Taking it Slow in Japan

Feel like you’re always moving too fast? Next time your in Tokyo, take the chance to slow down at a unique cafe on the outskirts of the city.

Claire Tsai, one of our newest staff members from Taiwan, and I are currently working in Japan to build the 350 movement here and connect with organizations and activists. One of the first people we met was Keibo Oiwa, founder of the “Sloth Movement,” in Japan and owner of Cafe Slow. Claire and I talked with him over a delicious, slow-food meal at his cafe – the epicenter of the growing slow movement in Japan.

Keibo was inspired to found his first organization, Sloth Club, on a trip to Ecuador. Visiting the rainforest there, he encountered the sloth for the first time and decided the slow-moving animal was a perfect symbol for Keibo’s philosophy. Sloth Club is not just an environmental organization but an “eco-cultural” group. The group’s mission, Keibo explains, is to “revive our culture and create a revolution in our lifestyle.” The consumeristic lifestyle and Japan and around the world is no longer fulfilling people’s basic needs: friendship, peace, and, perhaps most important, happiness. “What we call a wealthy society is actually quite a poor place,” he concludes.



Throughout our conversation, Keibo cracks jokes and smiles from ear to ear as he describes all the projects he is working on. “A sense of humor is so important,” he says, talking about how he picked the name of his organization. “The type of society we’re trying to create needs to be a fun one.” Young people are a key part of Keibo’s vision. “Young people are really starting to move,” he says. “We can’t create the new story for them, but we still have certain advantages, some useful knowledge we can share.” Keibo employs as many young people as he can in his Slow Cafe and other sustainable business ventures to give youth employment opportunities outside the mainstream. The cafe also serves as a community hub, one of the shrinking number of places in Tokyo where youth can relax, meet with their friends, hold concerts, and talk about how to create societal change. The Cafe also houses two other eco-cultural organizations, a fair trade shop, an art gallery, and a small bakery.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the challenge of global warming and changing how our society thinks about energy. In Japan, for example, it takes one and half nuclear power plants to run the 5.5 million vending machines that dot nearly every street corner. When Keibo meets people who feel powerless to act, he tells them a story he first learned in Ecuador. It’s a parable that sums up his approach to activism and is nice reminder about the power each of us have to slow down and take the time to work for change. It goes like this:

The forest was on fire. All of the animals, insects and birds in the forest rushed to escape. But there was one little hummingbird named Kurikindi, or Golden Bird, who stayed behind. This little bird went back and forth between water and fire, dropping a single drop of water from its beak on to the fire below. When the animals saw this they began to laugh at Kuirkindi. “Why are you doing that?” they asked. And Kurikindi replied, “I am only doing what I can do.”

 

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