October 31, 2007


Artists' Movement for a Better World

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.62 (October 2007)

In this issue, we will introduce one of the ways Japanese artists are trying to make a difference. Singers and artists can reach out with a message to many people or use their fame to raise funds for a good cause. Many artists in Japan and elsewhere have given support to movements aimed at solving various social problems.

One of the most well-known fundraising efforts by artists in Japan was organized by Shinichi Mori, a famous traditional Japanese ballad singer. He and his singer friends established the "Jaga-imo no kai" (Potato Association) in 1985. The name was chosen because they wanted their movement to be as plain as potatoes but just as helpful, in remembrance of the historical fact that potatoes saved a lot of lives in years of great scarcity during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Through annual charity shows, nearly 500 million yen (about US$ 4.3 million) was collected over the course of 23 years before the association was disbanded. The money was donated to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Refugees Education Trust through the Japan for UNHCR organization, in order to support refugees and underprivileged children around the world, especially in Asia and Africa.

Some Japanese artists are taking an additional step forward and getting directly involved, rather than simply donating money collected through charity performances, etc. This was how the "ap bank" got started - AP standing for Artists' Power - a promotional project for renewable energy undertaken by artists.

AP was established by Ryuichi Sakamoto, a world-renowned composer, and TAKURO, a member of the Japanese pop band GLAY. AP attempts to use the influence of artists to raise awareness about the environment. The AP website notes that "More than 90 percent of Ryuichi Sakamoto's music is made from oil." Music nowadays uses a significant amount of electricity. AP members apply their artistic sensibilities to the issues of what we can do to create a future powered by renewable energy, rather than by fossil fuels that cause global warming and other environmental destruction. For example, AP has been considering building a wind turbine.

Artists' Power (Japanese only)

In 2002, Takeshi Kobayashi, a music producer who is also a member of AP, called some people together to study environmental issues, realizing that they should begin with learning.

Kobayashi met Yu Tanaka of the Mirai ("future" in Japanese) Bank during these study sessions. Mirai Bank is a non-governmental and non-profit organization founded in 1994. Citizens invest in the bank, which provides loans for green purchasing and other business activities at a low annual interest rate of three percent. After Kobayashi learned about this citizen bank that utilizes deposits only for such attractive projects, AP decided to create its own bank.

In 2003, Kobayashi, Sakamoto and Kazutoshi Sakurai of the popular rock band Mr. Children offered some money at their own risk to establish the ap bank and provide loans to environmental projects aiming to build a potentially new future. The ap bank is a non-profit organization that lends money to various environmental projects, such as renewable energy and energy conservation. "AP" stands not only for Artists' Power but also "alternative power."

ap bank (Japanese only)

The bank's purpose and mission statement are elaborated as follows on its website:

"The ap bank's main loan targets are small businesses that ordinary people can manage, not large business entities. As in the case of renewable energy - often described as "decentralized energy" because it is generated locally - a variety of ideas appropriate to each community are needed to improve its environment. By supporting small projects being attempted by people in their own communities, we hope to encourage more people to think that they can change society through their own efforts. The result will be another, new type of future."

Since 2004, when it granted its first 15 loans, the bank has financed various projects in the areas of renewable energy, recycling-oriented community development, food and agriculture, and new business. Through a step-by-step process - from accepting and selecting applications to deciding which projects to finance to lending the money and monitoring the projects - the bank supports these projects financially and promotes them by introducing them on its website.

As part of its fundraising efforts, it held its first live concert, "ap bank fes," at the big "Tsumagoi" open-air concert site in Shizuoka Prefecture in 2005. This three-day concert has attracted audiences of about 30,000 people every year since then.

This year, a big audience gathered for the third "ap bank fes." Although the first two days of the three-day concert were unfortunately canceled due to a typhoon, many people came and enthusiastically enjoyed the last day. There was also an extra talk-show entitled "ap bank dialogue," under the theme of "Can We Stop Global Warming?" with musicians, an expert from the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES), and Junko Edahiro, one of the chief executives of Japan for Sustainability.

The "ap bank fes" is organized in a very environmentally conscious manner. Year by year, the bank has become more proactively engaged in a broader range of efforts, questioning what else they can do. During the "ap bank fes 2007," all utensils such as cups and plates used for food sold at food stands were reusable; this was the first attempt of its kind at an outdoor music event in Japan. The bank also made an announcement on its website to encourage the audience to bring their own cutlery - chopsticks, spoons, and forks - to the concert.

The waste generated at the concert is separated into nine categories by type, and all but burnable and non-burnable garbage are recycled. For example, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles are broken down to the molecular level by chemical recycling and transformed into polyester materials. The caps and labels of PET bottles are recycled into solid fuel mixed with paper and wood. Used cans are separated by type and recycled as metal.

Disposable wooden chopsticks are broken down and mixed with paper mill waste pulp to make paper. Wooden spoons and forks are steam-baked to make compost for nearby forests. Part of the non-recyclable waste, for example food waste, is processed and recycled into livestock feed. Cardboard is broken down into small fibers to make recycled paper. Glass bottles are crushed into cullet for building material. Finally, used cooking oil is purified for bio-diesel fuel. In addition, all the waste generated during the concert is weighed to show how much and what kind of waste is being generated in real time. In this way, the concert is thoroughly organized in an environment-friendly way in order to reduce waste.

In addition to reducing waste, the concerts also take on energy issues. At ap bank fes '07, the live concert area was powered by the "Fu-den kun" wind power generation facility in Shizuoka City, near the site. They also used bio-diesel in the food area, and for official tour buses and shuttle buses between Kakegawa Station and Tsumagoi, the concert site.

The Yamaha Corporation provided the concert site, and this was an opportunity that led them to introduce the Japan Natural Energy "Green Power Certificate" to provide "green power" for other music events at its resort in Tsumagoi. It expects that introducing green power will conserve 500,000 kWh of electricity and reduce 230 tons of CO2 emissions per year at the Tsumagoi resort. This is one significant indirect effect of the ap bank fes event.

A nice breeze, a green lawn, exciting music, and a garbage-free concert site. Even though the event was very crowded, the system was well organized to minimize the amount of waste to be disposed of by the local municipal government. The audience was also quite willing to cooperate. The concert used a large amount of energy for amps, lighting, and busses to the site, but all of it was provided by natural energy sources.

Real happiness means something you can enjoy without imposing a burden on others, even people living on the other side of the globe or generations living in the future. The management of the ap bank fes site together with the music gave the audience a fresh new feeling that such real happiness is possible now.

These actions were initiated by well-known Japanese artists such as Sakamoto, Kobayashi and Sakurai and thus they appeal to a great many people, including the younger generation, which has a great influence on society. They show how we can live eco-friendly lives comfortably, and introduce options that do not require further use of fossil fuels. They are also financing alternative energy and other new environmental projects. It is easy to see the power and potential that such activities have for attracting people by proposing an attractive alternative lifestyle, as opposed to a negative approach of blaming current lifestyles.

Owing partly to the actions being taken by these artists, environmental and alternative lifestyle topics are being written about in many magazines and newspapers in Japan, even in fashion magazines and columns, from the viewpoint of "enjoying an eco-friendly life" and Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS). Actresses and television personalities declare that they carry their own chopsticks, or otherwise try to live eco-friendly lives. Eco-friendliness is undergoing an image transformation from a lifestyle that requires patience to one that is trendy and fashionable.

To solve environmental problems, people's awareness and sense of values need to change - developing technology and devising social and economic systems is not enough. The ap bank's commitment to use their public appeal and influence for a better future - and to put their money where their mouth is - has great power to appeal to the general public and young people who have not so far been involved in environmental issues.

(Written by Junko Edahiro)