On the 15th September, in over 15 countries worldwide, people handed out their money two coins, or two notes at a time to complete strangers with one condition attached: the recipient must pass half this amount to someone else. Who are these people? Benevolent billionaires who would like to donate to my new handbag fund (a bona fide cause I assure you…)? Well, no just ordinary people who seek to kick-start conversations and awareness on the benefits of economies based on sharing. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the local event in Tervuren, Belgium so the handbag fundraising continues…However aside from materialistic aspirations, this is exactly what this event aims to challenge, to get us thinking more critically and creatively about our relationship with money and to consider alternative and new forms of economic activity. The 15th September has been chosen symbolically as Free Money Day, since 3 years ago on September 15th 2008, Lehman’s Brothers, a figurehead for interminable economic growth and one of the world’s largest investment banks, filed for bankruptcy triggering the financial crisis, with repercussions which still resonate today. Free Money Day has been initiated by the international group the Post Growth Institute, who seeks to inspire and equip people everywhere to explore paths to global prosperity that don’t rely on economic growth. In other words they seek to re-focus our priorities away from consumerist goals and shift to simpler values in order to regain meaning and a sense of balance in life, and for us all to gain greater fulfilment from a future beyond the pursuit of economic growth with no regard to consequences. From a logical point of view, exponential growth which we could almost consider as having become a mantra for ‘success’ and happiness, is completely incompatible in a world with finite resources. This hunger of humans for more of everything is to the detriment of the environment, our communities, our social needs, our happiness. Numerous studies, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs concur that up to a certain threshold, an increase in income contributes to individual wellbeing, however once our basic needs have been satisfied, an increase in our income does not directly correlate to us as happier little beans, just a crappier environment and often a poorer work-life balance. This is leading many to re-evaluate how we live our lives.
This is by no means a new concept and has its roots in many different movements before it, in fact my whole end of degree dissertation study was focused on this topic and as much as I would like to delve back into the roots, evolutions, nuances and different manifestations of simpler living, I feel I would probably need a whole website rather than an isolated blog post to elucidate what terms such as ‘post growth’, ‘slow living’, ‘downshifting’, ‘voluntary simplicity’ encompass. I feel I can only scrape at the surface when introducing this topic and in fact the ‘Post Growth Institute’ is a very clear introduction and guide on how you can understand and incorporate simpler and ‘post growth’ values into your lives. I would therefore like to frame this post in the context of Japanese culturally specific approaches towards ‘post growth’ and simpler living by looking at the organisations and movements: The Sloth Club and Slow Living Japan.
Slow is beautiful
The Post Growth Institute notes that slowly “around the globe, in many different ways, people are coming to believe a different story.”
The Sloth Club is one such group of people and this NGO formed in 1999, to promote the slow movement, sustainable living, fair trade and ethical living, and a local living economy. The sloth is a fitting face to a slow way of life and adherents idolise their furry, slumber eyed friend as a model for new approaches to living. And before you envisage hundreds of Japanese hanging from trees in an attempt to embrace ‘Slow’, “the aim is to emulate some of the basic behaviors of the sloth,” in particular its “low-energy, cyclical, symbiotic and non-violent lifestyle” so we should visualise the ways of the sloth in a metaphorical rather than literal sense. A lot of the activities of the Sloth Club seem to encompass what many would simply associate with environmental or ecological and social rights group such as their engagement in antinuclear activism, peace activism and promoting conservation by means of the Hachidori Project. Green and ethical actions indeed form a large core of their activities and the aims of slow living. Yet the Sloth Club has also been a large advocate and instigator of ‘Slow’ activities through organising ‘voluntary blackouts’ which encourage people to lead slower lifestyles, publishing guidelines for slow business, setting up slow cafes which serve organic and sustainably produced food and provides a community centre where events are held, organising ‘slow travel’ tours, involving themselves in ‘slow design groups’ and even setting up an alternative currency and ‘Slow Business school’.
A glossary of Slow:
Still befuddled? Here’s a quick go-to guide for those of you who are not yet slow enough to trundle through a more comprehensive albeit longer explanation of the movement:
- Slow food– The most visible facet of the movement and catalyst for other forms of ‘Slow’. It was founded in 1989 in Italy to challenge the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s diminishing interest in the food we eat, its origins, its taste and how the modern agricultural industry and our food choices affect the world socially and environmentally. It is now a 150 country-strong organisation, represented by another symbol of ‘Slow’: the snail.
- Slow travel/tourism– A more meaningful, interactive and ecological form of tourism which often reflect features of ‘Slow’ such as eating locally, reconnecting with oneself, others and nature, reducing environmental impact of the visit, and opting for tourism which is truly ethical: supporting communities, respecting cultures, experiencing different lifestyles without judgement.
- Slow business– An educational and business development group which seeks to expand and promote ‘Slow Business’ in Japan and worldwide. Their main concern is with interconnectedness of the local and global, focusing on promotion of alternative lifestyles, fair trade, organic products and other core values of ‘Slow’. Key words are ‘share’ as opposed to business ‘monopoly’ in order to shift us from a greedy society to a sharing society. They have also set up a Slow Business School as part of their projects.
- Slow design- A holistic, comprehensive, inclusive, reflective and considered approach to design. It repositions the focus of design on individual, socio-cultural and environmental well-being as well as celebrating diversity and pluralism.
- Other terms to watch out for: slow music, slow books, slow education, slow cities
How and why did this movement take hold?
Japan and Tokyo is probably one the fastest and busiest country and city you will meet, this is particularly true of the latter. An increasing dissatisfaction with the frenetic pace of work and life, with too little sleep and too much work has led to many to seek alternative and slower lifestyles. Many are re-evaluating their approaches to relationships with society, food and the environment. This is particularly prevalent in the context of the economic crisis and Fukishima nuclear disaster. An increase in the awareness of ‘Slow’ can also be attributed to and in response to the Japanese film ‘Oriteyuku Ikikata’ (Slow life down) released in 2009. The gradual adoption of ‘Slow’ as a life philosophy has not been without its difficulties. It is a movement which challenges the
idea of never-ending consumption and exertion in Japan, which has helped develop the country and improve the material lives of the Japanese significantly since the end of World War 2. There is equally the negative association of ‘slow’ with ‘lazy’-an idea which slow advocates are working to disband. However a sign of the success of the movement points to Kakegawa City in Shizuoka Prefecture declaring itself a “Slow Life City” in December 2002, of which there are over 60 worldwide. And you never know, maybe next year we’ll see a Free Money event in Japan the next 15th September! At this point I’m going to finish my introduction to ‘Slow’ here feeling dissatisfied that I haven’t really even begun to explain what this about. But after having completed a 10,000 word dissertation on the topic I guess a blog post isn’t really going to cover it. However this has perhaps given an adequate introduction to one manifestation of ‘simpler living’ which takes its form as ‘Slow living’ or ‘The Sloth Club’ in Japan, which thousands are shifting to worldwide, each in their different forms and foci with the global aim to live simpler, to live better, to live greener and for prosperity beyond economic growth.
- Free Money Day
- The Post Growth Institute
- Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society
- ‘Snail’s Pace’– Fantastic, detailed explanation on how ‘Slow’ has evolved and developed in Japan.
- Taking it Slow in Japan
- Slow in Japan : The Sloth Club
- Slow Japan
- The Sloth Club- ‘Slow is beautiful’
- Slow Design
- Slow Food Movement