little ingenuity goes a long way. The information is as close to the people as information on diet, living and cosmetics.

From the above, the following might be possible:

- The examples of technologies inspired by nature reported in TV programs can be used as educational materials in schools to arouse interest of pupils in science;

- When developing technologies inspired by nature, record the human drama around it and communicate this.

(Staff Writer: Kazunori Kobayashi)

*This interview series is supported by the Hitachi Environmental Foundation.