Star Profile:
Tokiko Kato

Cities and towns must relate to people’s lives, but they often seem to eliminate human participation, muses Tokiko Kato, the great Japanese folk-singer and committed environmentalist.

“I want towns to be able to nurture treasured memories, to be places where people can enjoy walking, talking and hanging out – with street corners where children can play”, she told Our Planet. “They should have landscapes changing day by day, where we can enjoy living nature.

“Ancient cities used to allow people to touch and decorate them. But the more urban life is modernised, the less close the relationship between the city and each person becomes. In its stew of inorganic structure, it looks as if humans are redundant.

“Over the past two decades we have placed too much value on things that are big, strong and fast. From now on we must value the things that are slow and sensitive.”

Ms Kato, whose singing career spans 40 years, is sometimes called ’the Japanese Joan Baez'. In 1960, while still in her teens, she marched in protest on the Japanese Diet building and later married a well-known student activist while he was still serving a prison term.

She first became interested in the environment in 1972, the year of the groundbreaking Stockholm Conference, when she gave birth to her first child. “I learned that there was a risk that PCBs could accumulate in a baby from its mother’s milk”, she says. “This made me realise the terrible situation when pollution can affect people’s precious lives, without their knowing it.”

In the meantime, she had already become a successful singer. In 1965, while still a student she won an amateur competition and launched her career, winning the Great Record Prize for a new singer at the Japan Record Grand Prix the next year. She has recorded many hits, and has received a Chevalier Medal for Culture from the French Government. At the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg, the then Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshiro Mori, admitted to being “one of Tokiko Kato’s fans.”

She has become equally well-known as an environmentalist, acting both as a Councillor and Panda Ambassador for WWF Japan, and as a UNEP special envoy. During widespread travels she has been shocked by “the loss of forests in Thailand and Indonesia, the alarming desiccation of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan and many other examples of ecological destruction all due to the overwhelming power we now have at our fingertips.

She was encouraged, however to find that “communities in Fiji and Tonga kept their traditional way of life, planting mangroves and building a wall – using sand and coral – to protect their land from cyclones.” She adds: “For us to be sustainable, we must respect and revive local wisdom”.

This, she believes, also applies to music. She has recorded traditional songs of the Ainu – the indigenous people of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island, – and says: “It is very important to inherit the wisdom and abilities human beings have developed for ages. I am concerned to preserve traditional music, dances and festivals around the world because they can play a very important role in revitalising communities.”

She also believes that “a musician can use music as a means to promote environmental work”, even though this has to be carried out practically on the ground. “We should see the world as a garden, and each one of us should feel responsible for its cleanliness” she says


This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Challenges and Opportunity | Bridging the Water Gap | Golden Gateway to Green Cities | The Spirit of “Mottai Nai” | Cities without Slums | People | Rapid Progress | At a glance: Greening Cities | Charging into the Future | Star profile: Tokiko Kato | The Female Factor | Unlocking People Energy | Think Local | High Achievements | Life at the Top | Books and products | Focus On Your World | Black Sea, Green City?

Complementary issues:
Issue on Transport and Communications 2001
Yolanda Kakabadse: Beauty or beast? (World Heritage and Protected Areas) 2003