Ocean Newsletter

No.551 July 20, 2023

  • The Role of the Arctic Circle and the Success of the Japan Forum Olafur Ragnar GRIMSSON (Chairman of the Arctic Circle, President of Iceland, 1996-2016)
  • The Arctic Circle and Natural Dyes SAKAGUCHI Hide (President, Ocean Policy Research Institute, The Sasakawa Peace Foundation)
  • A New System for the Promotion of “Umigyou” in Fishing Ports ~Revision of the Act on Fishing Ports and Grounds~ UCHIDA Satoshi (Disaster Prevention Planning Officer Fishing Ports and Grounds Improvement Section Fisheries Agency)

The Arctic Circle and Natural Dyes

KEYWORDS Global Warming / Third Pole / Sustainability
SAKAGUCHI Hide (President, Ocean Policy Research Institute, The Sasakawa Peace Foundation)
At the Arctic Circle Japan Forum flower arrangements were showcased as an example of Japanese traditional culture. The flower materials were mostly collected from the wild. After the forum, they were taken back home and reused, then reclaimed for natural dyes, and the rest were returned to the wilderness from which they were originally collected. These actions are exactly the embodiment of reincarnation and are the truest form of sustainability, which is the heart of the Arctic Circle. However, in reality, in the Arctic, the natural dyes are affected by global warming, which casts a shadow over the domain of traditional cultures.
Climate Change and the Third Pole
As a consequence of the rapid global warming in recent years, glaciers are melting at an accelerated rate in the Arctic, Antarctic, and the Hindu Kush Himalaya mountain range (known as the “Third Pole”). Many people live in the Arctic and Third Pole basin areas, and the melting glaciers may force changes in lifestyles and habitats. For example, if areas previously covered in thick ice become seas, lakes, or rivers, it would not only make it impossible to travel or hunt using dog or reindeer sleds, but also cause frequent flooding that could severely impact agriculture. Global warming is also bringing significant change to ecosystems, impacting the lives of people who rely on these plants and animals.
The Arctic Circle is a platform to address these issues concerning the Arctic and the Third Pole globally from various perspectives, and includes citizens, industry, government agencies, politicians, and scholars. It is chaired by the former president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who contributed to this issue of Ocean Newsletter. The importance of hosting one of its regional forums in Japan, a non-Arctic country, cannot be overstated, as broadening the recognition of Arctic and Third Pole issues within Japan and Asia is a crucial step towards enhancing global problem-solving efforts.
Flower Arranging and Sustainability at the Arctic Circle Japan Forum
Throughout the Arctic Circle Japan Forum, held from March 4 to 6, 2023, flower arrangements adorned the reception and the front left of the main hall. In addition, The Japan Night reception on the first day featured a live display of ikebana flower arranging with a Stradivarius violin performance. Ikebana, which dates back to the Asuka and Nara periods (538 to 784 AD), is part of Japan's traditional culture with a very long history and served to promote mutual understanding among participants, in line with the Arctic Circle's emphasis on culture.
The arrangement at the reception was named Tomoshi-bi (lamp light), expressing the bright passion contained in the Arctic Circle forum. The main hall was decorated with a large piece symbolizing the balance among various stakeholders involved in the Arctic. The live performance featured works inspired by the Arctic's past, present, and future. (Photo 2). These works were created by Mr. Hajime Takahashi, an internationally renowned master from the Sogetsu-ryu school of ikebana. Throughout the forum, the arranged flowers captivated participants from around the world, prompting them to think deeply about the Arctic from various perspectives. 
Following the conclusion of the final day's events, Mr. Takahashi visited the venue to collect all the displayed flower arrangements. We thought that he was trying to alleviate the cleanup burden for the organizers and venue staff at Toranomon Hills. However, it was not the case. Contrary to the common perception that ikebana is a refined hobby or cultural practice exclusive to the affluent, often involving expensive materials and vases, Mr. Takahashi's approach stood in stark contrast. Although the arrangements seemed large, powerful, and glamorous, most of the materials were collected by him from the wild in his hometown of Hadano, Kanagawa Prefecture. Only a small amount was purchased from florists to add the necessary colors to perfectly express the motifs. What was surprising during the collection, was that he even carefully collected the withered leaves and flowers, and what could be reused among them were used later in other flower arrangements. This action truly embodied one of the Arctic Circle's most vital keywords: sustainability. 
What was even more surprising was that Mr. Takahashi, after all the flower materials used in the forum had withered, boiled them in a pot for days to make natural dye and repeated the process of dyeing white Tango fabric and fixing it with alum over and over again, creating a pale lemon-colored handkerchief. He presented the handkerchief to me with the beautiful words that only an artist could say, "The Forum you've poured your soul into will remain forever in the light and color emitted by this fabric." At a later date, he returned all the remaining branches, leaves, and flowers in the dye pot to the mountain in Hadano, where they had been collected. As he remarked “This is the true end of my part of the Japan Forum,” Mr. Takahashi’s flower arrangement starts and ends at the mountain in Hadano. His actions are the exact embodiment of reincarnation itself and were the truest form of sustainability.
Photo 1: Main Session at the Arctic Circle Japan Forum

Photo 1: Main Session at the Arctic Circle Japan Forum

Photo 2: Live show at the Arctic Circle Japan Forum (Mr. Hajime Takahashi is in the center)

Photo 2: Live show at the Arctic Circle Japan Forum (Mr. Hajime Takahashi is in the center)

Natural Dyes and Global Warming in the Arctic
This beautiful story led me to learn of someone who had studied natural dyes at a university in Finland on a scholarship from the Scandinavia-Nippon Sasakawa Foundation. A little research taught me that the use of natural dyes is a famous tradition in the Nordic countries of the Arctic. Records indicate that it was spread and popularized by the Vikings who crossed the sea to the Nordic region, so it is a genuinely ancient custom. Incidentally, in Japan, this dyeing technique has been used since the Jomon period and is even more ancient. Woolen hats, jackets, gloves, sweaters, and scarves are necessities for those living in cold regions, and the wool yarns that are woven into Nordic color designs have long been dyed with plants and trees. However, plants in the Arctic have always been sparse, especially on volcanic islands like Iceland. Yet this shows that even this limited flora was cherished for the color it provided. Going slightly off topic, in Iceland, where there are few plants and trees, there is even alcohol made from tree roots. Human ingenuity truly knows no bounds. 
On a more serious note, the following article mentions the findings of recent research that even natural dyes are being affected by global warming.

Molly Pluenneke, “Shift in Icelandic Plant Populations Due to Climate Change: Through the Lens of Natural Dyes,” SIT Graduate Institute/SIT Study Abroad, SIT Digital Collections, Fall 2017

The cause is said to be that global warming has begun to significantly change the habitat distribution of plants that are used as raw materials for natural dyes. While differing in scale and nature from the challenges faced by the Arctic and the Third Pole, the pervasive shadow of global warming is extending its reach, now affecting even the domain of traditional cultures. (End)

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