Hiroki Suehara, 22, is one of the founders of Shibukasa (“Shibuya umbrella”), a system that helps Tokyoites get through their rainy days.
How did Shibukasa come about?
There are 120 million umbrellas made annually in Japan, and 420,000 of them wind up being abandoned. Although handy and cheap, these umbrellas are piling up as garbage throughout the city. The project started when a member couldn’t get out of the station on a rainy day and wondered, “Could we possibly reuse these plastic umbrellas?”
How does Shibukasa work?
Participating shops in Shibuya Ward stock our umbrellas. You can borrow these for free, and when you return it to the shop, you can receive 50R of Earth Day money.
What is “Earth Day money?”
It’s a local currency used in Shibuya created by an NPO of the same name. Customers earn Rs by making purchases at affiliated shops, and the money can be redeemed for various goods and services. You can find more info on their website at www.earthdaymoney.org.
How do you make the system work?
First, we collect forgotten umbrellas from convenience stores, restaurants and police stations. Surprisingly, these places give away the umbrellas for free because disposal costs money. We then put stickers with our logo on them to identify the umbrellas as “Shibukasa,” and we look for shops to participate. The most important and difficult part is publicity. Friends, eco-minded people and the media have helped us expand. Now we are happy to have various organizations and shops contacting us.
Wouldn’t taking these discarded umbrellas be considered stealing?
After two weeks, an abandoned item is not considered a personal belonging anymore. The umbrellas are kept in our warehouse for two weeks and then they are ready to be distributed.
Why Shibuya and not anywhere else?
In Shibuya, everyone seems to keep to themselves. We want to create a closer community and create stronger ties among people. Also, compared to heavily trafficked stations like Shinjuku and Tokyo, Shibuya has less underground access, which makes umbrellas more necessary. What’s your goal?
Creating eco awareness and a sense of community, and letting people worry less about buying and carrying umbrellas. As rainy season approaches, we are looking into adding more businesses. We’re hoping to set a model in Shibuya and bring it into other neighborhoods.
This article originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today