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Saturday, Dec. 15, 2007
Pair share eco-friendly role model goals
Peo Ekberg arrived in Fukuoka during an around-the-world journey 16 years ago and was immediately attracted to Japanese people's kindness and culture.
Five years later, the Swedish environment journalist fell in love with Satoko Nagae, who had taught the Japanese language in the United States for a year and traveled alone through Kenya for three weeks. She proofread his articles written in Japanese. The two married on Dec. 6, 1998.
They started out in a small flat on a shoestring, but with a big dream — helping people adopt eco-friendly lifestyles. To this end, the Ekbergs moved from Fukuoka to Tokyo in 2001.
Now Peo, an environment consultant and lecturer at Musashino University in Tokyo, writes environment-related articles for magazines and talks about ecological lifestyles on TV and radio programs, while Satoko serves as a board director at Tokyo-based E-Square Inc., which provides consultations on the environment and on corporate social responsibility.
Busy working weekdays, the couple enjoy lengthy chats on a wide range of issues, ranging from the environment to politics and "anime" animation on weekends. They speak Japanese most of the time.
Were your parents or relatives against you marrying a foreigner?
Peo: No one was. Many of my foreign friends told me that Japanese parents oppose marriage with a foreigner. So I was afraid of meeting her parents, who had never traveled abroad and don't speak English . . . (But) they don't have any prejudice toward foreigners.
Satoko: When I quarreled with him (before marriage), my parents told me I am the closest person to Peo and have to support him.
Would you relate one of the most difficult experiences you had after you two met?
P: I had been homeless for a week in Fukuoka. (After coming to Fukuoka again from Sweden,) I couldn't find an apartment and a job. I was nearly broke. I sometimes slept on the street or spent a night at a 24-hour restaurant. I couldn't ask to stay with her at her parents' home (in Saga Prefecture) because it was before marriage. I struggled to look for a new home and finally rented a six-tatami-mat apartment for ¥20,000 a month in Fukuoka.
S: I moved into his apartment (when we married). It had a kitchen but did not have a shower or hot water, so we had to go to a bathhouse. There were days when we walked for two hours to go home after going out downtown. But it was fun. There were some interesting neighbors in the apartment building. And even in such a situation, we often spent a lot of time together talking about our dreams, such as traveling around the world.
(The couple traveled around the world between winter 2000 and spring 2001 on their honeymoon and for environment research.)
What do you like about your partner?
P: She has the courage to have dreams along with me.
S: He is not afraid of taking risks to realize his dreams. He is not worried about what happens next if he challenges new things.
What do you like about your partner's country?
S: I spent a little more than three months in Sweden. People there looked relaxed, and men and women equally participated in society. Many Japanese women do household chores in addition to their regular jobs outside their homes. But in Sweden, people finish their daily work at fixed times and have sufficient time to spend with their families. It's a mature society.
P: I like that (Japanese people) are kind to each other and can praise each other. What always irritates me is that Japanese people are not aware that they have power to change the world, they have power to make peace and they have power to solve environmental problems. I want Japanese to become more confident that they can change the world.
Could you give an example of how you live an ecological lifestyle?
P: We are vegetarians as part of our efforts to mitigate global warming. I used to go to "yakiniku" (barbecued beef) restaurants in Fukuoka and eat hamburgers almost everyday. But having studied environmental issues, I learned 10 kg of grains are necessary to produce 1 kg of beef, and cow sheds are also necessary. The whole process increases emissions of carbon dioxide.
S: Soon after we married, he talked about it and told me that he would not have meat, eggs and milk. At first, I thought, "Are you kidding?" because he liked meat. But he has since refused to eat meat, so I realized he was serious and came to understand his point.
(Satoko also stopped eating meat after they married. The couple published the book, "Uchi Eco Nyuumon — a guide for ecological lifestyle," in May. It tells how they reduce garbage and carbon dioxide emissions.)
What is your dream for the future?
S: We'd like to realize the City Eco Village Tokyo project in two to three years. It's an office-residential building in which we can create an ecological community.
P: In this building, residents would introduce car-sharing, for example, and it would be built with nonchemical materials and use renewable energy resources like wind power. About 10 households have so far joined the project. It would be a building that is sustainable in environmental, health and economic terms.
Reader participation is invited. Please e-mail email@example.com if you wish to be featured in this series about international couples living in Japan, which will appear on Page 3 on the first and third Saturday (Sunday in some areas) every month.