TECH & CULTURE
Umisakura: A FUNctional gomihiroi for protecting the sea
March 02, 2022
Many throughout the world are familiar with the expression, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” (In German, Sauberkeit ist Frömmigkeit). It is a truism associated with worldwide religions that associate ritual purification and cleanliness with higher spirituality. Cleanliness is related to Shinto teachings that see the divine in all living and inanimate things. The gods in everything (“kami”) from the kitchen to the restroom, to the rivers and the sea, prefer neat and sterile environments.
Japan instructs good citizenship from a young age in the form of picking up after oneself and keeping the space around you clean and neat. Cleanliness is highly valued since population density requires maintaining respectful awareness of each other and the environment, which in turn maintains good social relations.
Japan is especially renowned for its communal approach to garbage collecting. This habit has earned the country a worldwide reputation for being communally responsible about trash, to the point of Japanese fans bringing along large trash bags to the FIFA World Cup in support of their Samurai Blue national team. Picking up one’s mess around one’s seat impresses a global media audience, but it is also part of a school drill ingrained in every Japanese child. Children and adults are encouraged to keep up the neatness practice. Foreigners who first visit Japan immediately notice that trash cans are not plentiful in public places except for convenient stores. You are expected to carry your refuse home with you. This too ingrains a sense of personal responsibility for refuse.
The NPO Umisakura Umi (“sea”) + Sakura (“cherry blossoms”) embraces collaborative seaside trash collecting as an experience that is both fun and productive. It dubs itself as “Japan’s most enjoyable beach cleanup with a slogan, “Let's clean the sea while having fun together in Enoshima!” Founded in 2005, it aims to be the most exciting gomihiroi (“trash picking”) organization in the world. It sponsors many themed events, even contests for the most efficient trash pickers. Pre-pandemic gatherings included hundreds and hundreds of volunteer participants to do service in the community while meeting and socializing.
Umisakura seeks to create a beautiful renowned seashore where the seahorses and other sea creatures that once thrived in the coral reefs will make a triumphant return. Picking up garbage is a community activity that is not only helpful to the environment, but also entertaining. Umisakura aims to make fun, functional trash picking through monthly theme-based events, occasional 24/7 garbage picking, involving ninja, samurai, and active sumo wrestlers, like the monthly garbage picking activities at Enoshima Eastside Beach.