October 31, 2004


Japan Junior Chamber [of Commerce]

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.26 (October 2004)
"Unique NGOs in Japan" Article Series No.7

"Building a Slow Society where Large and Small Cycles are in Harmony"

Japanese people's vision has been shifting away from an emphasis on economic efficiency toward a slower life and peace of mind. An example of this kind of shift was described in our Newsletter #14 (October 31, 2003).

The movement towards a slower life aims to reduce the pace of economic growth and to reconsider our present lifestyles, and has spread to various fields, leading to the coining of such new expressions as slow food, slow life, and slow business.

Japan Junior Chamber [of Commerce] (Japan JC) is an organization of young businesspersons, and under the leadership of this year's president, Hirokazu Kometani, it has adopted the slogan, "Building a Slow Society where Large and Small Cycles are in Harmony." Japan JC has been doing various things to promote the spirit of this slogan. These young managers are expected to play a major role in running the Japanese economy in the near future, and the fact that they are aware of the concept of slow society, which de-emphasizes economic efficiency and speed, may mean that considerable changes in society will be forthcoming.

Japan JC's Environmental Action Record

Japan JC, is composed of businesspersons aged between 20 and 40, and has two stated missions, "Developing Lively and Prosperous Communities" and "Training of Future Leaders." The Tokyo Junior Chamber of Commerce and Industry was originally established in 1949, and two years later Japan JC was created as a national organization. Japan JC consists of 743 local organizational members (LOMs) with about 46,000 individual members.

Japan JC is run by about 1,800 people chosen from the ranks of these LOMs, and it conducts various business activities in collaboration with LOMs. As the member representing Japan in Junior Chamber International (JCI), an international organization with about 190,000 members in 118 countries worldwide, Japan JC also actively promotes non-governmental diplomacy to support international friendship and peacekeeping efforts.

Japan JC's initial environmental activities date back to the 1990s when it adopted the slogan "Global Citizens for the Earth's Benefit." The Mottainai (Waste not Want not) movement initiated within Japan JC in 1993 carries on to this day and has produced some spinoffs abroad.

"Mottainai" is a Japanese expression denoting an attitude of using things with great care, and has a meaning close to the English expression "waste not, want not." "Mottai" means the essence or real value of a thing and the negative "nai" means "un-" or "not." Mottainai expresses a sense of regret when something is wasted and its true value ignored. This expression has also been used overseas thanks to Japan JC's Mottainai movement.

Other Japan JC activities include raising young people's awareness about waste reduction and recycling, and collaborating with Office Chonai-kai, an environmental NGO, to expand a network of companies that cooperate with each other in collecting used paper.

Since 2000, Japan JC's environmental focus has shifted from conservation to management. For example, Japan JC enthusiastically organized workshops to introduce Eco Action 21, the Environment Ministry's program for small- and medium-sized enterprises for performing self-evaluation of their environmental activities.

Ideas Behind the Slow Society Concept

What is the "slow society" envisioned by Japan JC in its campaign for fiscal 2004? President Kometani explains as follows.

"A slow society is a society embedded in an intricate web that creates links among people, families, communities, other living things and the Earth itself, while also linking past, present, and future through the generations. Everything is interconnected in this society. When we look at society in terms of linkages, the roots of various problems become clearer to us. For example, global environmental problems are derived from a lack of links between humans and nature. Educational problems often arise when links among families and communities are weak. I think many problems in our present society arise from the links here and there that are broken. Working towards a slow society involves rebuilding these links."

"The slow society idea arose when "slow" became a key concept that connected two former Japan JC activities - the "Earth Benefit" program and volunteer activities performed in the spirit of mutual aid and support during the aftermath of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995."

Kometani does not use the word "environment" because the environment is only one aspect of our future society and because JC members, mostly managers of small- and medium-sized enterprises, tend to consider environmental activities as a compulsory duty that is unprofitable and unpleasant. By framing the discussion in terms of links between humans and nature and of small local cycles and large global cycles without using the term "environment," such people can become familiar with environmental issues and learn to change their behavior.

The Nationwide 'Slow Life' Movement

Japan JC's vision of "slow society" has led LOMs across the country to organize various activities aimed at experiencing "connections." These activities include a project to improve water quality in local lakes using beneficial microbes, a program designed to give local children the opportunity to learn about the wonders of their hometowns through quiz games and direct experience, and events for familiarizing parents and children with rice growing and sake brewing. Kometani says, "By taking a fresh look at traditional activities from the perspective of connections, you can find new meaning in them."

For example, in April 2004, the Junior Chamber in Naruto, on Shikoku Island in western Japan, held an event titled "Slow Food Naruto--Rediscover Our Region and Local Food," in which about 60 citizens participated with their families. All participants listened to talks about the "slow food" movement in Japan and about local delicacies, and then cooked and ate two local dishes: "taimeshi," rice cooked with sea bream, and "Naruto salad" with seaweed, a principal product of the region. They participated in a taste test that compared sweet potatoes, lotus root and seaweed produced in Naruto with those produced in other regions. The participants really enjoyed the event. By rediscovering local food, they became aware of the importance of traditional food culture, created and nurtured by the natural features of the surrounding region. This kind of awareness also promotes love for one's home town.

Future Campaigns for "Slow Society"

Japan JC's executive posts are rotated every year, and the new chairman's job is to map out an activity plan for the coming fiscal year. When several executives wish to carry on with the activities they were working on beyond the year's end, they are allowed to do so by creating a new organization outside of Japan JC. Based on his experience with this year's "slow society" campaign, Kometani plans to establish a Slow Society Association to coordinate various networks.

Japan JC's activities this year can be considered as having planted the seeds for a steadily growing movement toward building a society where small local cycles and large global cycles achieve a balance in which people and people, humans and nature, and present and future are organically connected in a time frame of natural cycles and through relationships without the mediation of goods or money.

(Staff Writer Eriko Saijo)