Every month, our "Close UP" series introduces a selected organization in Tokyo who aims to promote international exchange and the support of foreign residents in their community. This month, we feature Musashino International Association (MIA), which was founded in 1989 and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Aiming to build a community that contributes to global peace, the MIA has been promoting citizen-led efforts for international exchange and cooperation while supporting the lives of local foreign residents. Among MIA's various activities, the Musashino International Exchange Festival is one of the biggest events through the year. Recently, members of the MIA have also been actively incorporating ecology-conscious practices into the festival. Yoshio Mita, a coordinator of MIA, tells us about the association's environment-friendly effort at the multicultural event.
Yoshio Mita,
a coordinator of MIA
Bulletin boards introducing MIA's various activities
The festival is a locally-based annual event that is organized by the MIA's Japanese and foreign members in collaboration with international organizations and groups, businesses, and colleges from the local community. Sometime in May or June, the Musashino International Exchange Festival Executive Committee is formed to begin planning and managing the entire event. Over a hundred local citizen volunteers help us run the event on the day of the festival. The goal of the festival is to promote international understanding in the community by offering hands-on opportunities to experience different cultures and organizing workshops to introduce various activities related to international exchange and cooperation. One of the popular attractions at the festival is "tabunka yataimura" (multicultural food stalls), where a variety of dishes from around the world can be enjoyed. Since we started the yataimura in 2001, the number of visitors has doubled, from about 1,500 people to 3,000 people.
Yes, it was about garbage. In addition to its amount, we didn't have means to properly collect and dispose of trash produced at the festival. We were told by the city government that it was not acceptable for the city to take over our refuse. To improve the situation, we started a project in the following year 2002 with help of the Clean Musashino Promotion Association to collect trash separately and reduce its amount. In 2004, we began a full-scale effort to make our festival more eco-friendly by introducing disposable plates made from material called bagasse, a remaining of sugarcane after being pressed to extract juice. After use, bagasse plates are torn into pieces and are buried in earth, which then decompose in about a half year. However, a drawback of bagasse plates was that they are manufactured in China, costing a lot of energy to import to Japan. As an alternate, we came up with an idea of using "reused" plates.
"Eco Station" was established at the festival to collect and separate trash (letters of エコステ were made with caps of drink bottles)
We had to deal with lots of issues. First of all, reused plates are very expensive. A rental fee of reused plates is 25 yen per piece, while a paper plate costs only 3 yen and a bagasse one is 5 to 7 yen. With our budget, it was absolutely impossible. So our members of the executive committee decided to ask cafeterias at local public facilities, businesses, and schools to see if they would let us use their plates which are not used during weekends. Fortunately, a company who runs a cafeteria at Asia University decided to offer us a free rental of plates. We used 800 plates in 2007 and 2,000 plates in 2008. Last year, most of our food vendors used the reused plates.

Collecting reused plates by sizes and shapes
For vendors, the biggest advantage of using reused plates is that they can cut the cost of purchasing the plates. The disadvantage would be that the reused plates can be bulky and also are often awkward to handle since they are not always in the same style or size. The disadvantage for the event organizer is that it is time-consuming to organize, count, and collect the plates. However, the reused plates helped us dramatically decrease the amount of trash. In 2008, we had only three bags of burnable garbage after recyclable items, such as bottles, cans, and plastic goods, were separately collected. Not so many public events like our festival would finish by leaving such a small amount of trash. This is the advantage of using reused plates with which every one of us agrees.
Every year, the MIA members, including students and young businessmen, organize the "MIA Youth Forum for International Understanding." It became obvious especially since 2007 that more and more people are interested in issues of environmental protection and ecology, and various eco-related themes have been discussed at the meetings of the forum, such as a recycling of cell phones, waribashi (disposable chopsticks), initiating food banks, a development of sustainable community, and much more. We are always impressed by young people's ideas and ability to take action. In fact, the idea of using the reused plates was first suggested by the forum members.
Lounge at MIA office
I think we are creating an opportunity of "kizuki" (realization). Of 50 yataimura vendors at the festival, about 30 people are from foreign countries. They and eco-conscious young members of the committee do not always get along with each other at first. However, to achieve the same goal to make the festival successful, both sides work hard to fill gaps between each other's understanding. I believe that it is one of the association's important roles as a "mediator" to provide a place where people with different cultural and generational backgrounds can meet and work together. It is also my hope that people who have participated in the festival as staff or visitors will serve as "messengers" of the ecology movement by telling others what they saw at the festival or by teaching us what they see at other events and places. And ultimately, I hope our festival would lead to the reduction of trash in the entire community on a daily basis, not just for a special day.