Mottainai: A Photo Exhibit – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Mottainai: A Photo Exhibit

In June 2014, Sarah Meyer, the community outreach coordinator for the Finger Lakes Institute (FLI), led the annual Technos Program, which promotes international exchange and understanding on the campus of Technos International College, and offers students the opportunity to experience and appreciate Japanese life and culture.

During the trip, Meyer captured a series of photographs reflecting on Japan’s “eco-consciousness and culture,” which she has since curated into an exhibition titled “Mottainai,” on display at the Finger Lakes Institute.

As Meyer explains in her gallery brochure, mottainai is “a term embedded in Japanese culture and based on Buddhist philosophy, roughly translates to ‘what a waste’ or ‘a shame to throw away.’ I encountered the phrase mottainai when I met Wangari Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of The Green Belt Movement, in April 2008. Wangari promoted the concept internationally in the context of environmental protection, resource conservation, and empowerment.”

“Because of my fascination with the interaction of environment and culture, I photographed details of sustainability in daily life wherever I travel,” Meyer adds. “This exhibit is a representation of the underlying environmental consciousness and exposed traditions I observed in Japan during the 2014 Technos International Week.”

Technos International Week began in 1992 thanks to the generosity of the Tanaka family and the Tanaka Memorial Foundation, whose gifts established the Tanaka Asian Studies Endowment and annually supports the Asian Studies Program, the Tanaka Lectureship in Japanese, and other programming at HWS. In addition to the endowment, 1992 marked the beginning of two initiatives with Technos International College (sponsored by the Tanaka Ikueikai Educational Trust), the International Prizes for Academic Excellence and International Understanding, and the Technos International Week.

During the 2014 trip, Meyer presented a lecture to Technos College students on visual comparisons of food systems, sustainable agriculture, urban forestry and sustainable design between the Finger Lakes region and observations made in Japan. She also captured images that reflected these subjects, a “rain chain” for example, which “directs rainwater from a rooftop to a French drain or ditch,” she explains in her caption.

“Although somewhat rare in Finger Lakes storm water management and landscape design, rain chains are commonly used in Japan’s public parks, temples, restaurants, and homes. As rainwater trickles down the chain, its flow is slowed, thereby lessening erosion, all while creating a meditative sound. With drought expected to become more frequent with climate change, Japanese municipalities are making efforts to conserve and replenish groundwater by creating cooperative programs with bottled-water companies and farmers of rice, wasabi, and fish, who rely on freshwater springs and wells.”

“The greatest wastes in life are unused talents and untried ideas,” says Meyer, who also uses the photos’ captions to juxtapose the images with experiences closer to home. In one photo, Meyer captures Japan’s native Grey Heron, similar to the Great Blue Heron often seen on the shores and in the wetlands of the Finger Lakes. Describing another, she writes, “A farm can be found in the most unusual places. Tokyo is dotted with pockets of green space among the concrete jungle. Instead of vast rolling hills of grapes, corn, cabbage, and soybean often seen in the Finger Lakes region, the small, odd-shaped urban farms of Tokyo grow tomatoes, eggplant, okra, and bitter melon.”

Through the photographs, she hopes “to highlight similarities in beauty, culture, animals, and sustainable actions — all to increase our sense of place.”

After the exhibit opening in February, Meyer has given multiple presentations about her experience on campus and for the Finger Lakes Community College’s Muller Field Station Guest Lecture Series “Speaking of Nature.”

A native of Geneva, N.Y., Meyer earned bachelor of science and master’s of professional studies degrees from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, N.Y., concentrating on information and technology, environmental science, and water and wetland resource studies. Since 2004, Meyer has served as the FLI’s community outreach coordinator with recent emphasis on food systems, urban forestry, and green infrastructure program management. As such, she provides leadership and direction for the FLI community outreach and public service program and numerous FLI projects.