A forum for change
The peoples of Japan and Canada have more in common than the red-and-white colours of our flags and our shared concern for environmental issues. I discovered this when Abby Daccho, Sc’10, and I were among of the Canadian attendees at a mid-February forum at Tokyo’s Meiji University attended by Canadian and Japanese scholars.
What brought everyone together was the inaugural Japan-Canada Consortium University Forum (JACAC).
The consortium is composed of 13 Canadian Universities from across Canada and 15 Japanese universities across Japan. A diversity of academic and extracurricular backgrounds were represented by the delegates at the gathering—from graphic design to engineering physics. This made for wide-ranging discussions on the Forum’s theme, which was “Environmental Issues.” Princess Takamado of Japan and Jonathan Fried, Canada’s Ambassador to Japan, delivered the keynote addresses at the event.
Abby and I successfully competed in a national competition for the right to represent the University at the JACAC conference, which focused on environmental issues. Undergrad and graduate students and researchers from across Canada and Japan took part.
Both Abby and I had been to Japan before, but on this trip we learned to see Japan in a whole new, green-tinted, light. We extend out immense gratitude to the Japan Foundation and the Prince Takamado Japan Canada Memorial Fund for covering the expenses of what could only be described as a life-changing experience.
The Forum itself included lectures from both Canadian and Japanese researchers. In the mornings, they covered a range of topics from eco-friendly earthquake protection measures to the effects of the environment on health. Our afternoons were given over to group work in preparation for our final presentation at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.
As a group, delegates also had the chance to participate in field trips to locations off the beaten tourist track. For example, we visited one of Tokyo’s 23 incinerators, and we visited the bowels of the environmentally friendly Mori Building in Roppongi Hills to observe the on-site waste-processing facilities. I found this experience especially empowering as it was a testament to the potential of environmental design. From the waste chutes that separate recyclables and organic waste to the lush rooftop green space, the Mori building is a showcase for the viability, cost-savings, and marketing benefits of green design.
Additionally, on a weekend visit and expedition to the rural outskirts of Tokyo, we visited a self-sufficient farmer, hiked through the mountains and soothed our sore muscles afterwards in a Japanese hot spring.
In the evenings, we explored Tokyo and absorbed the city’s rich culture. I’m not quite sure how we could have navigated Tokyo without our Japanese friends, who led the way on the subway, translated menus, and filled our evenings with many laughs and enlightening discussions.
We learned a great deal during our time in Japan. The Forum facilitated discussion on solutions and on the potential for partnership in tackling our mutual concerns. We studied a wide range of frameworks for influencing change—from government policy to corporate social responsibility, ecological conservation, and collective action.
To showcase what we had learned, each delegate team delivered a final presentation at the Canadian embassy. Each group represented a balance of Canadian and Japanese undergraduate students. We were grateful for the expertise of the researchers present who provided feedback from their personal experience. Our topics of presentation were our own choice and ranged from eco-tourism to environmental technologies.
As we parted ways at the end of the Forum tears were shed, and many of us left determined to continue working to build on Japan-Canada relations. After such an experience, many of our Japanese counterparts were determined to work on their English and study or even work in Canada, while the Canadian students are already hatching plans to return to Japan. Our friendships continue via the Internet, as we share discussions, memories and photos on Facebook and reflect on the conference that heightened our appreciation of our international friendship.
The 2011 Forum will be held in Edmonton, at the University of Alberta, and the following year it will be back in Japan again. These Forums, which are sustainable exchanges of researchers and ideas between universities in Japan and Canada, also serve to deepen our mutual understanding of our respective cultures.