ISSN 2330-717X

Psalm-Inspired Japanese Environmentalist Wins UN Award


The Japanese environmentalist who said a biblical psalm inspired his campaign linking forest and ocean received on 9 February one of the United Nations’ inaugural Forest Hero awards.

Shigeatsu Hatakeyama, an oyster fisherman who saw his livelihood destroyed when the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit the northeast coastal city of Kesennuma, was named the Forest Hero winner for Asia and awarded the prize at UN headquarters in New York.

Other winners were teacher Paul Nzegha Mzeka in Africa, journalist Anatoly Lebedev in Europe, researcher Paolo Adario in Latin America and two American teenage activists, Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, for North America. A special posthumous award was given to rainforest activists José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva.

Hatakeyama, a member of Japan’s Baptist Union, has said that the Bible’s Psalm 42 was the source of his campaign’s name: “The Forest is Longing for the Sea, the Sea is Longing for the Forest.” According to the U.N. citation, he has planted trees in the forest surrounding Kesennuma Bay. “He is known as ‘Grandpa Oyster,’ after spending more than twenty years developing the forest environment that keeps the Okawa River clean and his oysters healthy,” said the U.N.

The psalm compares a deer’s thirst for water to the soul’s desire for God. The name “is rooted in the ‘longing for’ [in Psalm 42],” said Hatakeyama, who is 68 and a professor of field studies and practical learning at Kyoto University.

In a December speech to a congregation in Tokyo, Hatakeyama said that his 22-year-old campaign’s concepts are demonstrated by the sea’s recovery after the disaster.

His campaign organization and a group of scientists have recently studied the marine ecosystem of Kesennuma Bay and are surveying the forest-sea linkage. Hatakeyama explained that iron being supplied from the forest through the river into the sea is playing a key role in the recovery of sea life.

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Ecumenical News International (ENI) was launched in 1994 as a global news service reporting on ecumenical developments and other news of the churches, and giving religious perspectives on news developments world-wide.

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