When the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami hit in March last year, Toyoshi Sasaki, 54, a resident of Japan’s Tohoku region, hurried to help at an evacuation shelter. When he found people there shivering from the cold with no heating he used his connections with a manufacturer to send wood-pellet fuel and stoves.
His efforts won him an inaugural Kubota award, an environmental award established by the Mainichi Newspapers.
“While making use of local forest resources, I want to bring cheer to the areas damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake,” Sasaki said after receiving the award.
Sasaki grew up in the nature-rich Tohoku region. After graduating from university, he started working in Tokyo, but at 38 he quit his job and returned to the northeast. He opened a nature school, a dream he had held since he was a student, and organized camping and other outdoor activities. He even took on students who had stopped going to school or had shut themselves off from society.
Damage from the June 2008 earthquake in inland Iwate and Miyagi prefectures forced Sasaki to stop running the school. Still, he wanted to continue to help people by utilizing forest resources, so he decided to spread the use of fuel pellets made of compressed wood chips, and the following year he set up a non-profit organization to aid his efforts.
At the evacuation center that he helped by providing wood pellets and stoves after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, he came across children who had been in his nature school. They remarked how the stoves reminded them of the school’s camps. He also met parents who said that their children’s energy had given them strength.
“I felt that my efforts to foster people’s strength to live were not in vain,” says Sasaki.
Now the 54-year-old is working to construct homes for disaster victims in Tome, Miyagi Prefecture. The homes are mainly for families with children who have evacuated from areas contaminated with radiation from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Local timber is being used in the construction, and the homes are being fitted with wood-pellet boilers.
(Mainichi Japan) March 4, 2012