Environmental Education: Recycle Your Used Hachimaki

hofu shrine education japan image

Over 1000 years ago, a scholar in Kyoto made such an impression that there are some 12,000 shrines dedicated to his memory. His name was Sugawara-no-Michizane and today, when kids want to enter the college of their choice, they still go to pray at one of his shrines. In Japan, students will sometimes wear a hachimaki, a kind of cotton bandana tied around their head, with a message written expressing a wish - such as entering a certain university.

In Yamaguchi prefecture, Hofu shrine takes this custom very seriously. The shrine maidens collect the used bandanas, wash them, and send them to anyone who asks for a used piece of cloth, for good fortune. A good idea, which seems to be catching on as we are now in the UN Decade of Environmental Education for Sustainable Development (based on proposals by Japan and Sweden in December, 2002).

environmental education classroom japan photo

Blogger Ampontan is impressed by this tradition:

There is a very old belief in parts of Asia that the spirit can penetrate and create a "charge" in inanimate objects over time. If true, that would mean the old hachimaki of students who safely passed through the valley of examination death are just bursting with positive electrons and good vibrations. It would be a shame to stick them in the corner of a dresser drawer and waste the residual power of those brain waves.

hofu recycle asahi photo

How did Hofu Tenmangu Shrine become a place for worship by students preparing for entrance examinations? Sugawara-no-Michizane was the minister for the emperor but was exiled by his opposition in 901. On his journey away from the capital, Michizane stopped at Hofu and a shrine was later built in honor of him. Hofu is thought to be the first among the 12,000 to be built around the country. The shrine, together with the famous Kitano Tenmangu (in Kyoto) and Dazaifu Tenmangu (in Fukuoka), is counted among Japan's Three Greatest Tenmangu Shrines.

hofu recycle yomiuri photo

Local traditions like this are often picked up by Japan's newspapers, as an encouragement to students who are preparing for their entrance exams.

The shrine has about 5,000 hachimaki on hand donated by those who passed their exams, but it just wouldn't do to hand out bandanas that were soaked with someone else's sweat. And cleanliness is next to godliness, after all. So the Hofu Tenman-gu miko (shrine maidens), handle the domestic chore of laundering the hachimaki and hanging them out to dry on the grounds of the shrine.

Environmental education is supposed to promote "attitudes and value systems that influence environmentally ethical behaviour" by developing understanding, skills and values. You should be able to participate as an active and informed citizen in the development of an ecologically sustainable and socially just society. Environmental education is fundamental to the achievement of the goal of sustainable development. I strongly believe it should be on the agenda not only of (secular) schools but also of religious institutions, such as churches, temples and shrines.

UNEP: Environmental Education and Training

Brought to you by Martin Frid at greenz.jp

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