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Thursday, July 26, 2001

OUR PLANET EARTH

Environmentalist on the stump


Despite the sky-high popularity of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, suspicion remains that his Liberal Democratic Party has simply cloaked its wolfish heart in a soft perm. Many environmentalists fear that after Sunday's election the LDP will step up efforts to stimulate the economy by undertaking the same kinds of public works projects that have for decades ravaged Japan's natural environment.

Tomoko Hoshino, a 31-year-old resident of Chiba and environmental activist, is one of those who doubt. On election day, she will be an independent candidate for a seat in the House of Councilors.

"You know how we all think about changing the world to make it a better place to live?" she said in announcing her candidacy. "Going into politics is a way to realize that wish."

Generally, environmentalists have had little electoral success in Japan, except when a particular issue, such as the siting of a nuclear facility, has galvanized voters. Recently, however, Nagano Prefecture elected a new governor who is opposed to building dams, and Chiba's new governor, Akiko Domoto, won on a mixture of environmental and societal concerns.

Hoshino thinks the time is ripe for environmentalism in Diet politics, too. Among her primary concerns as a candidate, the first two are environmental: Protect the environment; and nurture citizens who care about the Earth. Her other objectives are improved welfare and education, equal rights, stimulating local communities, a Peace Constitution and promoting a democratic society.

In order to highlight her concern for the local environment, Hoshino and her supporters have been touring Chiba Prefecture (her electoral district) on bicycles, visiting areas ignored by the sound trucks that cruise through cities and towns.

Hoshino is an idealist, but she is not naive. She first went abroad in high school and spent a year in Australia as an exchange student. Back in Japan, she studied language and international politics at Dokkyo University. Six years ago, she spent several months in Denmark studying environmental and other public and political issues.

Hoshino has managed an environmental information center serving nongovernmental organizations and local and national governments, and has been project coordinator for international conferences involving United Nations and government participants. She has also worked as a volunteer coordinator, managing hundreds of volunteers for recycling and natural-disaster cleanup. For two years during college she was a volunteer in the House of Representatives, and she worked for two years with politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders while employed at the Global Environment Action secretariat.

Why are you running for political office?

I decided I had to take political action in order to change the social system. The emphasis on economic growth is damaging the environment and ignoring children, women, the elderly and working-class people.

What kind of people are you running against?

Against those who have built up trillions in debt by promoting economic growth without caring about people's daily lives, and those who have destroyed the natural environment for their own interests by implementing public-works projects with our tax money.

Why have you been riding your bike around Chiba?

I want to be as close to the people as possible, and it is a good way to show that I am seeking social change. Also I want to illustrate that bicycles are environmentally friendly.

How are people reacting to your campaign?

People are very supportive, especially the elderly, who like to see young people active in politics. And they agree with my opinions. Many citizens' groups are supporting my campaign. I am getting small donations and many faxes and e-mails.

If you are elected, what are your goals?

My goal is to establish an environmentally sound society by building sustainable communities. Local communities need to be more independent so they can be more self-sufficient in food, energy and employment.

What is your view of politics?

I think a lot of people have begun to feel that today's society is no longer sustainable. It is too stressful, there is too much garbage, and too much crime. People feel we need another pattern of development that is in harmony with nature. If we want to continue to live on this planet, we must care for the environment. To change our mind-set, politics must also change. We must focus on not only the interests of today's citizens, but also on those of future generations and other living things.

Idealistic for sure, but anyone striving to create a sustainable society in this age of religious materialism has to be. Who knows, perhaps Hoshino and her peers will have a chance to prove that idealism has not been wasted on the young.

Stephen Hesse welcomes questions and comments at stevehesse@hotmail.com


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