The BIG Picture (recent visit to Japan by Stewart Noble)

I’m standing on top of Tokyo’s tallest building looking down upon one of the worlds largest cities – a massive sprawl of high rise buildings of all shapes and sizes, home to millions of Japanese people. Some of these skyscrapers are bigger than Forres! And I’m wondering, “What on earth am I doing here? and “what has this got to do with LETS?”

I had been invited by The Japan Foundation along with four other European social economists to address government and NGO officials on the story of New Moray LETS and how the lessons we have learned could help them develop their own social economy. Their researchers had tracked me down on the internet, found the NML website and offered me a free trip! For two weeks we toured all over Japan seeing every aspect of Japanese society. I had an amazing time. I found the Japanese people to be incredibly warm hearted, considerate, fun loving and humble. There is virtually no crime in Japan, no obese people and no litter. People seem to share a collective pride in themselves and in their country which I have not experienced here.

I watched a refuse collector with white gloves picking up tiny confetti sized scarps of litter from a car park and placing them in a tiny hand sized bag. People just don’t drop litter!. I ate the weirdest food but enjoyed it immensely…Raw fish, sushi, sea urchin and even live wriggling tiny white eels. My hosts advised me not to bite them but to enjoy the sensation of them wriggling down my throat! – yuk. (They seem to eat just about everything but in very small portions). Perhaps this is why they are such a healthy nation with no fat people? I bathed in natural hot spring baths overlooking Mount Fuji and spent a day standing in very long queues at EXPO – the worlds largest ever exhibition on our sustainable future. The entire area (about the size of Elgin) was built from scratch using mostly recycled materials. They even lifted a small forest with the intention of returning the trees to their original locations after the exhibition is over! On the worlds first magnetic floating train I found myself sitting next to an Australian who had just returned from Findhorn. We impossibly bumped into each other three times during that day and discussed ‘social magnetism’ and eco houses.

I visited some inspiring local projects and met with a few LETS groups to share our experiences. There are over 100 LETS now in Japan and yes they are called ‘LETS’ over there too. The largest system in the Chiba district has around 1000 members, many of which are local businesses. Their currency is called ‘peanuts’. I helped another group post their local directories. It felt like home for me. The problems facing the Japanese people are exactly the same as here – social and financial exclusion. LETS deals with this like no other system can.

At the Japan Foundation symposium, I delivered a presentation on the New Moray LETS story which will be translated into 17 languages and distributed to over 5,000 universities world-wide. And its all thanks to you. By September this year we will have traded over 1,000,000 LETS – more than any other LETS group in Europe at least. If we can do it anyone can. Together we have made a little bit of history which is now inspiring other groups worldwide and influencing government officials and policy makers. LETS is no longer just a pipe dream!

Perhaps one day cities like Tokyo will be made up of thousands of local LETS communities sharing resources and helping each other in an equitable and sustainable way. My visit has already encouraged a few Japanese LETS groups to translate their websites into English and we are now working towards developing a web based global inter-trading network. My thanks to NML member Lev Seller for briefing me on Japanese culture before my trip and to NML member Kaori Igarashi who will help to translate for me with my new Japanese friends.

Stewart Noble

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