The 2010 session of Tenri Environment Forum was held from June 9 to 20 in Tenri City. During the session, an exhibition highlighted some important environmental challenges and efforts in the areas of education, business, public sector policy, and community engagement. In addition, a symposium, a firefly watching evening, and a clean-up of the Furu River focused attention on issues of water quality and conservation.
The forum—of which Tenri University’s Oyasato Institute for the Study of Religion and Tenri High School are participating members—was launched nine years ago with the aim of encouraging and urging businesses, the city government, and local citizens to work together to think about environmental issues and, thereby, strengthen local conservation efforts. The forum has since become increasingly known in the local community for its initiatives. This year’s session, the sixth since the inception of the forum, involved as many as 22 organizations sponsoring or supporting the event.
The overall theme of the session was “What can you do for your children’s future? Can you protect it?” One of the underlying aims of the varied program for the session was to encourage adults and children to think about the environment together. Thus the exhibition, which ran from June 9 to 13, included projects by children attending local schools, and the symposium, held on the 12th, featured elementary school and junior high school students as panelists.
The most popular event for children was the firefly watching evening, which took place on the 19th along the Furu River, which flows through the city. In fact, this is an annual event, which, now in its 14th year, was started even before the launch of Tenri Environment Forum.
“It is important to think about what we can do now while looking ahead to the future environment 10 or 20 years from now when our children are grown up,” says Prof. Takanori Sato, 58, of the Oyasato Institute for the Study of Religion, who is chair of the Executive Committee of Tenri Environment Forum. “The Furu River, which has flowed through this community since ancient times, embodies the way locals live in relation to nature. Watching fireflies, which can be said to be a symbol of this relationship, will undoubtedly be a valuable experience for children.”
By 6:00 P.M., some 100 people, including families and individuals from outside the local community, had gathered in light rain on the Waraku Bridge, which is located north of South Left Wing 4 of the Oyasato-yakata building-complex. Led by members of the Nature Watching Society of Nara, they then started off toward an area near Isonokami Shrine where the Furu River flows.
The types of fireflies that are typically found there are said to be Genji firefly (Luciola cruciata) and Heike firefly (Luciola lateralis). Genji fireflies, which can grow to be 15 mm (0.6 in.) long, are the largest in Japan and noted for their particularly bright, green light.
According to Ojiba konjaku banashi (Jiba, Past and Present), written by Eitaro Imamura, fireflies were one of the well-known features of Mishima Village (corresponding to the present-day Mishima section of Tenri City). “However, as Japan entered a period of rapid economic growth, households began to produce increasing amounts of trash and waste water, resulting in the deteriorating quality of the river water,” explains Prof. Sato. “There was a significant period of time when no fireflies could be found along the Furu River.”
In 1997, Prof. Sato played a central role in establishing the Tenri Citizens’ Network for the Environment, which has since organized clean-ups of the Furu River, firefly watching evenings, and various other events designed to encourage people to think about the natural environment. These initiatives, coupled with a rise in public environmental awareness in recent years, have resulted in the reduction of trash in and along the Furu River. The quality of the river’s water is said to be improving, and fireflies have started to come back.
Tenri High School’s Horticultural Society, which displayed some of its work at the recent exhibition, has participated over the past 38 years in the river water quality monitoring organized by Nara Prefecture Biology Education Association. Once every five years, the society has carried out water quality tests at eight monitoring sites along the Furu River. The tests are designed to evaluate the water quality by monitoring the populations of 30 species.
“Our monitoring shows that the water quality [of the Furu River] has been improving each year,” says Mr. Futoshi Kawanami, 49, director of the Horticultural Society. “For example, the population of marsh snails, which are known to live in clean water and which provide food for the larvae of fireflies, is increasing. The river is increasingly becoming an environment where fireflies can live and thrive.”
About an hour after the group reached the firefly-watching site—and by that time it was dark—suddenly, a small light appeared. “It’s glowing!” some participants said. “It’s flying around!”
Akira Wada, 38, from Fujiidera, Osaka, who came with his wife and their daughter, said: “We found out about this event from the Internet. Where we live, there are few opportunities to experience nature directly. I’m glad that through watching fireflies, our daughter has been able to feel close to nature.”
The next day, when a clean-up of the Furu River was conducted, about a hundred people including Mayor Keisaku Minami, employees of the city hall and local businesses, Tenri University students, and others picked up litter in and along the river.
“After learning about this event, I invited all our interested employees to participate,” says Kenji Higashiura, 46, sales promotion manager of Yamato Shinkin Bank’s Tenri Branch. “As part of this local community, we would like to show a corporate attitude that can contribute to maintaining a clean and sustainable environment.”
Prof. Sato says: “It is no exaggeration to say that you can tell the level of local people’s environmental awareness by (looking at) the state of their local river. In our community, people’s environmental awareness may gradually be rising as a result of interacting with the Furu River. I want to continue working with people from all walks of life to promote community activities aimed at helping build an environment where humans and nature can coexist.”