RSO student participation in Kyoto University summer school

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By MSc-students Sacha Buisman and Susanne Maenen (pictures).

It is the third day of the Kyoto Graduate Seminar on Economic Development and Sustainability. Three professors, respectively called sensei, from the Kyoto University gave lectures today on topics related to the theme: ‘agriculture, environment and sustainability’. The whole week, we will discuss a wide range of themes with a very multi-disciplinary group of students coming from Thailand, Laos, Korea, Denmark, the UK and Wageningen. In the city where the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997 and in the country where there was a massive nuclear disaster in 2011, we will look back at the economic development of the Asian continent while we try to envision possible sustainable pathways for the future economic developments. Today we discussed if, and how, economic growth and environmental conservation can be achieved simultaneously. In the last lecture of today we looked at food security from a Japanese perspective. One of the main challenges that Japan faces, just like almost every other country in the world, is the population shift from the rural areas to the urban areas. The average age of a Japanese farmer is 65 years, which will soon cause the diminishing of active farmers and the utilization of farm-land. How is the Japanese politics responding to this scenario? Mainly by following the US way of reasoning: ‘increase the efficiency and the productivity’. Which might be not the right solution, given the fact that a Japanese farm has an average of 2 hectare farmland. There are multiple Japanese bottom-up movements, such as the shura ku-eino (village farming collectives), who suggest ‘another’ sustainable pathways that focuses on small-scale farming of ‘diverse local actors with a diverse and multi-layered commitment’.

IMG-20150915-WA0004The lectures are combined with fieldworks and excursions. Yesterday was our ‘touristy day’, we went to see the beautiful temples and shrines in Kyoto. Kyoto is referred to as the ancient old city of Japan, over a 1000 Buddhist temples are scattered over the hills around the city and hidden between the modern buildings in the centre. We visited the Kiyomizo temple, which is located in a beautiful green park on the hills and has a view on the skyline of the city in the valley. Imagine big flocks of tourists, climbing the stairs of the temples in the shades of their umbrellas and buying souvenirs and green tea-icecream. And men and women with white painted faces in ‘traditional kimonos’, either rented or their own, swinging around selfie-sticks and posing in front of the ‘love stone’, which will determine your success in love. Tomorrow we will go to an organic farm in the north of Kyoto and we will visit the Toyota assembly plant in Motomachi on Friday.

Kyoto is a beautiful city, although it is quite a challenge to not understand anything of what people say or what is written. Almost all of the Master courses at the Kyoto University will be taught in English though. It is a lively city and, very important, bicycle-friendly! Expect straight lines of waiting people in front of the bus stop, and pedestrians that are waiting for the traffic light of a very small side street in the middle of the night. Even when there is not a single car approaching. And the toilets are fully automatic, deodorized and make flushing sounds as soon as you enter the toilet stall. Politeness is important, expressed in deep bows and cashiers that give back your change with two hands. For now, I just take the change with two hands, make a deep bow and say arigato.

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