ADMU Environmental Science Students and Professor Participated in the Japan-Asia Youth Exchange Program in Japan

February 07, 2018

Nine students from the Department of Environmental Science and Dr. Ian Navarrete participated in a short-term course in Japan under the Japan-Asia Youth Exchange Program in Science (SAKURA Exchange Program) from January 23 to February 1, 2018. The SAKURA Exchange Program was fully-funded by the Japan Science and Technology Agency and was organized by Prof. Dr. Chisato Takenaka of the Department of Biosphere Resources, Graduate School of Bioagricultural Sciences, Nagoya University. The program aims to enhance exchanges between the youths of Asia and Japan who will play a crucial role in the future field of science and technology through the close collaboration of industry, academia, and government by facilitating short-term visits. It also aims to raise the interest of Asian youths toward the leading science and technologies at Japanese universities, research institutions, and private companies, as well as strengthen ties among Asian researchers.

Research exchanges & lecture at Kagoshima University and Minamata tour
The students were welcomed in Kagoshima University. Prof. Dr. Takenaka gave the participants a short orientation about the Sakura Exchange Program. Dr. Navarrete talked about ‘Environmental Issues and Challenges in the Philippines’ and ES students presented their research on heavy metal pollution in soils, sediments, water and in vegetables. This was followed by a laboratory tour, where the Japanese students introduced their research. In the afternoon, the group attended a lecture by Prof. Dr. Takashi Tomiyasu, a world-leading mercury expert, on the ‘Behavior of mercury in contaminated site and its ecological impact’. Prof. Dr. Tomiyasu is currently doing a research on mercury contamination in soils, sediments and biological samples in Camarines Norte, where artisanal small-scale gold mining that utilizes mercury to separate the gold from the ore flourished. The day is not complete without a visit to the Mt. Sakurajima (Cherry Blossom Island), a famous active composite volcano and is home to the world largest radish (called Sakurajima radish).

On the second day, they visited Minamata City in Kumamoto Prefecture. Minamata City is an industrial town, where Minamata disease was first discovered in 1956. Minamata disease was caused by the discharge of the highly toxic methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from the Chisso Corporation chemical factory into the Minamata Bay. Methylmercury can enter the human body easily through the consumption of food like fish and shellfish where mercury bioaccumulates. The students were taken to the Minamata Disease Municipal Museum and Archives, where they learned about the history of the Minamata disease and how the locals, government, scientific community, and the company responsible for the disaster worked hand in hand to remedy the environmental problem. Despite the cold, the group managed to go around the Minamata Eco Park, a huge reclaimed area where most of the mercury-contaminated sediments were buried. 

Nagoya University Visit
On the fourth day, the group travelled from Kagoshima to Nagoya. In the afternoon, the group attended a master’s class of Prof. Dr. Takenaka in Nagoya University. They met with Filipino doctoral student, Ms. Crusty Tinio, who also accompanied them during their tours around Nagoya Prefecture on the following days, including a brief meet-up with Filipino scientists and scholars, two of whom were Ateneo alumni.

The group visited the Yokkaichi Pollution and Environmental Museum for Future Awareness to learn about the history of serious air pollution in the 1960s, a period marked by rapid economic growth driven by Japan’s need to recover from World War II. Yokkaichi pollution was mainly caused by sulfur dioxide emissions from petrochemical companies that resulted in severe respiratory problems to Yokkaichi residents. Through the concerted efforts of citizens to demand justice and through the environmental engineering solutions introduced by companies, the city of Yokkaichi became a testament that a healthy environment need not be sacrificed in the pursuit of economic development.

Besides the environmental problems of historical relevance that the students learned from their visits to Minamata and Yokkaichi, they also visited areas that use leading technologies to promote sustainability. They visited an arsenic contaminated area in Gifu and learned what countermeasures were implemented and how arsenic was controlled and remediated using a pipeline with an adsorption layer. The students also experienced cutting-edge environmental technologies in their visit to Toyota Ecoful Town – a sustainable low-carbon society. Toyota Ecoful Town features smart houses with solar power generation system and electric, hydrogen, fuel cell and hybrid vehicles. This was followed by a tour in Asuke Town, where they experienced some of Japan’s rich traditional culture.

More research exchanges were enjoyed in Nagoya University as Prof. Rie Tomioka shared a research study on heavy metal accumulation in plants, Prof. Chisato Takenaka presented a lecture on heavy metal pollution and remediation, Prof. Arata Katayama shared his study on bioremediation, and Prof. Satoshi Murao talked about ‘The Minamata Convention on Mercury’. 

On the final day of the SAKURA Exchange Program in Science, the delegates summarized their learning and experiences and talked about ‘Environmental Problems in Japan and the Philippines’. Their short stay in Japan was made complete with the experience of Chadou, the Japanese tea ceremony. The delegates finally said their farewells and were presented with certificates of achievement at a party in Nagoya University.

Learning experiences
Japan and the Philippines shared almost the same environmental problems that resulted from economic growth and development of each country through mining disasters, water pollution and a lot more. Notably, the difference is on how the two countries address those identified environmental problems. Japan is committed to environmental protection and the health and safety of its people.
The students noted that the stories of environmental problems in Japan were reminiscent of the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pieces called Kintsugi. In Kintsugi, pieces of broken pottery—a tea bowl, for example—are brought back together with the use of gold. Rather than hide and disguise the breakage, in contrast, it is highlighted to make its history part of the object. And in the process, the value of the object increases.
The philosophy of Kintsugi is very similar to how Japan dealt with its worst environmental tragedies. They not only worked together to remediate the problem but also placed museums and archives to remind their people of their history. While Japan continues to face problems related to development, the museums and archives continue to tell stories of hope and triumph amid glaring uncertainties. This is just one of the many things that we in the Philippines can learn from.