Introducing SF Associate Member, Kumi Kato, Wakayama, Japan

Q. What have been the key milestones on your environmental/sustainability education journey so far?

There have been so many – all the research projects that moved me to tears are the real milestones. A save-the-forest action in Tasmania, Australia with a group of students led to a piece of forest being given to the group. The forest was named as Kodama (tree spirit) and installed with a Japanese water harp. I recall Japanese Buddhist nuns giving prayer services for whales everyday even today 100 years since the village stopped whaling. Women free divers diving for abalone saying they have no fear but not taking too many to exhaust the wealth of the sea, and Matagi bear hunters offering greetings to the mountain before they leaves the forest. All these people’s sincerity, humbleness and respect show a fundamental ethic to the environment, which I believe is the basis for sustainability.

Australian rainforest Sound Garden in Roma St Parkland, Brisbane which Kumi installed as a community project

Q. How do you see the environmental/sustainability education landscape at this point in time?

It has diversified and become strategic and long-term (i.e. lifelong education). It is no longer simply part of educational curricula but embedded in every part of the society. For example, it is acknowledged that tourism has significant impacts on climate, especially from transport, and ethics of ‘last-chance tourism’ (featuring disappearing species, landscape) are being critically examined. I think critical examination of our actions and a move towards a ‘better’ lifestyle is the essence of sustainability education which we should take as life-education.

Q. What likely and desired future directions do you envisage, and what do you see as the implications for your own work?

Again, I say that diverse strategies are needed to reinforce the idea that sustainability is for all and is in every part of our lives – both in thinking and doing. An action for the environment used to be a ‘protest against development and destruction’ or accusation directed at someone bad (e.g. the polluter) but the current climate crisis has put us all in the same line – that we are all responsible. I see my duty to find a way forwards in sustainability in diverse kinds of people’s interests, including e.g. within outdoor activities, art, literature, media.

Especially in Japan, since the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami, serious rethinking is occurring not only about energy issues but the very fundamental question of how we want to live our life. This is, I see, is not necessarily supported by the government. So it is most important that research and education should support small-scale efforts and grassroots voices. I feel extremely privileged to be able to work on sustainability issues and my academic ethic and responsibility should not be forgotten.

The 'Iyashi' (healing) kanji monument created by students in the Kumano Kodo Program as a memorial for the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami victims

Q. How do you envisage your engagement with SF developing?

I’d like to engage in more discussion with other people committed to sustainability and learn about their philosophy and approaches. My other affiliation Kangaloon ( defines itself as ‘a fellowship of creative ecology’ and membership includes poets, photographers and artists as well as academics. The group engages in festivals (writers, poets, environmental, community), talks and readings at various non-conventional venues (art galleries, zoos, cafés) to increase the presence of eco-humanities socially as well as academically. I’m sure individual Sustainability Frontiers members engage on various occasions, but a collective coming together and exchange among the members would be so interesting and valuable.


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