On a rain-soaked summer morning at Kougenji Temple, Hori straightens his embroidered Buddhist stole as he recounts the terror of a nearby landslide. The sound of mud and trees pummeling down the mountainside haunts him at night, he says, fingering his amber prayer beads.
Flooding in Kagoshima, extreme heat in Kyoto, diminished beaches along the Pacific coast, landslides in Okayama—these are the disasters driving climate activists throughout Japan.
For Teisuke Suzuki, vice president of fish cake company and JCI member Suzuhiro Kamaboko, what began with an uneasy awareness of declining fisheries climaxed with the 2011 tsunami on Japan’s northeast coast—an event that triggered the release of radionuclides at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. A dapper man with carefully combed black hair, Suzuki, who loved eating yellow-tail tuna in his childhood, realized major environmental changes were occurring when the catch of yellowtail off the Odawara coast, 50 miles south of Tokyo, plummeted dramatically over the course of 50 years. But he was stunned when the Daiichi accident and closure of nuclear power plants across the country plunged his company into frequent blackouts, threatening to shut down Kamaboko production.
“I believed we could have electricity anytime. I never thought beyond the plug,” says Suzuki.
Shocked into broadening his professional focus to include energy issues, Suzuki persuaded 38 local business owners, entrepreneurs, and community organizations to contribute to a company that would provide regional renewable energy. They formed Houtoku Energy, a JCI member named for a 19th-century movement emphasizing the ethic of cooperation and mutual help.
Houtoku’s electricity comes from solar power, and it provides new energy to a company, Shonan Power, that distributes it through a group called the Energy Consortium of Hakone and Odawara. Shonan contributes 1% of its profits to local community uses that include providing solar panels to schools. Now, renewable energy and community involvement are part of what makes his kamaboko taste so good, says Suzuki. “The fish for kamaboko-making need not only healthy seas but also healthy forests and rivers to thrive,” he says. “My business connects me to the whole world.”
Despite the enormous diversity of size and purpose among JCI members, they share a deep cultural commitment to repaying debts to fellow citizens, parents, ancestors—and to nature.
Part Buddhist influence, part Shinto, this profound sense of reciprocity drives the pledges of many JCI members to reduce their carbon footprints and restore the natural resources that supply their businesses.