December 11, 2019
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Green Jhappi

Japanese environmentalists take to Chipko

Green Jhappi
Green Jhappi
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  • Environmentalists are protesting the building of a 22.7-km tunnel through Mount Takao as part of the Ken-O expressway
  • Conceived 24 years ago, it involves building a 300 km circular motorway connecting Tokyo-Yokohama-Kisarazu
  • Mount Takao, 30 km from Tokyo, is host to 1,321 plant, 5,000 insect and 150 bird species-55 per cent of Japan's native species
  • Nearly 3 million hikers visit Mount Takao annually, making it more popular than Mount Fuji


To the long list of Indian exports like spiritualism, spices, silk, non-violence, yoga and algorithmic brain power, you may now add the Chipko movement. Activists in Tokyo protesting against the construction of a tunnel for Ken-O-Do, or the Metropolitan Intercity Expressway, through the biodiversity-rich Mount Takao area outlying Japan's capital are adopting the tree-hugging methods of the Chipko movement to resist the local government. Like Gaura Devi in the 1970s, who protested the felling of trees in Reni village (of what is now Uttarakhand) by hugging them, many Japanese women like Masako Sakata and Junko Nakazono are hugging trees on Mount Takao to save them from a 12-metre-wide, 22.7 km tunnel through the mountain.

Kenju No Kai, an environment action group, first learnt of the Chipko movement in 2007, when Sunderlal Bahuguna, one of the leaders of the movement, was hosted by the International Christian University, Tokyo. Later, Bahuguna's disciple Panduranga Hegde went to lecture there and in Kyoto in November 2008. "Chipko was started by women. The agitation to save Mount Takao is also being led by a group of women, and this helped us establish a quick bond," says Hegde.

When Hegde visited the protest site in November, he joined in silent prayer with the Japanese activists to help them "become one with nature". He then led them to embrace the trees. "They found in this simple expression of love a strategy of protest. We also showed documentary films on the Chipko movement. I explained how non-violent methods had spread across India from the Himalayan region. What captivated them were the stories of ordinary women. They were moved when I told them how illiterate women in a Karnataka village protested against teak monoculture plantations by hugging trees marked to be felled."

The Chipko innovation has come as a new hope for Japanese activists at a time when they are facing a setback. On June 15, 2007, around the time Bahuguna visited Japan, a local court ruled that the construction of the tunnel was acceptable even though its effect on Mount Takao's natural environment was recognised. The matter has now reached a higher court, but the 1,300 individuals and seven wildlife organisations who are petitioners fear that the damage to the mountain could be done before the final verdict.

Masako Sakata, one of the activists leading the movement, told Outlook: "People's alienation from nature is extreme and scary in Japan. It is unwise to do what is irrecoverable, or what we cannot create. We shall save the environment through non-violent struggle and we are happy to follow the Gandhian movement from India." Another activist, Junko Nakazono, says, "We want to save Mount Takao as this has been a spiritual mountain. Humans will never be able to recreate the exquisite balance of nature that countless years of evolution has produced."

The activists say that hugging trees has made them feel much more intimately about the problem. And Bahuguna, who is pleased with the activists' efforts, says of the transplantation of Chipko to Japan: "This is not just a movement to protect forests but an initiative to save humanity."
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