Coexistence with Nature
(Original in Japanese)
By Miho Hiroyama
(Age 12, Japan)
Fuji Sacred Heart Junior High School, Shizuoka
I experienced a change in perspective when I watched a television program called "The Story of Studio Ghibli." The discussion of Minamata disease during the program completely turned my ideas around.
I had learned about Minamata disease in fifth grade social studies class. When I saw pictures of people with Minamata disease, it made me want to look away. It was hard to believe that Minamata disease was a reality in Japan, and more so that it happened when our grandparents were young.
Minamata disease is one of the four major pollution-related illnesses, and it occurs when organic mercury builds up in the body, affecting the brain and the central nervous system. The body becomes numb and immobile, and the mouth incapable of opening. Many people suffered from Minamata disease, including infants, children, and adults, both men and women. The cause of the disease was the wastewater from the Chisso factory in Minamata contaminating the fish and other creatures living in the sea and on the ocean floor, which were then eaten. In addition to human beings falling ill, Minamata Bay was also contaminated. Because of this, people could no longer fish in the bay. I remember clearly pictures of the many thousands of fish pulled from the sea, and left at the port without being handled.
That was about all I knew of Minamata disease, but there was more to the story.
Several years later, large numbers of fish could be seen in the waters of Minamata Bay, which had been called the "sea of death." Many rock oysters were found on the rocks. And surprisingly, a new bacterium was discovered in the sea mud. This bacterium had acquired the ability to purify mercury. In other words, it had transformed itself in order to purify the sea.
I felt like I was awakened. Until then, my sense was that human beings were at the center of life on earth, and that everything was determined by human beings. Even though I used expressions like "the blessings of nature," I had not given thought to respecting and revering nature's wonders. Perhaps I was thinking that, instead of human beings existing in nature, nature was part of human beings' existence.
But when I learned this fact about Minamata disease, I had the sense that human beings are helped by nature, and that nature is picking up after the actions of human beings. I felt that human beings are a small part of nature, and that we must not think ourselves superior. I also felt that we must live with greater respect for nature, experiencing its wonders.
I like the work of Studio Ghibli, which gave me the opportunity to know about this. Their animation depicts human beings as contrasting with nature, but despite this confrontation, they also seem to show people making small efforts to coexist with nature. I think Ghibli's animation fascinates a great many people, from children to adults, not only in Japan but throughout the world, because even if they come from different cultures, they sense this relationship between human beings and nature, even if they are not consciously aware of it. And, I think it is because they are touched by the messages carried in the work. I think this is why, no matter how many times I watch the animations of Studio Ghibli, I always discover something new, and I am always deeply moved.
I still have much to learn in math, science, literature, and the arts, and I strongly wish to accumulate a great deal of knowledge. Through works like Nausica of the Valley of the Wind, film director Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli calls our attention to such questions as harmony between scientific progress and nature, and our coexistence with nature. In my own way, I would like to become an advocate for these causes.