Taylor Stevenson

Taylor Stevenson is a graduate of U of O. She is an aritst and waste researcher. Her artwork, which is created from reused materials, is inspired by people around the world who survive from garbage or who, similar to garbage, are rejected by society. She founded a program called Live Debris which demonstrates reuse as a tool for social integration and personal growth. She has taken this project to Brazil, Lebanon, Myanmar, the US and now Japan, where she is studying at the Rotary Peace center in Japan to earn a Master in Peace Studies.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

More dirt on Tokyo...

My lack of recent blog posts isn’t a sign of lazy fingers. Rather, I have been busy typing reports for my new career as a graduate student. My Project Management class entailed less writing and a little more doing. Shocked to learn that Japan’s recycling rates are not what they had been led to believe, the class opted to organize a project around waste management and, naturally, selected me as their manager. The highlight of the class (for me, at least, was the recycling and composting workshop that I gave (see photos) which resulted in me befriending a compost-eager Japanese woman named Chieko, with limited English skills and more enthusiasm for composting than I think I may witnessed anywhere (expressive enthusiasm is one of the most endearing qualities of Japanese women, I am discovering). My composting worms have been eating and reproducing at such a rapid rate that the bin has grown quite heavy, and I was unable to take it to the workshop. Instead, I invited Chieko to my house, where I gave her a couple of bags of worms and taught her all she needed to know to make a bin of her own. I knew she was fit for the job when, upon seeing the tiny white baby worms, she shrieked “Kawaaaaiiiiii (cute)!” –a typical Japanese response to cute, fuzzy things, but not one I have ever heard in reference to worms, composting or anything of the like. The only technical task in making a worm bin is to drill small holes in the bottom of the liner bin, for which I lent her my electric drill. Teaching her how to use an electric drill was one of the more hilarious and gratifying experiences of my trip thus far, inspiring me to teach every woman I know how to use an electric drill. I definitely won’t forget the drill at my next workshop!

My belated mentor, Ray Mitchell, always said “don’t let school get in the way of your education.” While I love the reading, writing and occasional teaching that my classes require, I am not letting it get in the way of a well-rounded education. Here is what I have been up to lately beyond the classroom. My friend Kazuko invited me to volunteer helping to make a straw bale building for a local Buddhist temple in Totsuka. There, I learned that straw bale is a traditional Japanese technique, for which they ferment the mud/straw mixture for up to a year before applying it to the building. One of the builders spent some time with me explaining the structural requirements of building in Japan, including diagonal supports for earthquake proofing. Below are some photos of Kazuko and me scooping, hauling and applying the mud.

Another photos shows my friend Houko giving a workshop on making things with discarded umbrellas. Check out her CASA Project here: http://casaproject.com. And, finally, one of the most inspiring and fitting scenes I have seen of Tokyo: Tokyo Tower looming over the famous Zojoji Temple.

Finally, a little bit about my fellow peace fellows. Details about our work will soon be distributed in the latest ICU Rotary Newsletter (I will include a pdf link as soon as I have one). Beyond that, I can say that we have become fast friends and have created something of a family for ourselves. Never have I met a group so genuinely dedicated to getting along and doing good for the world. Rotary, you chose well.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Wiggler Struggles and Other Learning Experiences

Over the past month I have been learning a great deal both inside the classroom (yes, classes have begun) and outside. First, a few updates on previous blog posts... my valiant attempt at living a relatively ecologically sound life in Tokyo has been slow moving. Two recent typhoons all but wiped my entire crop of vegetables growing on the balcony. It's time to find smaller planters that I can bring inside during typhoons. While I had previously giggled at people's dramatic warnings about typhoons in Japan, the last storm helped me to understand what the big deal is all about. As the typhoon hit Tokyo, classes were cancelled, public transportation stopped and our apartment shook so hard I thought the windows might blow out. Peace fellows holed up at my house and watched movies while the storm raged. Before I carry on about how much I love the company of my fellow peace fellows, I should give an update on my much anticipated worm shipment. I enjoyed keeping worms in the US, but I had never started a box from scratch, purchased worms over the internet, or kept worms in the sweltering climate that is Tokyo in the summertime. When my worms arrived, I put them in their box with the correct mixture of soil and coconut husk. Apparently worms can become disoriented after shipment and will sometimes leave their box in search of... what, I'm still not quite sure. So upon returning home one day I found a mass exodus (meaning hundreds) of worms wiggling their way across my kitchen floor. How a legless creature can scale the side of a deep plastic container, I do not know. My response was to secure a lid on the box but, the next day, I found that the worms had amassed themselves into a massive ball and managed to push their way out of the box and promptly dry up and die all over my apartment. One live worm ball still dangled from the box, and the remaining survivors are currently consuming our food waste. They seem to have given up on apartment adventuring. The sweet and patient woman who sold me the worms has generously offered to send me some more, as this experience has apparently been a learning experience for her (and me!). Most people in Japan purchase an escape-proof worm bin with their worms. I, of course, had to make my own. RIP, little mimizu.

In other news, I am happy to report that the class 10 peace fellows are all getting along beautifully and integrating well into life in Tokyo. I am sharing a few photos. To the left is my roommate, Weaw, and me at farm near Kamakura. Some energetic and incredibly welcoming Japanese folks invited us out there to help them build them a wall for their new herb garden. Below is a photo of peace fellows with Rotary International's incoming president, Mr. Tanaka, who we had the pleasure of meeting with one afternoon. The other class 10 peace fellows are from different parts of the world (Thailand, Taiwan, South Africa, Canada, Niger, Argentina and the US) but we can all manage to find common ground. We share classes with Japanese students and South Asian fellows here through the Japanese government. So we are able to debate current issues with people from a variety of social, economic, professional and cultural backgrounds. In recent classes we have been exploring the psychological roots of violence, US involvement in Japan and resource scarcity in Asia.

Peace fellows with Mr. Tanaka

Finally, for those of you who read french (or who can make sense of internet translations), here is a recent article written about me for a Tokyo-based news website:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Japanese Classes, Birthday Celebration and Worms

August has been a busy month as most of the new peace fellows and I have been taking an intensive ‘survival’ Japanese class. I call the class ‘survival of the fittest’ Japanese since Japanese is not one of the easier languages to learn. Atama ga itai desu! I am loving Japanese, though, and will continue taking classes during my time here. Our final Japanese assignment is to give a two minute speech on a topic of our choice. My topic is, as you might guess, gomi! Garbage. Speaking of which, I am progressing with my in-home composting experiments. Unable to find reasonably-priced worms in Japan, I resorted to buying a bag of composting bacteria. Apparently some people here do compost in their homes, usually with the help of fermented rice husk pellets that are sold at some local gardening stores. The pellets are expensive and smell like a used litter box. They do seem to help in composting food waste (nama gomi), but, as you can see from my photo, my food waste is getting pretty moldy. I figure that in two years I would spend more money buying bacteria pellets than I would if I just ordered some expensive worms, so I have placed my order with the only worm breeders I was able to find. They will arrive in the mail next week. Roll out the red (worm) carpet! Here is their contact in case anyone in Japan needs red worms (mimizu): ij9t-skn@asahi-net.or.jp. But in a few months I will have enough baby worms to save you the expense!

Fortunately, my fellow peace fellows are open minded enough that they don’t find my composting obsession completely insane. I feel fortunate to have such a great group of automatic friends here. A few days after everyone arrived, I celebrated my 30th birthday in the company of the peace fellows and other international friends. I have never had happy birthday sung to me in 10 different languages before, it was very cool! My Rotary counselor and her daughter also surprised me with gifts and treated me to a nice dinner-- they have been incredibly gracious hostesses. I am blown away by what an amazing and unique opportunity this fellowship is and I can’t thank Rotary enough.

(failed) Compost Experiment: red worms are on the way!

Bag o’ Bacteria—fermented rice husks used for bucket composting of organic waste

Hatano san, Mami and me at a rooftop party for the Ebisu Rotary club. These women are great, I have a lot of fun with them.

Balcony garden update: My plants are growing so fast and attracting some interesting large insects.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Peace Scholar Arrives Tokyo

Konichiwa, District 5100! Here is the first installation of my blog,

Tokyo Journal

My first impressions of a new place are generally absorbed as comparisons to my home of Portland, Oregon USA. I landed in Tokyo expecting certain things, like using a public telephone or flushing the toilet, to be more difficult than at home. Much to my surprise, though, I was able to find a functioning, English speaking telephone on my first attempt, and my toilet is not only easy to flush, but fills through a small faucet in which I can wash my hands—ingenious! Convenience, however, is not a broad spectrum characteristic of Japanese culture. Here, utter convenience is contrasted with often confounding procedures and systems to which one must adhere in order to be a functioning member of Japanese society. Just taking out the trash requires obeying a detailed calendar of what can be placed outside each day and in which color of store-bought plastic bag it must be presented. One of these waste categories consists of organics, which I may place outside on Monday and Thursday, and which must be put in a purchased, tan plastic bag labeled ‘burnables.’ While I haven’t yet confirmed whether organic waste is actually incinerated here, it pains me to dispose of organic waste when outside the door of my suburban apartment is a neighborhood of local farms and gardens. So today I purchased some containers in which to start my own worm composting bin… only to discover that it is next to impossible to find red worms in Tokyo. The next lesson with my Japanese tutor will consist of questions for my farming neighbors: ‘Please miss may I ask do you compost?’ and ‘may I kindly dig around in your compost bin for some worms?’

My first night in Tokyo I visited some of the graduated Rotary Peace Fellows and we were greeted by a poisonous Mukade centipede. Pretty cool, I was sad they had to kill it.

My lovely toilet with handwashing function

The view out my window

My worm composting bin, awaiting worms, dirt and some proper language instruction!

Recycling calendar for June and July