|More than 200 saplings of UK-born oak trees were planted in towns and villages throughout Japan from the end of January until early December 2002. Timed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, the UK-Japan Green Alliance 2002 provided an opportunity to promote further regional ties between the two countries and left a lasting legacy of the friendship in the form of an oak tree visible to the whole community. The nation wide tree planting campaign was undertaken by the British government in Japan and covered every single one of the 47 prefectures in Japan.
On 6 February 2001 some 200 saplings of English oak (quercus robur) arrived at Narita Airport. They had come from a nursery in England and their first destination was a tree nursery in Saitama Prefecture near Tokyo. They were nurtured by a Japanese tree farmer for a year before being sent to some 200 different towns and villages throughout Japan. These 4-year old oak trees, all grown from acorns in the heart of the English countryside, were about to play the central role in the UK-Japan Green Alliance.
A year later, on 30 January 2002, one of these oak trees was planted in the compound of the British Embassy in Tokyo to mark the launch of the nationwide tree planting campaign. The inaugural ceremony was attended by Yoriko Kawaguchi, then Minister for the Environment, and Sir Stephen Gomersall, British Ambassador to Japan. They were also joined by CW Nicol, a Welsh-born Japanese and an advisor to the Green Alliance; a boy from an Okinawa primary school; and the headmaster of a Hokkaido primary school. "Let us work hard to encourage the friendship between Japan and the UK and eventually to become more conscious of the importance of protecting nature", commented Mrs Kawaguchi who incidentally became the Foreign Minister on 1 February.
The Green Alliance oak trees were planted in 204 locations throughout Japan. The project is predominantly regional: the majority of the participants were communities outside the conurbations of Tokyo and Osaka. Although big towns such as Tokyo and Yokohama had a number of participants they were all small communities within the big towns: they are "regions" (as it were) in big cities. Many of the participating communities received the oak trees in recognition of their connection with the UK, historical or current. Almost half of the communities, however, took part in the project in the hope of establishing links with Britain in the future.
Involving Young People
The Green Alliance was also designed to look to the next hundred years of UK/Japan relations and emphasised the importance of involving young people. More than 50 schools and universities participated in the project. Almost all of the plantings involved young people with the aim of encouraging them to talk and think about not just bilateral relations but also the global issue of environmental protection and nature conservation. One of the Green Alliance trees was presented by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to Keio University (Tokyo) where he also gave a special lecture on Britain and Japan: a 21ST Century Partnership. Mr Straw said, "The tree plantings not only symbolise the depth of the UK's links with Japan, with events in every prefecture. They also show the growing importance of our partnership in tackling environmental issues."
The Green Alliance oaks were also welcomed by the students of a school for the deaf in Saitama-ken and the Fukuoka School for the Blind. Children of the Nakayoshi Gakkyu (Class of the Disabled Children) at Kawabe Primary School in Ueda City, Nagano, planted a tree together with the British Ambassador and his wife. Schools did not limit themselves to planting the trees in their own grounds. Primary schools in Shimane, Shizuoka and Hiroshima all donated the Green Alliance oak tree to nearby old people's homes. Kamimine Junior High School in Saga created an English garden in the municipal parking lot where they planted the oak while Takashima Junior High School in Itabashi-ku, Tokyo, made their own herb garden where the students and members of their local community joined together to plant the oak.
As a Community Tree
Japan Groundwork Association, the Japanese version of the UK-born NPO for community development, participated in the Green Alliance under the slogan "Green Community for Children" by way of organising tree plantings in 14 different towns throughout Japan. Almost 95% of the land area of Naguri-mura (Saitama-ken) is covered with trees. Most of the trees however are cedars growing on hill slopes and there are very few broad-leaves under which local people get together. The English oak was planted in the village square as a symbol of the campaign to increase the number of broad-leaves for future generations. An NPO in Ibusuki City, Kagoshima-ken, planted the Green Alliance oak in the town's Central Park as a symbol of a campaign to create a Jomon Forest of giant trees.
The Green Alliance tree planting naturally involved many locations and groups dedicated to nature conservation and environmental protection and education. Shimobe-cho of Yamanashi-ken planted the English oak in front of the Centre for Firefly Conservation while children of Hikimoto Primary School in Miyama-cho, Mie-ken, received the tree to be reminded of the importance of the local forestry industry to the local economy. Miyama-cho is home to the Hayami Forest which is internationally certified by The Forest Steward Council for its "environment-friendly" management system. Higashi Harima Water Front Park was built after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 to provide the citizens of Hyogo-ken with somewhere to observe nature and learn about the environment. A Hokkaido NPO, the Kinashibetsu Wetland Trust, planted the tree in the compound of a local temple as a symbol of their joint efforts to preserve the wetland with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.
It is not only people who will benefit in the future from the shade of the Green Alliance oaks. Elizabeth Oliver, a British animal welfare activist, has been involved in welfare activities for dogs, cats and many other animals at the site of the Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK) in Toyono-gun, Osaka. The Green Alliance oak trees were also welcomed by horses, dogs, cats and birds as well as people, for example, in the Warashibe-en rinding centres for the disabled in Osaka and Hokkaido.
Oak for Reconciliation
Philip Malins flew all the way from Britain to attend the Green Alliance planting ceremony at the campus of Yamanashi Gakuin in Kofu City, Yamanashi-ken. He was involved in the World War II in Burma and is now the Chairman of the International Friendship and Reconciliation Trust. Mr Malins was responsible for establishing the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire where Japanese cherry trees were planted in 2001. The Green Alliance oak tree was planted in Yamanashi Gakuin as a "sister tree" of the Japanese trees in England. "Trees of reconciliation" were also planted in Hiroshima, Mie and Niigata.