My 2013 New Year’s resolution was to learn Japanese. Now it’s November, and relying solely on my half-Japanese intuition hasn’t gotten me very far. Everything I can say or read in Japanese is related to food, which did me a lot of good on my 5-hour journey between Osaka and Obama involving 3 trains, one bus, and this map.
Thankfully, I play a mean matching game (that kanji looks like an ice cube tray, I must be in Umeda), and eventually made it to lovely Obama City on the sparkling Sea of Japan, where they adore our President almost as much as Hawaii does.
But I came for more than the hula, delicious fresh saba (mackerel) and super pointy hashi (chopsticks, to get under those tiny fish bones!) My trip was the first site visit in a 5-year project with the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, investigating the interdependencies between water, food, and energy. It’s an international project, 50+ scientists, 5 countries, lots of big questions, even more personality types (I’m definitely only half Japanese), and very ambitious goals.
This field visit was all about the project’s central natural resource: water. The Obama community is intricately tied to its groundwater resources, for drinking, farming, and melting snow in the winter (grateful I was too early for a live demonstration). And at one point, vibrant fisheries. Today groundwater levels are diminishing, and so are the fish. These connections, and policy recommendations to restore them, is one focus of our work.
There were a lot of important scientific meetings and presentations (something something mizu something something denki something something sashimi), but I learned the most by observing and exploring. We visited several public water spigots, where water flowed freely to a community who has never paid for water. Culturally, water is a part of their identity, not a commodity to be bought and sold. Economically, it is not hard to explain the diminishing fish stocks and the compromised quality of their groundwater wells. And luckily, the Obama city government is an eager and active participant in our project. I’m optimistic about finding solutions.
Colorful lights used to catch squid (ika! see, i speak food) at night.
Caught the sunrise every morning running this coastline (except the last morning where I was lost somewhere in the rice paddies in the freezing rain, saved only by hot coffee served out of delightful Japanese vending machines that show up everywhere, even in the middle of nowhere).
Given that today is 11/12/13 (!), I’m reneging on last year’s resolution and making an early one for 2014: before I show up for my three-month research fellowship in Kyoto next fall, be able to do more than order lunch :) Ganbatte!!