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Bank of Okinawa employees volunteer to clean beaches

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-08-07

Many of Japan's environmental organizations depend on funding from various government agencies and corporate sponsorships in order to expand and continue their work. Recently, however, many foundations and companies have been forced to limit the amount of funding they provide to these groups because of the current economic climate here in Japan. In an attempt to continue to be environmentally responsible, more private companies and corporations are becoming directly involved with environmental conservation activities through volunteer work.

The Bank of Okinawa, which has long been an integral part of the Okinawan economy, is one such company that is joining forces with local environmentalists. Last month, on Ocean Day, workers from the Bank of Okinawa's home office in Naha gathered at Hyakuna Beach in Tamagusuku Village for a beach cleanup.

Approximately 50 employees arrived during the cool hours of the early morning, together with their families, and removed trash for more than an hour. Volunteers picked up cigarette butts, cans, glass, and other items along 150 yards of coastline, collecting several hundred pounds of refuge. Large articles, such as tires and stereos, were also found and carried away by several volunteers.

Many people were surprised at the amount of garbage they had collected after finishing. "There was much more garbage than I thought at first," commented Bank of Okinawa employee Tomokuni Yoshikawa. "Trash is also a big problem in the cities. I think each person must change the way they think if we are to solve this problem."

The effort was part of a move by Shuichi Kitahara, a manger at Bank of Okinawa, to get citizens to become more aware about nature. "We started at Hyakuna Beach because of its importance to Okinawan religion. According to Okinawans, this is a place where gods came, so we should keep it clean," explained Kitahara.

Born and raised in Nagano, Kitahara also spent 10 years living in Toganeshi City in Chiba Prefecture, before coming to Okinawa last year. "The area in Chiba where I lived was very nice, and citizens took care of their surroundings," said Kitahara. "There were many ordinances that were enacted to help beautify the area. Every house constructed had to have atleast one large tree on the property. There were also proper trash receptacles around the town, and citizens planted many flowers."

Kitahara explained that he wanted to create the same kind of pride he experienced in Chiba with local residents here, which is why he organized the cleanup at Hyakuna Beach. The Bank of Okinawa volunteers have named their group "Team Katorea," and members are hoping to continue with different volunteer projects.

*The Bank of Okinawa has also given donations this year to three local NPOs conducting environment related activities. Recipients were: Citizens Recycle Action Association, Japan Life Center, and the Okinawa International Clean Beach Club.

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