the Hottokan Edo Solar Plant #2

Building a Buddhist Temple Community as a Mechanism for Environmental and Social Change

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Shift the Power

by Jonathan S. Watts[1]

November 10, 2018

He has helped develop a micro-credit “Future Bank”, constructed temples and houses to last 100 years, and is working for a nuclear free Japan to “recover hope within 300 years”. Needless to say, Rev. Hidehito Okochi is a forward-looking Japanese Buddhist priest who has been ahead of the times for years. However, with the tsunami disaster of March 11, 2011 and the ongoing Fukushima nuclear reactor crisis, his time has arrived. Rev. Okochi has been a socially engaged Buddhist from his teens as a student activist and his 20s helping establish a Japanese Buddhist NGO for overseas aid work. What has differentiated him from most other engaged Buddhists in Japan up to this time has been his commitment to go beyond the emergency aid activities of social welfare and get into the structural and cultural roots of social transformation. Working to transform his own community as much as engaging in overseas work, his agenda has often been too radical for most other Japanese Buddhist priests to understand or to join in. Yet this agenda is now extremely timely with the political struggle over the future of the country’s energy policy as well as its military policy amidst the present constitutional crisis. These urgent issues flow right into Rev. Okochi’s long held analysis of Japanese society and his vision for reforming society based on Buddhist values.

Rev. Okochi at his Juko-in Solar Temple
Rev. Okochi at his Juko-in Solar Temple

A Buddhist Path to Structural Change

Rev. Okochi, like most Japanese priests, was born in a temple and raised to succeed his father as abbot. However, instead of entering the Buddhist Studies department of the university affiliated with his Jodo Pure Land denomination, Taisho University, he entered the Law and Political Science Department of the prestigious Keio University. Growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Rev. Okochi was strongly influenced by the Japanese student political movement of the era; a movement that is for the most part dead today. Still, his ties to his family temple and his subsequent ordination as a priest, led him to search for the common points in his socio-political interests and his Buddhist path. He says, “Eventually I made the connection between the student movement ideals for political peace with Buddhist values for peace and social justice, like no poverty and no discrimination. I also eventually saw how environment was connected to peace, and how I could work for society as a priest.”

In his 20s, he and a group of other like-minded Buddhist priests took several trips abroad to various regions of conflict, especially war-torn Indo-China. These intimate encounters with the suffering of humanity led them to create AYUS, a Japanese Buddhist NGO focused on supporting small NGOs doing aid work in these areas. At this time, other Japanese Buddhist priests were developing similar concerns and a group of successful, overseas aid Buddhist NGOs sprouted up and continue their work today.[2]

However, these initiatives were not enough to satisfy Rev. Okochi’s political sensibilities for social justice. Reflecting on the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, Rev. Okochi went deeper into the nature of the suffering that he had encountered overseas:

When Shakyamuni Buddha gained enlightenment, his first teaching was the Four Noble Truths, that is: first, get a solid grasp of the suffering (the problem); second, ascertain its causes and structure; third, form an image of the world to be aimed for; and fourth, act according to correct practices. From this, one gains a sense of the meaning of life in modern society as a citizen with responsibilities in the irreversible course of time. The suffering of the southern peoples and nature, from which we Japanese derive support for our lives even as we exploit it, has caused the Edogawa Citizens Network for Thinking about Global Warming (ECNG) to think, and therefore we have achieved concrete results. The problem is structural in nature, so by changing the system and creating measures for improvement, we achieve results. The first thing is to fulfill our responsibilities to the people around us and to future generations.[3]

Rev. Okochi discovered that the Japanese economic prosperity of the 1970s and 80s was built on the back of the economic and environmental exploitation of both the rural communities in Japan and the nations of Southeast Asia, while piggy backing on the political exploitation of the United States in the Middle East. While other Buddhist priests of his generation may have also seen this Second Noble Truth, almost all have been content in working on the First Noble Truth of immediate suffering through social welfare and aid work overseas. Rev. Okochi has been a pioneer in the Buddhist world of Japan for not only engaging in activist and advocacy campaigns on these issues within Japan—such as his leadership of the Palestinian Children’s Campaign—but also for working in his own community to end the complicity with this overseas exploitation rooted in Japanese consumeristic lifestyles.

Longing for the Pure Land; No Nukes, No Arms; Taking Refuge in Amida Buddha
Longing for the Pure Land; No Nukes, No Arms; Taking Refuge in Amida Buddha

The critical consciousness developed in understanding the global system of economic, environmental, and political exploitation from engaging in the Second Noble Truth led Rev. Okochi to the Third Noble Truth. His endeavor to create a future vision of Japan comes from his own Buddhist ideals and values. He has drawn heavily on the founder of his Jodo Pure Land denomination, Honen (1133-1212). Honen was the first of the generation of Kamakura Era Buddhist reformers who created a spiritual and social revolution by bringing Japanese Buddhism down to the masses. His teaching of a faith based in the vow of Amida Buddha to abandon no sentient being no matter how deep their transgressions and defilements made salvation and enlightenment possible for anyone, while empowering the common people with a sense of their own social rights and agency.[4] For Rev. Okochi, this means creating a world without discrimination and exploitation, especially one without a military and nuclear presence. This belief led Rev. Okochi to join a group of farsighted Japanese religious leaders to form the Interfaith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy in 1993.

The second aspect of this vision derived from Honen is nurturing community based on trusting relationships and self-reliance. This was an endeavor he set about working on in his urban temple community in Tokyo through supporting and hosting a wide variety of NGOs in a building owned by his Juko-in temple. In one large office space are found:

  • a children-at-risk support group
  • an indigenous Japanese peoples’ (Ainu) advocacy group
  • an environmental group for keeping the nearby Arakawa River and its environs clean
  • a small political party with numerous women candidates
  • an alternative energy and culture NGO supporting the peoples of northern India called Julay Ladakh
  • a local credit union called the Mirai (“Future”) Bank
  • the aforementioned Edogawa Citizen’s Network for Thinking about Global Warming (ECNG).

These are further integrated with a host of other citizens groups located in the area in what is called the Edogawa Lifestyle Network. In this way, Rev. Okochi has sought to connect the people in his neighborhood together on important local issues and then connect them to peoples with similar concerns in other parts of the world towards building “global community”.

Shift the Power: Transforming Japan’s Energy System

1) Building a Citizen’s Power Plant at Juko-in Temple

ECNG is an important lynchpin for the wide swath of Rev. Okochi’s efforts. It was established in the summer of 1996 in the run-up to the Third Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP3) held in Kyoto in December 1997, resulting in the well-known Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions. ECNG members started learning about global warming by first engaging in the recovery of CFCs in their local ward, which is responsible for a high level of such emissions in the central Tokyo 23 ward area due to the concentration of car demolition businesses there. This project led into a deeper investigation of Japan’s industrial grid and the generation of electricity. Rev. Okochi explains:

In those days, there had already been various environmental activities carried out in Japan, but the focus tended to be on just personal restraint or frugality by individual effort. Sometimes these activities missed the mark and were not very effective in addressing the problems. In this way, the environmental movements were taken advantage of because they distracted people from the structural causes. Sometimes they became the subject of mockery for being nonsensical, and environmental activists tended to be looked at with disdain. We did not want that to happen in our work. We wanted to find a way forward that is truly rational and would really be effective in eliminating the suffering. This was the basic starting point of our activities. We considered that the first issue to tackle is the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. We then considered where these emissions come from, and it became clear that they come especially from coal and other thermo-powered electrical generation. There is also the problem of the huge industries that make significant amounts of money while emitting greenhouse gases.

As a Buddhist priest, Rev. Okochi was cognizant about how their deepening analysis was flowing along the lines of the Four Noble Truths. Yet he never directly articulated this to the mostly non-Buddhist activists in the group, allowing it to naturally unfold as with all Dharma—a term meaning both the Buddha’s teaching and the way of nature or natural law.

In terms of the Four Noble Truths, we paid attention to the First Noble Truth (dukkha) of suffering as expressed in the environmental destruction and collapse of rural communities in Japan triggered through the production of dams and nuclear power plants. We considered what our relationship as citizens living in an urban area was to this suffering. Then, we considered the Second Noble Truth (samudaya) of the different factors that come together to create this suffering, such as: the construction companies and electric companies who wanting to proceed with multi-billion-dollar projects at any cost; local regions dependent on economic subsidies to host these projects; the politicians who use large amounts of political funding enticed by incentives of several percent to support these projects; and the myopic lifestyles of consumers especially in urban areas. Looking more deeply into social structures, we discovered the stilted pricing system of electricity, an issue that strikes at the heart of our whole economic development policy. Finally, we tried to think about the Third (nirodha) and Fourth Noble Truths (magga)which is the way to envision and to alleviate or end the suffering. We wanted to come up with an alternative way of being and living where we would be able to be fully responsible for our actions and not be negligent or ignore the suffering created by our actions. Therefore, ECNG made it a goal not only to reduce peak electricity demand and change policy in order to promote the spread of alternative forms of energy, but also to familiarize people with the concept of energy and get communities involved in initiatives. The first test of this was the establishment of the citizens’ power plant using solar electrical generation.

The site for this “plant” was none other than Rev. Okochi’s Juko-in temple. At the time, the 400-year old temple also required a complete rebuilding, so Rev. Okochi used this opportunity to design a most unusual temple by Japanese Buddhist standards. Borrowing heavily on Tibetan Buddhist temple design, the new temple contains a number of ecological features. The main Buddha Hall was built on the second floor to maximize sunlight and air circulation and to better adjust the room temperature through Japan’s four seasons so as to cut down on heating and cooling costs. The first floor was designed without traditional Japanese tatami mats to encourage easier access without taking off shoes and to make it easier to create various community activities and events.[5]

The new temple style also has a long flat roof, instead of a steep angled roof as with most traditional Japanese Buddhist temples. This design made easier the installation of two sets of fifteen solar panels with an output of 5.4 kW in 1999. It is estimated that 3 kW is enough to meet the needs for the activities of a family of four, so the “power plant” produces a little less than twice this amount. Rev. Okochi explains that the point of this initiative was not to try to start building an alternative form of large-scale electrical generation but rather, in the spirit of Honen, to act as a replicable model to empower individual homes to develop sustainable electrical independence. He further explains:

In those days, it used to cost around 3 million yen ($27,000) just to install enough solar panels for a single household, which now costs half to a third the price. Such projects were very expensive, so we developed the idea to collect donations from enough people to be able to jointly run a solar power generation facility. 50,000 to 100,000 yen ($500-$1,000) per person was the average of the donation for a stake in the project. We tried to collect from a broad range of people in our community, not just environmental activists in ECNG. We also made a mechanism where we would eventually get paid back through selling the power we generated. The ultimate purpose was not for ECNG to make big money by selling electricity. Rather, we wanted to show that there was support for renewable, clean energy in society and that they are people who were willing to share the burden for the future of the planet. We also wanted to make this possible for an average citizen to be a part of and not only by people who could afford to make a large investment for solar panels on their roof. There are other people who live in condominiums or apartments who are not able to install solar panels but also want to support this movement. The most important thing is developing new mechanisms or institutions in society by oneself within a community. Solar power generation is not a self-standing project. You could consider it as part of a larger package, because I place great emphasis on how to connect this project with other activities in different fields.

Jukoin new panels

2) Creating Community Financing Systems for Clean Energy

In this way, Rev. Okochi and ECNG developed another mechanism to raise awareness and increase community participation in financing the 6 million yen cost of installing these panels. The financing involved a multi-level scheme: 1) grants from government foundations and NGOs paid for around 2.7 million yen; 2) Juko-in Temple funded another 1.5 million yen by prepaying 10 years worth of its electric bills as if it did not have its own source of electricity; and 3) the remaining 1.8 million yen was paid with a loan from a community bank called the Mirai Bank. However, Rev. Okochi explains that if they only relied on the income from the electricity generated by the new panels and sold to Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), it would have taken fifteen years or more to pay off the bank loan, so 4) they created a final financing mechanism called Green Power Certificates.

Rev. Okochi explains that the Mirai Bank (mirai meaning “future” in Japanese) is more of a community bank or an NGO bank than a micro credit bank—although its inspiration came from the micro credit banking systems first developed in Sri Lanka by the well known Buddhist based Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement under A.T. Ariyaratne and made famous by the Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh. He explains that the bank was created in 1994 by a few dozen depositors who had collected a few million yen worth of money, himself being one of those early investors. These early investors and a few other Japanese felt concerned about having their savings and investments in Japan’s huge corporate banks or in the giant, governmental run Postal Savings (Yūcho) Bank. The money from these banks has ended up financing many kinds of destructive projects—such as nuclear power plants within Japan or huge development projects overseas like investment in coal mining[6] or arms trade[7]—which are creating a negative legacy for future generations. The Mirai Bank promised to use the investments or deposits only for projects that are good for the environment or beneficial for people in the future. Originally, the Mirai Bank was not necessarily positioned as being a local community initiative in Okochi’s district of Edogawa. On the other hand, its intention was not created to expand all over Japan and collect large amounts of capital either. Rather, it was supposed to be an initiative that would lead to more, similar local initiatives of making alternative banks. There were not that many community bank initiatives in Japan at that time, so by 1999 the capital had increased quite a bit to several hundred million yen as the number of depositors from all over Japan increased rapidly.[8] In this way, the ECNG solar power generation project was considered to be a project worthy for getting a loan from Mirai Bank.

Then, they created Green Power Certificates to not only speed up the process of paying back this loan but to further engage the community. Rev. Okochi explains that in Europe and other places, there are regions that stipulate the obligation to buy natural energy at a higher price than that of energy generated by normal means (fossil, large hydro, nuclear). There are also green power systems, which designate power produced by consumers using clean generation methods and purchase it at higher prices. In those days, Germany had a feed-in tariff system to support the development of renewables in which such electricity was sold at roughly 55 yen per kWh. The ultimate justification for the higher price was that natural or renewable energy does not leave any burden to future generations in the form of nuclear accidents or nuclear waste or other such environmental destruction. In other words, he explains, you are paying all the costs upfront rather than forcing the people of future generations to bear the burden. What ECNG then did was to subtract the price TEPCO bought electricity from Juko-in (22 yen per kWh) from this theoretical price of the natural energy (55 yen per kWh) to arrive at the price for selling their Green Power Certificates (33 yen per kWh). The Juko-in solar panels generate roughly 6,000 kWh a year, so at 33 Yen per kWh, they determined that they were generating the equivalent of 198,000 yen in clean, solar energy. They then sold 200 Green Power Certificates for 1,000 yen each (roughly 30 kWh per certificate), totaling 200,000 yen, to match this amount in clean energy generation and help pay back the loan more quickly.

To better understand the depth of this mechanism, Rev. Okochi explains that at that time, the Japanese power sector had not been de-regulated, so households had no choice but to buy electricity from TEPCO—which not coincidentally owns and runs the Fukushima nuclear reactors. When one buys or uses TEPCO’s electricity, one does not know where it is coming from, because TEPCO has stakes in all types of energy: oil, coal, gas, nuclear, even renewable. This includes the electricity from the roof of Juko-in that cannot be sold directly to the community but has to be sold back to TEPCO. The 6,000 kWh that Juko-in generates per year goes into the TEPCO grid, gets lumped together with many other sources of electricity, and then goes out to everyone in some very tiny percentage. By purchasing a Green Power Certificate at 33 yen per kWh, ECNG’s supporters are “investing” in or promoting clean energy by supporting the development of Juko-in’s and other such community power stations, and in theory, if not actuality, getting some of that clean energy back from TEPCO through Juko-in’s contribution to the larger TEPCO grid. This mechanism that ECNG created was a precursor to the feed-in tariff system in Japan and the scheme that become more common since 2011 and is currently being used now between the new independent power producers and consumers. However, Rev. Okochi emphasizes, “It’s very important to understand this point that we were not asking them just to pay this additional amount, because renewable energies are more costly. It would be really negative if we were actually planting the idea into people’s minds that renewable energy is much more expensive. What we were really asking was to pay upfront costs that would be otherwise transferred to future generations in the destruction of our environment by investing in a change to the present system of structural violence.[9]

Yet a final mechanism of this scheme was a local currency called Edogawatt, in which three 10 unit Edogawatt bills were given with each Green Power Certificate to use in exchange for baby-sitting, carrying loads, translating, and other small jobs within the community. Rev. Okochi explains that the bills acted like coupons and were an experiment as “an incentive for the creation of a mutual aid society within the community and a tool for deepening interpersonal relationships and trust.”[5] The idea was to create a model of accumulating their own assets or capital. This local capital would be circulated within their own community, creating more and more value locally, rather than leaking outside the community—which happens so often now when large chain stores and businesses open up in local communities. The electricity and profits that were generated from the power plant served as a backing for the value of this local currency, like in the past when currencies used to have backing in terms of gold. As they have been able to fully pay back their loans, they have stopped selling the Green Power Certificates and discontinued the Edogawatt currency.

the Hottokan Edo Solar Plant #2
the Hottokan Edo Solar Plant #2

Finally, in 2009, the Hatoyama administration raised the buy-back price for such renewable electricity from 28 to 48 yen per kWh.[10] This greatly improved the profits from the solar panels on the Juko-in roof, so that they were able to invest in installing another 10.58 kW on the roof in 2012. In 2007, ECNG also installed 3kW of used panels on the roof of a nearby elderly home, which were then completely upgraded in 2013 with a new set of panels totaling 11.52 kW. ECNG now dubs these two facilities as the Juko-in Edo Solar Plant #1 and the Hottokan Edo Solar Plant #2. According to ECNG[11], the Juko-in panels cost a total of 5 million yen ($45,000) paid from 43 separate investors, averaging about $1,000 per investor. The Hottokan panels cost 4 million yen ($35,000) with 33 investors, again at about an average of $1,000 per investor. The Juko-in Plant’s generation averages around 11,500 kWh per year, which at a rate of 42/kWh[12] creates 483,000 yen annually ($4,200) in profits. The Hottokan Plant’s generation is slightly higher at around 15,200 kWh per year, which at a rate of 38 per kWh creates 577,600 yen annually ($5,100) in profits. These profits support a variety of activities by ECNG, such as general educational activities, supporting another local temple to install solar panels on their roof, and supporting a special house for children-at-risk in the community. This house runs on used solar panels and recycled golf cart batteries so that it is completely off grid. As the work continues to expand, ECNG announces in February 2017 that the Edo Solar Plant #3 had begun producing power. Located in a parking lot owned by Juko-in temple near Hottokan, its set of 28.8 kW panels is ECNG’s largest initiative yet.

3) Reducing Consumption as well as Shifting Production

Amazingly the work does not stop here. As Rev. Okochi previously noted, the community power station is just part of a larger structural and cultural shift to which ECNG and Rev. Okochi are committed. Rev. Okochi explains that when they installed the solar panels at Juko-in, one of the goals was to reduce CO2 emissions. Another of the goals was to reduce peak energy demand, an issue that strikes deep at the system of providing mass, centralized electricity. At ECNG, they continued to dig deeper into all the reasons for Japan’s massive use of energy from the standpoints of both consumers’ daily lives as well as the different institutions and mechanisms in society, especially the big companies. They found studies that showed from 1965 to 1995 the gap between generated electricity used and lost due to various system inefficiencies in Japan had widened by 170%.[13] One of the important causes of this was the increased use of nuclear reactors. Because of the limits of the technology, nuclear reactors must operate at lower temperatures to ensure the safety of the nuclear fuel rods. This cuts their thermodynamic efficiency down to around 30%—some 10% lower than coal-fired plants, 20% lower than gas turbine plants, and 60% lower than hydropower stations.

Another core inefficiency in this process is how the government and big businesses have convinced the public that these giant power systems are needed to guarantee a peak level of consumption, which occurs only in urban areas for a short period of time in the middle of the day, often only in extreme weather, such as the height of summer. These giant power systems are now being seen as increasingly outdated, because they cannot respond to fluctuating demands. Nuclear power is a prime example, because the power it produces is constant and cannot be regulated except by shutting down the entire operation. While renewable energies have been criticized for not being able to provide constant peak supply, they are much more flexible. Further, solar panels generate the most electricity when the sun is at its height and is the hottest, thereby making it a great way to address peak energy needs. Solar power thus reduces the need to construct a large number of dams and nuclear power plants.[14] (For more details on these issues, see Okochi’s article “Deconstructing the Myths of Nuclear Energy“)

While the community power station is important for creating new environmentally friendly forms of energy production, energy reduction is also essential for reducing peak demand and weakening the forces that legitimize the production of a mass centralized power system. In this way, ECNG engaged in a consumer campaign to decrease the amount of electricity used through the purchase of more energy efficient, electrical appliances. The energy efficiency of key household appliances, especially air conditioner-heaters and refrigerators, has improved drastically over the last decade. Thus ECNG started another project to support local residents to replace their outdated, energy inefficient appliances, especially owned by the elderly in the working class neighborhoods around Juko-in. This project was funded by another community bank, called the AP Bank (for “alternative power”), which was started in 2003 by a musician named Kazutoshi Sakurai of the popular band Mr. Children. In the end, they discovered that with almost a tenth of the amount spent on the solar panels on the roof on Juko-in, they could save 2,000 kWh more than these panels could generate in a year by updating such appliances and products. In this way, through both generating their own electricity and saving on the electricity they do use, Juko-in temple has become a successful model for realizing the final vision of every home becoming totally energy self-sufficient and of a movement to unplug from centralized electrical grids.

Rebuilding Local Resources, Local Ecology, and Local Community

temple entrance with anti-war & anti-nuke banner
temple entrance with anti-war & anti-nuke banner

In his emphasis on connecting projects with other activities in different fields, Rev. Okochi has developed another set of environmental and systemic activities at a second temple he presides over, called Kenju-in, in central Tokyo. In his first experiences in Southeast Asia and through a study tour of Sarawak, Malaysia with ECNG, he came to learn of large Japanese companies, like Mitsubishi, that engage in destructive logging practices, while local timber companies within Japan have gone out of business. Not only has this been destroying the forests of Southeast Asia, but the abandoned mono-culture forests planted in previous years by local companies within Japan are now causing soil erosion, landslides, and a host of local environmental problems—yet another example of large development projects that sacrifice the environment and well being of people in rural areas and future generations for the convenience of urban consumers.

The negative effects, however, are also passed onto urban dwellers. Most houses that are built today by major contractors in Japan use inferior wood from fast growth, monoculture forests. In their construction, heavy amounts of chemical adhesives and finishings are used leading to the phenomenon known as “sick houses” for the respiratory, skin, and other problems they cause new inhabitants. The entire structure may last only one generation, leaving the family with nothing to pass on to future generations while creating greater profit for the construction companies through planned obsolescence.

Kenju-in apartments with an outer wall of burnt cedar for non-chemical, external insulation
Kenju-in apartments with an outer wall of burnt cedar for non-chemical, external insulation

The vision Rev. Okochi and his partners developed to confront this problem is part of the increasingly well-known Japanese sato-yama (village-mountain) policy for developing sustainable human communities living in co-existence with forests as well as marine environments (sato-umi). As with Juko-in temple, Rev. Okochi was faced with rebuilding Kenju-in Temple. He decided to work with an ecological building company to not only rebuild the temple but reduce its size so that a set of apartments could be included. The building company is working with local lumber companies and marginalized, traditional Japanese architects and carpenters to plant a variety of hardwoods that will enrich biological diversity, avoid soil erosion, and provide a sustainable supply of timber for construction use. The houses they build are not only completely free of chemicals but are built to last up to 300 years. In his ongoing attempts to rebuild urban community, the apartments have been bought by a variety of people with concerns for healthy lifestyles, such as people with allergies and families with small children. As with so many of his other projects, this one has spawned another initiative, a small, completely chemical free, share house for people with special disabilities established in 2017 in the area of Juko-in temple.

Shift the Power: Educate, Agitate, Organize[15]

All these initiatives are part of Rev. Okochi’s ultimate vision of “working with civic groups and building a Pure Land without a nuclear and military presence”. While the Japanese government, like many other governments, has used the promise of nuclear power to distance itself from oil dependency and fulfill targets to reducing green house gas emissions, nuclear power has actually been a means to reinforce a top down social order that ensures the profits of electric companies and construction companies, exploits laborers in the plants,[16] and robs communities in remote regions of their independence while endangering their future. Rev. Okochi’s notes that his vision of and practices towards a natural energy society would “reverse the social hierarchy” by decentralizing the production and consumption of energy and empowering localities and individuals to better determine their own futures.

socialhierarchycleanenergy

Since the triple disaster of March 11, Rev. Okochi’s Inter Faith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy has been busy offering their churches, temples, and other facilities as shelters for families who want to evacuate the areas around the Fukushima nuclear power plant. They have also continued their advocacy work hosting public events in key regional areas where the government is attempting to restart nuclear power plants. Hoisting a banner reading “Longing for the Pure Land; No Nukes, No Arms; Taking Refuge in Amida Buddha”, Rev. Okochi was one of the few Buddhist or religious figures found at the anti-nuclear protests that frequently occurred in Tokyo for the first years after the Fukushima disaster began. Since 2012, he has also begun working with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) to run international study tours of the Fukushima region for religious, social activists in Asia to learn of the problems of nuclear energy development that is threatening their own countries. These connections have given birth the Eco-Temple Community Development Project under INEB, which links like-minded Buddhist temples in Asia to further develop and share know-how in building eco-temple communities like Juko-in and Kenju-in.[17]

ecotemple

Still, there is much work to be done in Japan to raise a new generation of ecologically minded citizens with an understanding of the 2nd Noble Truth of the structural and cultural causes of suffering. In June 2011, shortly after the Fukushima nuclear accident, Rev. Okochi participated in a screening of Helena Norberg-Hodge’s film The Economics of Happiness at his alma mater Keio University. He was struck by the political apathy to these issues, especially the nuclear one, by these students of one of Japan’s top universities. He feels that today’s young “educated” Japanese seem more ignorant than apathetic about important social issues. They are so consumed by their own career paths and by social media that they do not seem to have time for being concerned about critical social issues. Motivated to take action as always, Rev. Okochi has also gotten involved in a new initiative called the Social Justice Fund. Founded in November of 2011 as the country was in the midst of learning about the corruption behind the Fukushima disaster, the Fund holds interactive seminars for citizens to learn about social issues, often hosted at the town hall near Kenju-in temple. For a nation long known for social conformity and trust in government and big business, this development of critical public opinion, especially since Fukushima, is significant. Unwilling to stay ignorant to the Second Noble Truth, Rev. Okochi has been building a future in Japan that may hopefully be arriving sooner than expected.

NOTES

[1] This article is a significantly edited and expanded version of an earlier article called “A Futuristic Priest whose Time Has Arrived”, published in This Precious Life: Buddhist Tsunami Relief and Anti-Nuclear Activism in Post 3-11 Japan (Yokohama: International Buddhist Exchange Center, 2012). Many of the quotes and comments by Okochi come from an updated interview with him at his Kenju-in Temple on September 12, 2017 with Tom Eskildsen acting as interpreter.

[2] Watts, Jonathan S. “A Brief Overview of Buddhist NGOs in Japan”. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 31 (2): 417–28, 2004.

[3] Okochi, Hidehito. “The Citizen’s Strategy for Creating a New World: The Future Starts with Us”. New Internationalist Japan. No. 30, Jan-Feb. 2002. http://www.ni-japan.com/webold/jbody342.htm. Also on the Juko-in homepage: http://www.juko-in.or.jp/Eactivity.htm#sokuon

[4] For more on Honen’s teaching as a kind of Buddhist Liberation Theology, see Machida, Soho. Renegade Monk: Honen and Japanese Pure Land Buddhism (University of California Press, 1999).

[5] On the specifics of funding the temple rebuild, Rev. Okochi notes: “Originally, Juko-in did not have what you could really call a proper temple building, so I had to develop a separate project for this reconstruction. The temple was rebuilt by reorganizing the cemetery to make enough space for an additional 250 tombs. In Tokyo, there is a great demand for burial lots, because the population is so dense and the land is not enough. From the money collected by providing additional cemetery facilities, I was able to finance the temple reconstruction. In previous times, a temple was generally rebuilt from accumulating the donations of the temple members over many years. Before World War II, Juko-in had a number of more affluent temple members who made large donations to help rebuild the temple, but after the war, due to demographic and economic changes to this area, our membership declined to only 20 or so households, who were not affluent. I think it is a unique feature of Japanese temples that they rely on their cemeteries for a large part of their income. People visit the temple not so much out of faith in Buddhism as out of a desire to venerate their ancestors.”

[6] “The top two lenders to coal plant developers since January 2014 were Japanese banks, Mizuho Financial and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial, providing $11.5bn and $10.2bn respectively.” Madison Marriage. “Banks criticised for funding coal deals despite Paris agreement.” The Financial Times. December 11, 2017.

[7] Some of Japan’s most prominent financial institutions—such as Mitsubishi UFJ Financial, Dai-Ichi Life Insurance Company, Mizuho Financial, and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial—are involved in funding organizations that make cluster munitions. “Worldwide Investments in Cluster Munitions: A Shared Responsibility”. PAX, the Netherlands. June 2016 update.

[8] As of March 2018, the bank has 441 investors with 152 million yen ($1.35 million) in initial investment, 1.21 billion yen ($10.7 million) in cumulative lending, and 40 million yen ($355,000) in outstanding loans. http://www.geocities.jp/mirai_bank/

[9] “Feed-in Tariffs in Japan: Five Years of Achievements and Future Challenges”. Kimura, Keiji. Renewable Energy Institute. September 2017.

[10] “Japan was a world leader in solar energy but has been overtaken by Germany after the LDP government terminated its financial subsidies to households to install solar panels. This subsidy programme to install solar panels began in fiscal 1994 and ended in fiscal 2005 and the solar market has since contracted by 15 percent each year. However, the programme was reintroduced in January 2009…Under the new DPJ government, utilities are obliged to buy back excess energy from households generated by renewable sources, including solar and wind. To encourage more households to install solar panels, the buy-back price will be raised from 28 to 48 yen per kilowatt in this feed-in tariff system.” Lam, Peng Er. “The Hatoyama Administration and Japan’s Climate Change Initiatives”, East Asian Policy Volume 2, Number 1, Jan/Mar 2010.

[11] https://www.sokuon-net.org/市民立発電所/

[12] On June 18, 2012, a new feed-in tariff was approved of 42 yen/kWh for solar power generators over 10 kW with a declining scale that has dropped gradually to 32 yen/kWh in 2014, 21 yen/kWh in 2017, and 18 yen/kWh in 2018. The rate stays stable for 20 years depending on the year the facility is approved and goes on line, so those who got in early on this system like the ECNG plants make significantly better profits over the initial 20 year period.

[13] “Supply and Demand of Energy in Japan”. Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center (Japan).

[14] Rev. Okochi has written elsewhere that, “Studies show that such peak or excess periods only occur from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. on weekdays when the temperature is above 31 degrees celsius, which on average comes to a total of 10 hours out of a total of 8,760 hours in the year. The real issue, therefore, is not the need for more electricity but much more efficient management of it; for example, changing the current pricing system that increases consumption rates for household use while decreasing rates for industrial use during these peak periods.” Okochi, Hidehito. “Deconstructing the Myths of Nuclear Energy and Building a Pure Land without Nuclear or Military Presence”. In Lotus in the Nuclear Sea: Fukushima and the Promise of Buddhism in the Nuclear Age. Ed. Jonathan S. Watts (Yokohama: International Buddhist Exchange Center (IBEC), 2013). pp. 176-77.

[15] “Educate, Agitate, Organize” is a slogan developed by B.R. Ambedkar, the great Indian statesman and Buddhist leader who drafted the constitution of independent India and led the civil rights campaigns for the eradication of untouchability in India.

[16] For an intimate and disturbing portrayal of this situation well before the Fukushima incident, see the 1995 documentary “Nuclear Ginza” by Channel 4 in the United Kingdom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPD_YeOAJys

[17] Rev. Okochi first presented his work at the 2009 INEB Conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand and has since become active in the local JNEB group in Japan while joining the INEB Advisory Committee in 2016.

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