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Rainforest Foundation Japan - Protect Amazon Forests; Learn the Wisdom of Native Peoples -

Ms. Kenko Minami, the Representative of RFJ.

Ms. Kenko Minami, the Representative of RFJ. She is shown here standing in front of spirit depictions painted by indigenous peoples. In the Amazon's indigenous cultures, red represents the color of blood; it protects the body and wards off evil. Black represents the earth, it signifying both death and regeneration.

Rainforest Foundation Japan (RFJ) is a specified non-profit organization (NGO) that was established for the purpose of supporting both the Amazon Basin's tropical rainforests and its native peoples. To better appreciate what sort of support is required in the region, RFJ Representative Ms. Kenko Minami visits the Amazon each year. When doing so, she chooses to live with the indigenous peoples for periods of approximately 2 months. How are the lives we lead here in Japan linked to the Amazon's environmental destruction? What has Ms. Minami experienced and felt during her Amazon stays? These were the sorts of question we put to her during the course of our interview.

Q.Please tell us what led to the establishment of RFJ.

Pictured left is Chief Raoni of the Kayapo People, a person Ms. Minami calls a “walking embodiment of a shrine.” On the right is Megaron, another Kayapo leader.  They are shown here at a meeting called to demand the withdrawal of dam construction plans. ©RFJ

Pictured left is Chief Raoni of the Kayapo People, a person Ms. Minami calls a "walking embodiment of a shrine." On the right is Megaron, another Kayapo leader. They are shown here at a meeting called to demand the withdrawal of dam construction plans.
©RFJ

A. In May of 1989, as part of a world tour that both protested plans to build dams in the Amazon Basin and called for tropical-rainforest protection, Sting, the British rock musician, came to Japan. As a result of being encouraged by a friend, I helped on the tour. This is what led to the establishment of our NGO. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to meet Chief Raoni of the Amazon's Kayapo People who was accompanying Sting on the tour. When shaking Chief Raoni's hand as he was leaving, a vision of the Amazon, somewhere that I hadn't then visited, flashed through my mind. I felt that this was a message telling me to "tell the people of Japan what was happening in the Amazon." Before commencing RFJ activities, I didn't even know where the Amazon was, I also felt it had no relation to the life I led. However, the more I came to know, the more I began to feel that it was an issue that I had to convey to other Japanese people.

Q.Are there also relationships between the Amazon's reckless exploitation and people here in Japan?

A. Japan depends on imports for 95% of its soybean needs. If you want to know where such soybeans come from, I should point out that Brazil is experiencing phenomenal growth in production. Soybean harvests have resulted in the destruction of Amazon forests, the killing of forest fauna and the theft of indigenous livelihoods. Although my message is somewhat blunt, if people in Japan buy tofu made using cheap imported soybeans, they are accordingly putting the Amazon's forests at risk. Thus, we ask that people follow local-production, local-consumption practices. If they buy tofu made from 100% domestic soybeans, they are helping protect the Amazon's forests.

The Amazon Basin; referred to as "the world's treasure chest." It boasts the largest area of tropical rainforests in the world. ©RFJA soybean field; created by the destruction of rainforests. ©RFJ

(Left) The Amazon Basin; referred to as "the world's treasure chest." It boasts the largest area of tropical rainforests in the world. (Right) A soybean field; created by the destruction of rainforests.
©RFJ

Q.Are there other instances of our lives here in Japan resulting in problems in the Amazon Basin?

A. Some 99.9% of imported chicken meat in Japan is sourced from Brazil. Because these Brazilian chickens are matured on a soybean diet, by eating them we are contributing to the Amazon's destruction. Furthermore, Japan provided funding for the Tucuruí Dam whose construction involved the destruction of Amazonian forests. Approximately two-thirds of the power generated by the dam is used for aluminum smelting, the aluminum created also being exported to Japan. Accordingly, the soft drinks and beer we drink from aluminum cans are not totally unconnected to the plight of the Amazon. If the linkages between the Amazon and Japan are viewed in such a light, we can understand that the convenient and abundant life we lead actually inconveniences the lives of indigenous peoples. Thus, rather than issues of support and preservation, I have come to feel a sense of atonement. In our activities my attitude is that "we are very sorry, and what we do is all that we can do even though it isn't very much."

Barren and dried trees treated with defoliants that were used in order to construct the dam. ©RFJIngots exported to various industrialized countries as the raw material for aluminum cans. ©RFJ

(Left) Barren and dried trees treated with defoliants that were used in order to construct the dam. (Right) Ingots exported to various industrialized countries as the raw material for aluminum cans. The Tucuruí Dam was constructed to generate the power required for aluminum smelting. Through its construction indigenous peoples lost an area of jungle into which Tokyo's 23 wards would comfortably fit. ©RFJ

Q.In your support activities, is there anything that you pay special attention to?

A. I have visited the Amazon every year since my first trip there in 1992. When traveling, I make a point of cohabitating with the indigenous peoples for periods of about two months. I feel a good way of offering support is to eat the same meals and lead the same life as my hosts. It also gives me the opportunity to witness matters firsthand. I have visited the Amazon a total of 28 times, and have spent more than 2000 days living locally. Concerning the Xingu Indigenous National Park where RFJ carries out its activities, it encompasses an area roughly the same size as the Island of Honshu, and is home to perhaps 20,000 indigenous residents. These people are similar to Japanese in being a mongoloid group with a common skin color. It is almost as if they are related to us. Talking about humans generally, if confronted by elderly relatives in difficulty, wouldn't there be a desire to assist them? Speaking personally, in the areas where we offer support, I feel that there are 20,000 relatives who require my assistance.

Indigenous handicrafts, made as the artists intended them, they are completed with a sense of love, being both cute and beautiful.  (Top Left) A chair carved from a single piece of wood in the shape of a tapir.  (Top Right) A jug that has been shaped to represent a bird. (Bottom Left) A jug with a unique jaguar lid along with jaguar objects. (Bottom Right) A jug with a series of human-shaped dishes.

Indigenous handicrafts, made as the artists intended them, they are completed with a sense of love, being both cute and beautiful. (Top Left) A chair carved from a single piece of wood in the shape of a tapir. (Top Right) A jug that has been shaped to represent a bird. (Bottom Left) A jug with a unique jaguar lid along with jaguar objects. (Bottom Right) A jug with a series of human-shaped dishes.

Q.What feelings do you harbor having actually visited the Amazon?

A. In the Amazon, when walking along a track, you can encounter an Anaconda. If you go swimming there are alligators around. When you actually find yourself in such an overwhelmingly natural environment, there is the consciousness that human beings are not exceptional. Alligators, jaguars, snakes and ants all share the same life force. Indigenous people don't kill other creatures indiscriminately, and they don't crave more development than is necessary. Furthermore, they preserve their traditional cultures, and live their lives in a manner that is thankful to nature. Although they live in environments without electricity, without gas and without running water, in their societies there is no bullying, no suicide and no murder. Speaking of the children of indigenous peoples, they witness the whole process from adults hunting in the forest with their bows, through to the cooking and eating of prey. By putting into their own mouths the meat of animals that have been killed in a manner that they can conceptualize, they appreciate what life is. I view this as a real education. When living in the Amazon, I came to realize more and more that the modern society in which we live is one that is composed purely of the "beautiful," in that such processes have been sanitized from our collective experience.

Among indigenous peoples with clearly defined childhood societies, during the course of play older children convey to younger children knowledge for living in the jungle. Adults respect such social constructs and do not intervene unless there is a serious threat of danger.
©RFJ

Among indigenous peoples with clearly defined childhood societies, during the course of play older children convey to younger children knowledge for living in the jungle. Adults respect such social constructs and do not intervene unless there is a serious threat of danger. ©RFJ

Q.While conducting support activities in the Amazon, it seems you ponder a lot about Japanese society as well?

A. I think this has to do with the following questions: "What defines human happiness"? "What defines societal advancement"? Although it has to be assumed that our current society has been created so that people can live a little more happily and a little more conveniently, we are nevertheless confronted by the issues of bullying, suicide and murder. In referring to my telling an indigenous chief about such issues, his response was as follows: "If what you are saying is true, then there is the danger of your tribe becoming extinct." The responsibility for creating a society that merely pursues the issues of convenience and economic efficiency lies with both me and you. In obtaining something that is considered to be both convenient and bountiful without considering the risks, I wonder as to whether or not we have put ourselves on the road to extinction. Of course, it would be unreasonable for us to consider living as indigenous societies do, however, I wonder if the knowledge that is held by indigenous peoples offers us a key to unlock the sense of despair that our society grapples with.

The name of the "Appasa" newsletter means "Spirit of the Land" in the Huaura language.

The name of the "Appasa" newsletter means "Spirit of the Land" in the Huaura language. In the May edition, a newspaper article that won RFJ the Mainichi Earth Future Prize in March 2014 was published. In the same edition there was also information about events to be held in Hiroshima and Shizuoka in October when Chief Raoni makes a visit to Japan.
©RFJ

Q.Please tell me about support activities you are currently focusing upon for the benefit of the Amazon's indigenous peoples.

Indigenous people working at beekeeping. Honey derived from the great natural bounty of the Amazon. ©RFJ

Indigenous people working at beekeeping. Honey derived from the great natural bounty of the Amazon.
©RFJ

A. In 2010 we commenced an economic-independence support project that utilizes beekeeping. In the Xingu Indigenous National Park where RFJ conducts its activities, there is a wealth of flora and a diverse variety of bees. Rather than a process where hives are destroyed and honey removed, if a cycle of beekeeping is realized, it will be possible to greatly invigorate both bees and the forest itself. Furthermore, in the future indigenous societies will become ones into which monetized economics invades. Thus, if the people are able to have a sense of pride in maintaining good quality honey that they are able to sell, there will be a linkage for them cohabitating with Brazilian society. Last year we brought back to Japan some honey which we then sold to RFJ members. It was very well received by our members who felt that they had previously never eaten honey that tasted so good. Furthermore, in that there is the danger of rare plants such as medicinal herbs, etc., facing extinction, we are also putting some effort into an aid project where such plants would be grown by women, and this would be linked to the passing on of traditional indigenous medicine to future generations.

Q.Please tell me about future planned events if there are any.

Ms. Minami, "if you experience life in a society that is not advanced, there is a crispness that develops in your five senses. It feels good."

Ms. Minami, "if you experience life in a society that is not advanced, there is a crispness that develops in your five senses. It feels good."

A. It is planned that Chief Raoni who came to Japan in 1989 along with Sting will again visit Japan in October this year. It is planned that an event will be held at Miyajima in Hiroshima. Talking about RFJ, we have branches in Hiroshima, Niigata, Nagasaki and Shizuoka. The people who are active in these branches are not specialists, but rather normal citizens. Speaking personally, I am not the sort of person who likes to talk about difficult things. As long as the mindset of average people doesn't change, the world around us will not change. To your readers, if they have felt a sense of romance in what we have discussed today about the Amazon and they have found the topic entertaining, etc., I would be very happy if they were willing to support our activities to the degree that they feel comfortable.