Local festivals work to decarbonize

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Local people parade with a large float titled the “Battle of Ichinotani: Kumagai Jiro Naozane” during the Aomori Nebuta Festival on Aug. 2 in Aomori.

With local festivals often emitting large amounts of greenhouse gas in the process of selling food and beverages, and through their use of lighting, participating governments and businesses are increasingly publicizing their efforts to reduce carbon emissions by using renewable energy to provide part of the needed electricity.

The Aomori Nebuta Festival, a famous summer attraction in Japan, was held in Aomori for the first time in three years from Aug. 2 to 7, returning from a hiatus prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

As dancers moved along the streets while chanting energetically, a huge lantern float called a nebuta emerged from the dark. It was titled the “Battle of Ichinotani: Kumagai Jiro Naozane” and depicted the clash between the Genji and the Heike clans in the Heian period (794-late 12th century).

Wheeled out by the Hitachi Rengo Nebuta Iinkai (the Hitachi union’s nebuta committee) comprising Hitachi, Ltd. and its affiliated firms, this was the first nebuta float to use solar power for its lighting. During the day, solar panels approximately 1 meter high and 2 meters wide were used to charge 10 storage batteries, which illuminated approximately 2,000 LED bulbs as the nebuta moved down the nighttime streets during the festival.

Each nightly procession during the festival was set to last 2½ hours, with each nebuta consuming enough electricity to power an average household for about two days. Generating that amount of energy with conventional diesel generators could have emitted a total of 170 kilograms of carbon dioxide over the festival. But with solar power generation, those emissions could be reduced to zero.

The electricity needed for Hitachi’s nebuta to parade at night this year was provided by solar panels on three of the four days of the festival — the exception was one day when there was insufficient sunlight.

“The festival attracts attention from all over the world, so we wanted to emphasize that it was an environmentally friendly event,” said Hideaki Kawauchi, chairman of the committee.

Spreading across the nation

During the Kyoto Gion Festival held in July in Kyoto, electricity generated with 100% renewable energy was used to light up the Komagata lanterns that adorned a yamahoko float named Takayama. The float was almost destroyed by fire in the Edo period (1603-1868) but was restored this year to take part in the float procession for the first time in 196 years.

The city government approached a conservation society to restore the float.

Electricity obtained from solar panels on the roof of a municipal government facility was used to charge a plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHV). The vehicle moved together with the float, with the Komagata lanterns connected by a cord to the PHV to light them up.

“Not that much power is consumed, but making this kind of effort at a famous festival will become a symbol of the decarbonization drive,” said the head of the city government’s energy business promotion division.

Last fiscal year, the city government of Kishiwada, Osaka Prefecture, in cooperation with a private company, surveyed the amount of CO2 emitted at the Kishiwada Danjiri Festival held in September every year. In 2019, when the festival attracted approximately 416,000 visitors, the amount of CO2 emitted totaled about 10,830 tons, equivalent to the annual emissions of 3,700 households.

About 70% of the emissions are said to have come from the production and distribution of food, beverages and souvenirs sold by hundreds of stalls and other vendors during the festival.

The survey report said that food loss needed to be reduced. The official in charge at the city government said, “We want to bear in mind that we should not only achieve economic benefits but also reduce carbon emissions in the future.”

Seeking to raise awareness

Expectations have been rising in recent years regarding the role that local communities and businesses should play in the decarbonization drive underway in Japan overall.

In 2020, the government announced its Carbon Neutrality Declaration, aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to virtually zero by 2050. To achieve this goal, the Environment Ministry has been focusing on generating a “decarbonization domino effect,” which will spread carbon-reduction efforts throughout the country.

Due in part to the ministry’s call, a total of 766 prefectures and municipalities had pledged as of the end of August to achieve “virtually zero” emissions in their areas by the year 2050.

In its initial budget request for next fiscal year, the ministry will include ¥40 billion in grants to support local governments’ efforts to curb carbon emissions, double the amount provided in the current fiscal year.

To fulfill their social responsibilities, one company after another has calculated and announced the amount of CO2 emitted through its economic activities and set reduction targets.

“Attempts to decarbonize festivals are an indication that global warming countermeasures by local governments and businesses are being implemented in a wide variety of fields,” said Takeshi Mizuguchi, president of the Takasaki City University of Economics and a specialist in sustainable management. “If we can work on decarbonization on occasions that are close to the hearts of local people, we can expect even greater results in terms of raising awareness than the actual emissions to be reduced.”