electronic journal of contemporary japanese
Discussion Paper 4 in 2011
First published in ejcjs on
31 May 2011
How to contribute to
Smoke in the Air, Poison in the
Yoshida Misawo and Industrial
Waste in Iga City, Japan
Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University
e-mail the author
This paper explores the struggles of eighty year old Yoshida Misawo against
industrial waste dumping in the Ueno district of Iga City in Mie Prefecture,
and located on the upper Kizu River Basin in the Kinki region. Starting from
a protest against a local garbage disposal facility, she has over the years
taken the concerned industry to court, and successfully sought prefectural
mediation over planned expansion of another dumping facility in the Ueno New
Town area. Despite her age, she is still actively involved in movements
opposing industrial waste, which continues to affect the natural environment
in the Japanese countryside. Based on a literature survey and my own
fieldwork, this paper describes Yoshida as a postwar environmental activist,
who started her protests as part of her wifely duties to her husband,
but in due course took up unconventional roles and became a strong voice for
environmental preservation within her locality. The paper concludes that
this movement reaffirms the vitality of local level protests in postwar
Japan over issues of industrial pollution, where strong willed
resident-groups have fought powerful industrial units and
industry-administration collusion, and evolved as advocates of environmental
Kizu River Basin; citizens' movements; environmental governance; furusato
discourse; landscape preservation; environmental preservation
Industrial pollution in is a well-known issue in Japan. The high speed
growth years saw a remarkable amount of destruction of the natural
environment, and distressed natural or rural landscapes were widespread
(Tabb, 1995, Iyoda, 2010). Emanating from factories, industrial pollution
spread into natural systems and affected the food chain via the air, water
and soil (Ariyoshi, 1979). In general, this period came to an end as an
outcome of the so-called 'Pollution Diet' in 1974, when laws to curb and
control pollution were passed in the national parliament (Broadbent, 1998).
Nature recovered steadily after the peak of industrialization passed, as
public awareness of pollution grew and a series of movements arose, and as
the state became committed to its reduction or elimination (George, 2001,
Mason, 1999 Waley, 2005). However, incidents of industrial pollution
imperiling natural landscapes, or threatening human health continued into
the 21st century. Even after the successes achieved by citizen protest
movements in some high profile cases (McKean, 1981), which would indicate
acceptance of demands for environmental conservation, local level realities
are often different, and citizen movements protesting against industrial
pollution in the countryside often found the process a battle where the odds
are stacked against them.
This paper is a portrayal of one such movement in the Ueno district of Iga
City in Mie Prefecture. On the borders of the Kinki and Tōkai regions, an
area that experienced high urban and industrial growth during the post-war
reconstruction period, it lies close to the Osaka metropolitan hub and is
consequently a region stressed by population pressure, mediated through the
twin processes of urbanization and industrialization. Incidentally, the
rivers and forests of this region have had a long history of human
intervention and disruption (Ashida et al. 2008), and environmental
destruction still continues through various projects like the damming of
rivers (McCormack, 1996, Ono, 1997, Amano, 2001) and waste dumping (Munton,
1996). This paper describes the struggles of an octogenarian woman, Yoshida
Misawo, against waste dumping in her locality of Ueno, the background to her
struggles (which she sees as continuing in the present), and the challenges
and achievements of her movement.
The Location of Ueno and Iga City
Ueno City was originally an independent municipality and was merged with Iga
and Ayama Towns and Shimagahara and Ōyamada Villages to form Iga City under
the wave of municipal mergers that took place in 2004. Iga City falls within
the Kizu River Basin, part of the Yodo River Basin which, combined with its
main freshwater supply from Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, is the most
important freshwater system in the Kinki region, and one of the most
important freshwater systems in the country. The Kizu River originates in
the Nunobiki Mountains in Mie Prefecture and journeys nearly 100 kilometers
before merging with the Katsura and Uji rivers to form the Yodo River, which
then flows into Osaka Bay. One of the three main tributaries of the Yodo
River, the Kizu was historically a major transportation route, used, for
instance, for carrying logs to build the famous Todaiji Pavilion at Nara in
752 AD (Ota, 2005, p. 73), and sustaining a large area with its water
supply. In more recent times, the Yodo River basin area became a hub of
urban development, with urban space steadily expanding throughout the Kansai
region. Cities like Nabari, located on the Kintetsu Railway Route midway
between Osaka and Nagoya, have swelled over the last decade, resulting in
continuing urban expansion into what once was a broad tract of forests and
rural land in the upper Kizu Basin.
Figure 1: The Kizu River flowing through the satoyama landscape near the Ueno
district of Iga City in the rainy season (Photograph taken by the author,
June 12, 2010).
Iga is probably best known as a historical training ground for the Ninjas,
the apocryphal and secretive Japanese warriors of feudal times. The land is
surrounded by mountains – the Iga Basin is a natural depression bordered by
the Aoyama highlands to the southeast, where the Kizu River originates. The
city houses slightly over 100,000 people, in nearly 40,000 households (Iga
City Homepage). The main public transportation network is the Kintetsu
Railway, which operates with a smaller regional railway line, Iga Railways (Iga
Tetsudō) to provide direct access to Ueno Shi Station. There are also
numerous expressways and highways, one of which, National Highway No. 163,
also provides direct access to Ueno.
Iga City is a result of numerous mergers in modern times, beginning from
1941. The latest of these mergers came in November 2004, and is therefore
the origin of the present day administrative boundaries. The Kizu River and
its tributary, the Hattori River, is only a few minutes' drive away from
Ueno Shi Station. The citizens' movement led by Yoshida is based in the New
Town Area in Ueno, which grew into a residential area primarily after the
1980s, as people from outside, mainly from the Osaka-Kyoto-Nara metropolitan
areas, began buying land and properties in the area. Ueno New Town itself,
though, is a quiet residential locality, a short drive away from Ueno Shi
station on the Iga Tetsudō railway line, and also in close proximity to the
Kizu River, cutting its way through a hilly landscape. The New Town is a
pleasant locality, with hills, forests and water nearby, and tracts of
farmlands at the foot of the hills, a landscape often referred to as
satoyama in Japan. This scenic location has provided the imagery of the
furusato (ancestral homeland) in Yoshida's accounts as well. Another
feature of this residential facility is that a sizeable proportion of houses
here are second homes, bought or erected by people from urban areas like
Osaka and Nagoya for holidays and recreational purposes.
Yoshida's Accounts: Open Burning and the Waste Dumps
The initial challenge
Yoshida Misawo is the President of the NPO, Haikibutsu Mondai Nettowaaku
Mie (Mie Prefectural Network for Industrial Waste Problems) and the
Chairperson of the Ueno New Town Residents' Association. Her efforts to stop
industrial waste dumping have gained media publicity, and a number of news
reports speak of this campaign, which she claims has the goal of
'bequeathing a clean environment in the historically nature rich Kizu River
Basin' to future generations (Sankei Shimbun, 2011, Kyoto Minpo Web, 2011).
Figure 2: Yoshida Misawo (Photograph taken by the author, 12 June 2010).
I interviewed Yoshida in 2010, where she was still actively engaged in
filing petitions to the relevant authorities on issues such as waste
disposal in the Aoyama highlands and the deteriorating water quality of the
Kizu River Basin, and protesting against the ongoing Kawakami dam project in
the Kawakami River sub-basin of the Kizu watershed. This paper is primarily
based on that round of correspondence, and two books that Yoshida has
written over the years describing her struggles against unwilling
politicians and polluting industrial units: Otochan Mitetena (You
will be Looking on, I know) was published in 2001, and its sequel, Okachan
Ōkini (Thank you My Dear Wife) came out in 2010. (Translations for
both titles are not word for word, but capture the essence of their meaning.
in Japanese households the wife is often called as Okāsan
by the husband, and the husband as Otōsan by the wife. The words
Okachan and Otochan are somewhat affectionate versions of these
two terms, used by the Yoshida couple for each other.). Both titles refer to
her husband, Yoshida Masaaki, who passed away during the prolonged struggle
against industrial polluters in Ueno.
Yoshida Misawo was born in Nara Prefecture in 1931. She moved her critically
ill husband, Yoshida Masaaki, to Ueno New Town in 1986, after Masaaki had
suffered a sudden paralysis of his legs and needed physical rehabilitation.
Misawo explicitly mentions that they chose to move to Ueno New Town due to
the natural beauty of the place, and the fact that it was close to the
Kansai region, where they used to live before (Yoshida, 2001, 2010).
The family's encounter with environmental problems in the Ueno area began
accidentally. In 1989, while the couple was out on a routine morning walk,
they were suddenly enveloped by choking, acrid smoke from the forests
(Yoshida, 2001, p. 25). Yoshida says 'It was hard to breathe' in the smoke.
Soon they found that the origin of the smoke was an incineration facility in
the area, owned by a company coincidentally named Yoshida Industries. At
first, the family thought a complaint to the city office would be enough to
stop the incinerator from operating, an idea that turned out to be very
naïve. The Yoshida family went to the Ueno City Office, but their pleas to
stop the foul smelling 'open burning' (noyaki) were not accepted.
Officials dismissed the complaint by saying that the City Office had no
jurisdiction to stop the burning of garbage on private land (Ibid, p. 26),
as carried out by the waste disposal unit of Yoshida Industries. The Yoshida
family turned to their neighbors, in the hope that the neighborhood
association would be able to pressurize the municipal authorities over this
problem, but the initial response was disappointing. The Ueno Residents
Association (Jichikai), was nowhere near unanimous over this issue.
Of the 103 member households, 80 had bought land or houses in the region,
but actually lived in urban centers like Osaka, Kobe or Kyoto. A further 10
families owned a second house or a weekend recreation villa in the area and
thus were only intermittent visitors. Only 13 of the remaining households,
who were permanent residents, eventually agreed that the problem of open
burning in the area was indeed worth pursuing. The residents who refused to
cooperate gave three kinds of reasons: first, some families were not
interested in the air quality problem as the majority of their time was
spent outside the area; second, there were residents whose properties were
located further away from the problem than the Yoshida house, and who did
not feel any serious urge to combat what they perceived as a distant
problem; and third, some were simply afraid of standing up to an industrial
unit, which was seen as more powerful than ordinary citizens. Yoshida
mentions one instance when a family practically shut the door on them (Ibid,
p. 83-84). Only 13 households agreed to rally behind the Yoshida family, and
they formed the first group of protesters over the issue.
However, even after this small group of protesters came together, they found
that they could not easily get accreditation as bona fide protesters. The
municipal office refused to grant them the status of a civilian movement (Yoshida,
p. 8) on the grounds that the law for registering residents' associations
at that time required a minimum of 50 households to be members (Ibid, p.
46). The movement had to wait for four years until their fortunes improved.
In July 1993, the official in charge of dealings with residents'
associations at the municipal office changed. The new official, Tanimoto,
was more sympathetic to the citizens' cause, and became instrumental in
extending recognition to the would-be residents' association with its 13
households. This recognition meant that the Yoshidas' association was
arguably the smallest residents' association in the whole country, and the
accreditation was extended not because of the number of protesters, but for
the importance of the demands raised.
According to Yoshida Misawo, the industrial unit that was responsible for
the pollution adopted a stance of misleading the residents, subverting laws
and at times simply denying any wrongdoing (Yoshida, 2001). Yoshida alleges
that the industry knew the environmental consequences of their actions, but
carried on regardless, partially assisted by the favorable treatment they
received from the administration. Sometimes the industry would appear to be
willing to discuss the problem, only to backtrack later. Once the company
officials agreed to meet the residents to listen to their demands, but
announced on the day of the meeting that the top executive's whereabouts
were 'unknown' (Yoshida, 2001, p. 90-91)! When an enquiry was eventually
carried out by the prefectural government in March 1992, the polluters
suddenly stopped all burning activities just before the investigation was to
begin, and they restarted operations as soon as it was over, suggesting
worrying collusion between the authorities and the industry (Ibid, p.
86-87). Suspicions of collusion increased after an inspection carried out by
a local judge, on 12 September 1992. He absolved Yoshida Industries of any
wrongdoing, observing that only 'burnable garbage' was stored at the
facility, despite the clear presence of asbestos and metal parts witnessed
by residents (Ibid, p. 98). Even a dialogue with officials of Mie Prefecture
resulted in disappointment, as despite the proof of illegal wastes being
present at the dumpsite, the prefecture backed a plan by Yoshida Industries
to set up an incinerator, prioritizing the industry's 'right' to do so.
Fortunes change for protesters
From 1989 to 1992 the protest movement encountered one challenge after
another. At first they were woefully outnumbered and obtained no recognition
of their concerns from the local administration, and the odds were seemingly
stacked in favor of the polluters. Facing such challenges, it seemed that
the movement would struggle to make much headway. But the residents' resolve
was eventually strengthened when a forest fire broke out in 1992 near the
dumpsite. Though it was doused quickly, it served as a wake-up call for
those who were still reluctant to pursue the issue with full vigor (Yoshida,
2001, p. 107). In addition, the garbage at the site started to rot with the
arrival of the summer rains, which released toxic gases that caused
headaches and eye problems (Ibid, p. 110).
The year 1992 saw the fortunes of this movement change, due to both internal
and external factors. At the internal level, there were two developments.
The residents met an energetic lawyer, Murata Masato, who was impressed by
the struggle of the Yoshida family, especially the physically disabled
Masaaki, and pledged his support to the movement. The residents benefited
much from the participation of Murata, who proved to be a key presence
whenever the movement sought legal or administrative arbitration. Second,
the citizens began to carry out their own inspection of the dump site. This
began with causal observations, matured into careful recording of
information from the number plates of the dump trucks, and culminated with a
full scale inspection of the facility led by Dr. Hatakeyama Mitsuhiro, a
local expert (Ibid, p. 78, Hatakeyama, 1998). This survey served as a
response to the earlier prefectural survey that failed to impart any
responsibility to Yoshida Industries. The citizens' survey was much bigger
in scope, spanning 50 days, and the results showed a high concentration of
CO2 in the air, along with the presence of asbestos and toxic metals in the
waste, which raised the possibility of pollution of the Kizu River water
through sub-surface leaching. These findings became the basis of a case in
which five residents of Ueno New Town sought prefectural mediation over the
garbage dump on 20 July 1992 (Ibid, p. 102). Though this mediation did not
materialize, this was a step forward, as the citizens could now claim to be
able to back up their claims with scientific evidence.
The external factors are related to developments in environmental
regulations in this period in the country as a whole. It is generally
observed that the 1990s were a period of environmental restoration in Japan,
as laws came to the aid of the environment and citizens' environmental
groups. In 1992, a law was passed to stop all open burning, and on 24
December 1992, the Ueno City Council adopted a resolution calling for a
stoppage to open burning and any expansion of incineration facilities in the
Ueno area, pledging also to protect the area's mountains and forests
(Yoshida, 2001, p. 62). However, as Yoshida's account testifies, the laws
did not, and could not, fix all the problems at a single stroke, and they
faced numerous challenges on the implementation front. She laments that much
of the legislation was only on paper, but not effective on the ground.
In 1995, Yoshida Industries proposed to set up small incinerators with a
5-ton capacity in the area which, according to the law at that time, did not
require permission from residents' associations. However, the New Town
residents' association had earlier pledged itself not to allow any
incineration facilities apart from three existing ones in the area, and
hence they thought that they had a valid reason for opposing the newly
proposed installation. From this point on, the struggle also became a quest
to legally recognize the citizens' right to control land use, over and above
the rights of industrial corporations to make a profit. But while municipal
recognition had paved the way for the Yoshidas' movement to emerge as a
stakeholder in the issue of protecting the environment of the Ueno region, a
subsequent and arduous challenge remained, that of taking the company to
court and winning the case. This process took over 4 years. On 19 June 1997,
the Yoshida family finally got the legal verdict they were fighting for. A
High Court ruling recognized concerns over citizens' health as a priority,
and recognized their right to information regarding dumpsites and
incineration facilities (Ibid, p. 177). This was a landmark judgment, as the
court instructed the then Mie Prefectural Governor, Kitakawa Masayasu to
release all information about the dump site to the public (Ibid, p. 177).
From this point, the citizens were aided by coverage in the national media,
which became a vital ally. The Nagoya Bureau of the Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai (NHK)
involved itself in the process, and this active involvement of the media
proved to be the final nail in the coffin of the company's case. The NHK
broadcast an investigation led by Dr. Hatakeyama on 17 October 1997. The
result of this investigation showed dioxin pollution stretching across large
swathes of land in the vicinity. This finding gave an air of legitimacy to
the claims of the citizens, due to the fact that dioxin pollution was widely
recognized as a possible cause of cancer. Yoshida Industries did not back
down easily, and started operating a new incinerating facility in 1998. But
when this led to numerous complaints of physical discomfort like coughing,
itching of the eyes, and chest pain among the residents (Yoshida, 2001, p.
203), the tide had seemingly turned against the company. Yoshida Industries'
efforts to secure a favorable judgment from the Nagoya high court, based on
a petition challenging the judgment of 19 June 1997, went in vain as the
petition was turned down on 22 December 1998. Furthermore, the High Court
ordered them to pay a token penalty of 600,000 Yen (Ibid, p. 213-215). The
citizens' victory was completed on 7 July 2000, when the High Court handed
down a verdict of prohibiting any type of waste disposal unit in the Ueno
area, the first such verdict against industrial incinerators of any capacity
(Ibid, p. 227). After this verdict, Yoshida Industries finally backed down
and accepted all the demands of the Ueno New Town residents' association led
Though this was a successful outcome for Yoshida Misawo, there was a
personal loss. The arduous battle against the industry and life in the
polluted environment had taken its toll on her husband Masaaki's health. He
partially lost his eyesight while the courtroom battles wore on, and it
gradually became clear that he would enjoy no rehabilitation, as his health
deteriorated steadily. Finally, he passed away after a stroke.
Figure 3: An incinerator lies abandoned at the waste disposal facility (now
defunct) of Yoshida Industries (Photograph taken by the author, 12 June
Yoshida's Account: The Sequel
Citizen victories against industrial firms in
the Iga area did not end with the case surrounding Yoshida Industries. In
fact, as Yoshida Misawo describes in her second memoir, Otōchan Mitetena,
the battle spilled over into the new millennium, and continues even today.
There was a sequel to the issue of open burning and waste dump in the form
of a proposal to expand the dumping facility of Jōnan Kaihatsu, another
industrial company. The civil response against it is described in Yoshida's
This phase began in 2002, when Jōnan Kaihatsu
sought an expansion of their waste dumpsite near Ueno New Town, because the
existing facility was already full to capacity (Yoshida 2010, p. 9). This
garbage dump was located around 800 meters from the Yoshida household. This
time, Jōnan Kaihatsu posed an entirely different kind of challenge. As they
could not go ahead with the expansion of the waste dump without the support
of the residents' associations in the area, the industry first approached
Yoshida for permission. When this did not materialize, Jōnan pursued a
different plan: they offered a deal to the New Town residents, promising
clean and potable water to New Town homes in exchange for an expansion of
their industrial works. Yoshida recounts that this was a tempting offer for
some of the Jichikai members as the area had already been afflicted
by water shortages. They opposed Yoshida's decision to refuse permission to Jōnan. Yoshida tells us in her book that she felt isolated and hopeless at
times, but her resolve to oppose any kind of industrial pollution in the
area after the previous episode was strong, as it came from her sense of
unfinished duty to her husband and the residents of the Iga City area. She
writes that when she led other residents in an inspection of Jōnan's
existing dumping facility in the area, she could 'hear' the pleas of the
forests and mountains to save them from the toxic waste. During the
inspection, the residents saw foul smelling and evidently improperly managed
waste in the facility. This convinced Yoshida that any expansion by Jōnan
would prove to be detrimental to the region's environment. The threat of
metal pollution through sub-soil leaching, a familiar issue since the case
with Yoshida Industries, was very much a possibility. However, visual
evidence only did not count much as proof of environmental pollution, so the
New Town residents had to establish scientifically that they were preventing Jōnan from expanding its industrial facility for good reasons. For this,
Yoshida and other residents approached Ikeda Komichi, chief of the Tokyo
based Haiki Butsu Mondai Zenkoku Nettowāku
(All Japan Industrial Waste Pollution Network). When the residents sent a
soil sample to Ikeda, he forwarded it to a laboratory in Ontario in Canada,
which found the presence of metal toxicity in the soil (Yoshida, 2010, p.
37). Based on this, Yoshida called on the population on the locality and
neighborhood to join the protest movement of the New Town residents. This
effort took the form of a signature campaign, and eventually the movement
amassed 10,000 signatures and submitted them to the Mie Governor in December
2004 (Ibid, p. 66).
The industry's response was to ignore the first
stage of the protest, and behave as if everything was normal. Yoshida
suggests that there was further collusion between the industrial unit and
the local administration. This, she alleges, was once again blatantly
exposed on 24 December 2004 when the prefectural officials inspected the
dumpsite and gave a clean bill of health to Jōnan (Yoshida 2010, p. 71).
However, independent inspections, as noted earlier, found toxicity in the
soil: as in the previous episode with Yoshida Industries where dioxin
pollution was found, the identification of Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)
this time led to widespread perceptions of imminent hazard. In another
survey carried out by the Meijo University Professor Makinouchi Takeshi, the
following points were mentioned:
The garbage dump was located in a beautiful
natural setting. Its unnatural shape and size caused 'visual pollution.'
The dump could collapse in an event of heavy
rain or a strong earthquake. A point to be noted was the presence of an
active geological fault in the region.
The dump contained garbage other than what it
was meant for.
Though water contamination levels were below
danger levels, fresh inspections should be carried out in relation to this
The discovery of PCB in the soil meant that it
would affect the water in the Sankenya and Kizu River basins, and there was
a possibility that the effects would reach as far as Osaka Bay. (Yoshida
2010, p. 114)
Based on these observations, the Ueno New Town
residents association, in coordination with other resident associations in
the vicinity, appealed for national mediation on the matter on 16 February
2006. Due to the merger of village units that created the present Iga City
in 2004, Yoshida could find new support in the form of residents
associations who now identified themselves as stakeholders in the issue.
Although the industry could muster some support
in the administration, the pressure of civil protests proved too strong in
the end. The prefectural government could not ignore these strong demands
for long, and sent a fresh investigation team, that vindicated the New Town
residents' long-standing claim: it found a PCB concentration of eight times
the safe limit at the Jōnan dumpsite (Yoshida 2010, pp. 139-140). This
finding led them to issue a notice of 'Disapproval of Any Extension of
Industrial Waste Dumpsite's' to Jōnan in 2006, thereby handing victory to
With this victory, Yoshida Misawo came to be
recognized at the local level as a crusader for environmental preservation
in the Iga City area. In the final section of her book, Yoshida argues that
her movement has not attained its final goal yet. The waters of the Sankenya
River are still severely polluted and though any extension to the dumpsite
was denied in 2006, the original dumpsite still sits in the landscape like
an unwelcome ghost (Yoshida 2010, pp. 150-151). She writes of continuing her
struggle for a better life for the Ueno New Town citizens by freeing the
area from pollution in the air, water and soil, and preserving the natural
diversity of the Iga basin area for the benefit of future generations.
Discussion: Yoshida Misawo as a Postwar
Yoshida Misawo's struggles against industrial
waste dumping are remarkable, and when I spoke to her during a two hour long
interview, I was moved by the passion she retains at her advanced age. She
has become a well known advocate of environmental preservation in the Iga
City area, and her books have won her admirers beyond her immediate
In the larger context, Yoshida Misawo's
movement can be located within the broad spectrum of postwar civilian
movements in Japan in response to industrial pollution (McKean, 1981,
Broadbent, 1998, Hase, 2002, Hasegawa, 2004). Hasegawa (2004) has observed
that '…wherever environmental issues are recognized, some sort of social
movements will emerge.' (Hasegawa, 2004, p. 70). McKean (1981) points out
that citizen led protests in postwar Japan usually began with victims of
pollution or concerned residents approaching local level bodies such as the
Jichikai (McKean, 1981, p.26). According to Broadbent (1998),
Japanese environmental protest movements are characterized by a high social
intensity of pollution (Broadbent, 1998, p. 332), which stirs the residents
into action (Ibid, p. 359). In addition, a notable feature of the Japanese
environmental protest movements has been their NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)
nature, implying a realistic adaptation to their target, which is
improvement of their immediate localities (Ibid, pp. 355-356). Hase (2002)
observes that there are three broad categories of environmental movements in
Postwar Japan: (i) protest groups demanding compensation for problems of
industrial pollution; (ii) groups opposed to development projects; and (iii)
groups demanding a better standard of living (Hase, 2002, p. 8). The first
group was characterized by the struggles of civilians in the 'Big Four'
pollution cases, namely; those involving Yokkaichi asthma (Mie Prefecture),
mercury poisoning at Minamata (Kumamoto Prefecture), and Niigata (Niigata
Prefecture) and 'Itai-Itai Disease' caused by cadmium poisoning (Toyama
Prefecture). In all these cases, the industrial units involved first denied
any responsibility and the battles went to the courtrooms, where civilian
claim were upheld (Hase, 2002, p. 9). In most cases during the high speed
economic growth years, the familiar pattern was acute deterioration of the
environment followed by a coalescence of protests and eventual solutions
through legal means, the broad pattern being 'polluter pays after pollution
assumes serious proportions' (Hase, 2002, p. 9). Yoshida's first movement,
in this definition, would fall into the first group, while the second
movement can be seen as belonging to the second group. However, there is
considerable overlap within this classification, and this is borne out in
Yoshida's movements as well. Furthermore, as Funabashi (1992) points out,
after an initial spurt in environmental protest movements from 1964 to 1973
and a decline from 1974 to 1986, environmental movements enjoyed a renewed
boost from 1987, with citizen-led opposition to development projects and
protection of local environments becoming its main feature (Funabashi, 1992,
p.7). Sorensen (2007) indicates that environmental protest movements matured
as local level voices for preservation were raised in this period (Sorensen,
2007, p. 70). In line with this, Mason also observes: 'In some ways, it
appears as if the Japan of the early and mid-1990s had entered a period of
resurging environmental interest, with heightened activity by environmental
NGOs' (1999, p. 187). The 1998 NPO Law also removed many of the bureaucratic
obstacles and smoothed the way for even small local level organizations to
gain voice (Pekkanen, 2006). A large part of these civil society groups,
like Yoshida's NPO, have become active in the countryside, as the relatively
pristine countryside environments have faced an onslaught of urbanization
and industrial activities during this period. This point is taken up by
Funabashi in his article: 'In the course of economic growth, large scale
regional development plans that involve a risk of environmental disruption
show a tendency to amalgamate in peripheral areas' (Funabashi, 1992, p. 10).
Yoshida Misawo's first movement in 1989 was launched in response to
industrial pollution, and demanded the industry acknowledge its
responsibility for polluting the environment. It began as a petition, but
the immediate authorities showed no sympathy, and in fact appeared to be
working hand in glove with the industry. The movement then matured, as it
took on the industry in the courts and secured a judgment asking the unit
responsible to pay a fine. This pattern is consistent with McKean's point
that most residents movements '…uncovered serious transgression of ethics,
if not blatant violations of law, in the way their local politicians had
concealed facts, extended favors to polluting industry, or promised
municipal services to a company planning to build in the area.” (McKean,
1981, p. 27) Her second movement was a protest in anticipation of
environmental degradation as it involved opposition to a plan to expand an
industrial facility. Talking about these two movements, Yoshida sees them as
very closely related, and in fact, she claims the second movement was a
continuation of the first one. In her two books, Yoshida mentions her
mission as 'preservation of the natural environment of the Iga area for the
benefit of future generations,' which brings her aims closely in line with
those of the third category of movements mentioned above, those concerned
with improvements in living conditions.
Where does Yoshida Misawo stand as leader of a
postwar environmental movement? In her first book, Yoshida repeatedly
asserts that she chose to fight the industrial units because of her
husband's health problems. This implies that she saw herself as a dutiful
wife, and in fact, Yoshida tells us that the leader of the movement was her
husband, even though her accounts, as well as my interview with her, led me
to conclude that Masaaki's leadership was largely symbolic. During the
second movement, her husband was no longer present, but Yoshida writes of
his presence in her soul. In fact, in one part she describes how she got her
resolve to fight Jōnan Industries by praying before her husband's photo
dressed in a traditional Kimono. This, together with the title of her second
book, again suggests that Yoshida continued to see herself as a devoted
wife, fulfilling her duties to her deceased husband.
Susan Pharr (1981), in Political Women in
Japan, has observed that Japanese women, when taking political roles,
have done so in an indirect manner, by identifying their duties as
extensions of their duties at home. Goebel-Noguchi (1992) points out that
women have found leadership of environmental movements as especially suited
to them. Goebel-Noguchi discusses her interviews with six environmental
movement leaders and points out that these women often sought to move beyond
the traditional roles of homemaker and mother, although they would not
explicitly claim so. This observation is valid for Yoshida as well. She
keeps on portraying her struggle as a wife's duty, yet she speaks of her
goal of preserving the natural environment of the Iga area for its
residents, implying an expansion of her identity not only as a good wife,
but also as a voice for the local people. During my interview, Yoshida also
spoke of her association with nature from childhood. She says that she still
fondly remembers the days when she used to swim in the brook near her house
and walk by crystal clear rivers. The upper Kizu basin, the location of
Ueno, had been rich in forests and natural diversity, but postwar industrial
and urban expansion steadily depleted the natural components in the
landscape. In her two books, as well as during interviews (Yoshida, 2001,
Yoshida, 2010, personal communication, June 12, 2010), Yoshida repeatedly
asserts her resolve to protect the upper Kizu basin; in fact the subtitle of
one of the books mentions her struggle to preserve the satoyama in
the Kizu River basin. There are two points worth mentioning here. First, the
use of the word satoyama evokes a powerful imagery. Satoyama
is essentially the landscape of pre-industrial Japan, thus, the landscape of
the ancestors (Takeuchi et al., 2003). Degradation of this landscape thus is
a degradation of the traditional Japanese way of life, and this appeals to
the general public even in today's heavily urbanized Japan. Thus, the word
satoyama serves as a stimulant for Yoshida's campaign, making it
attractive both within and beyond the immediate scope of Ueno district.
Earlier, I noted how Yoshida writes about 'hearing' the pleas of the
mountains and forests, implying that the traditional landscape of the area
was in danger, and that someone had to save it from vanishing altogether.
Second, Yoshida's identification of her duty to preserve the upper Kizu
basin and the satoyama of the Iga basin area reaffirms her personal
commitment to the environmental agenda; it signifies her identity as an
environmental preservationist. Thus, Yoshida Misawo's movement presents the
case of a traditional Japanese woman who accidentally found herself faced
with an arduous task, that of taking on a polluting industrial unit. The
immediate motive at the beginning of her campaign was her duty to her
husband, and she portrays this struggle as the duty of a homemaker. However,
her role expanded as the challenges took on new forms: she took on the
industry in the courtroom, led signature campaigns, and even participated in
environmental sampling surveys with other residents. None of these
activities are typically wife's chores, and though Yoshida continued to
identify her struggles as an extension of her wife's duties, it is clear
that she had moved beyond the role of a housewife by the time of the victory
of the first movement, and more so during the second movement.
Finally, what is the general context of
Yoshida's movement? Through her long struggle of more than two decades,
Yoshida Misawo has become an active voice for environmental preservation in
the Iga basin, against the backdrop of industrial and urban expansion.
Though her movements have concentrated specifically on opposition to
industrial waste management in the countryside, the scope of this movement
extends beyond poorly managed dumpsites to preservation of the traditionally
rich natural landscape of the Iga basin, which is located in the upper part
of the Kizu River watershed. Thus, Yoshida's movements have a dual identity:
of being stakeholders in local level waste management, and a voice for
preservation of the water environment of the region. The second movement
against Jōnan also derived its strength from its extended scope, as Yoshida
successfully appealed to the residents of downstream areas, as far as to the
metropolitan areas of Kyoto and Osaka (Yoshida, 2010, p. 39).
Asano (2007) has drawn a distinction between
anti-pollution and nature conservation movements in water environments
(Asano, 2007, pp. 190-191). He points out that while the former is limited
to demanding relief from pollution in the water and immediate surroundings,
the latter has a much broader scope in its vision of saving nature from
destruction: 'Concepts of water pollution have now come of age, and are
concerned mostly about the condition of the whole watershed area, as opposed
to only water quality.' (Asano, 2007, p. 193) As reported by the Sankei
Shimbun (2011), the citizen's organization of 'Kizugawa Nettowāku'
(Kizu River Network) was launched on 15 January 2011 with Yoshida as its
President, and within a month, on 14 February 2011 the organization issued a
formal call for removal of all industrial waste facilities from the Iga City
area (Kyoto Minpo Web, 2011). During my interview with her, Yoshida spoke
explicitly of her concern for protecting the river basin environment, by
continuing struggles against industrial waste, and by educating young minds
about the necessity of clean rivers and forested mountains. This takes us
back to the point made by Goebel-Noguchi (1992) that traditional women in
Japan have assumed roles of stewards of environmental preservation movements
in the postwar period, and though they started as good wives and wise
mothers, their roles extended to different dimensions, eventually fulfilling
the role of activists for natural preservation.
This paper has looked at an environmental
preservation movement led by an octogenarian woman in one of the most
densely urbanized regions in Japan. Though the Kinki region is highly
urbanized in general, the immediate location of the movement is an area full
of natural diversity and beauty. The movement led by Yoshida Misawo shows
that industrial pollution was not only a hallmark of the high speed growth
years in Japan: it is a problem very much alive today in the Japanese
countryside, and civil society groups still find it tough going protesting
against those responsible for the pollution, who generally deny any
wrongdoing. Yoshida's struggle was spread across two movements against two
different industrial units: the first episode was mainly about air pollution
and its effects on human health, while the second was concerned with soil
pollution and the risks associated with the expansion of an already existing
industrial facility. The first movement led by Yoshida share several common
characteristics with the 'Big Four' pollution incidents, albeit on a much
smaller, local scale, and in a similar pattern, victory was eventually
achieved in the courtroom and the polluting company was instructed to pay
compensation. The second movement shares commonalities with
'anti-development movements' as defined by Hase (2002) and employed familiar
strategies of amassing signatures to put pressure on the administration,
which then mediated on the citizens' behalf. However, there is another point
to be noted in both these movements: in both cases, the movements involved
on-the-spot surveys of the disputed sites by citizens, and laboratory
analyses of samples. This shows that Yoshida Misawo, who began as a
distressed housewife struggling to look after her sick husband in a polluted
residential neighborhood, transformed herself into a leader of local
environmental issues, with a broad focus on maintaining the natural
diversity of the Iga basin area.
There is one final point worth mentioning. This
comes from my own observations in the field, as well as from talking to
Yoshida in person. While her movement has been successful, there is no heir
apparent to this movement, and considering her age, it is also not clear how
long she will be able to lead this struggle. Although she has achieved her
primary mission by securing victory against industrial units, and although
citizens in the Ueno New Town area are much better organized now against
such threats in the future, protecting the environment in the whole upper
Kizu River basin remains a major unfinished challenge. In the interview,
Yoshida spoke of her desire to educate the young minds of the region.
Yoshida Misawo is active in holding public lectures in universities and
talks for local school children. Her involvement in such educational
activities are an indication of the next frontier of her movement, which is,
looking for followers to keep it alive even after she, as a leader, is no
longer there to lead it.
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About the author
Abhik Chakraborty is a PhD candidate at
Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University
in Oita Prefecture, Japan. Born in India, he came to Japan in 2007 and has
since been researching river basin landscape changes, having earlier worked
on how public memory and physical changes interweave to produce perceptions
of landscape change in Indian river basins. His main research interests are
man environment relations, landscape changes and river basin governance in
modern and post growth Japan.
e-mail the author
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