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Groundwork in Japan

Posted on 03 October 2014

Watanabe PictureProfessor Toyohiro Watanbe, founder and chief executive of Groundwork Mishima, shares his thoughts during a recent visit to the UK on how Groundwork is changing places and changing lives in Japan.

When was Groundwork Mishima established?

September 1992

Who established it?

I did.

Why did you establish it?

Mishima City was once known as “The City of Water” due to its pristine rivers and bubbling springs flowing in and around the area. During the 1960’s the surrounding areas experienced rapid and widespread economic development which caused a decrease in water levels. In the years following, Mishima’s water became polluted by industry and residence, changing the once beautiful streams and rivers into eyesores. We set up Groundwork Mishima to improve the environment and hopefully restore the area to its former beauty.

How was it established?

In 1992, eight resident groups in Mishima, who were alarmed at the fall of the water supply and subsequent deterioration of their environment established the Groundwork Mishima Action Committee. This aimed to regenerate the city’s waterfront environment.

What does the trust do?

Groundwork Mishima is the first organisation to implement the Groundwork approach in Japan.  Others soon followed.  

Groundwork Mishima delivers over 60 projects. Some revitalise the river, support a local aquatic plant, restore the city’s historic legacy, revive traditional festivals, create habitats for nature and help local residents maintain public facilities. We have developed into a thriving organisation with a network of 20 participant groups throughout the city.

What are the local issues?

We are tackling limited employment opportunities in the city by establishing three shops that sell produce from the area. These shops are run by 15 local residents who are all over the age of 60.

What support do you receive?

We receive no government funding, most of our support comes from charitable organisations, city programmes and local businesses. Local residents and visitors to the region also pay to access facilities managed by the trust.  We enjoy a great deal of public support and they respond positively to our work because they can see that we are working to address the local issues that matter to them.

What is it about the Groundwork approach that makes it just as relevant in Japan as it is in the UK?

The great thing about Groundwork is our passion for empowering the communities we serve. I would sum this up in three words: action, mission and passion. Taking a strategic approach and working from the bottom up by getting communities involved and helping them to harness their desire to improve their surroundings makes them feel that we can all make a difference, whether you live in Mishima or Manchester.