The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Just 50 kilometers from Tokyo, in Kanagawa Prefecture, lie scenic beaches, the enchanting island of Enoshima, and breathtaking views of Mount Fuji from across Sagami Bay.

The area—known as Shonan—can be reached by a one-hour train ride from Shinagawa or a crawl through bumper-to-bumper traffic on National Route 134. More than 8 million visitors descend on the shores each summer to enjoy popular firework festivals, barbecues, and beach houses.

Each year, on the third Monday in July, hordes of tourists head to Shonan to escape the concrete, heat, and humidity of the big city and celebrate Umi no Hi (Ocean Day). It is a busy time for the economy, but a stressful one for the natural surroundings.

Keeping the beaches clean while hosting such crowds is a challenge. Like the occasional lonely reveler waking up in the sand, even the environment seems hungover the next day. Early morning walks often reveal overflowing garbage bins dotting the sandscape, and sunrise sailors are greeted by the occasional plastic bag or PET bottle floating by. The mid-morning ballet of municipal garbage trucks and tractors ends just before the first set of visitors arrives for another day in paradise.

Helping keep the landscape pristine is a great way for corporate social responsibility (CSR), and the Fujisawa Beach Cleaning Project and Community Sailing Program provide such opportunities. These activities are a great way to engage your employees in volunteer and team building programs while giving back to the community.

In 2008, my husband Michel and I bought a house in the area and quickly became part of the community. As natives of Nice, France, and the Caribbean island of Trinidad, respectively, we began looking for a tangible way to give back to our adopted home.

We wanted to find an easy-to-understand activity that would be useful, bring people together, and serve as a platform for collaboration and international exchange—one that linked global movement with local action.

Because we are both from coastal regions, we naturally gravitated to protecting the marine ecosystem: seas and beaches. Our location, an 800-meter walk from the Kugenuma coast, was an ideal base.

So, in October 2009, with some of our savings, we launched the first family-friendly Fujisawa Beach Cleaning Project, which drew 180 volunteers—the youngest being just six months old.

The local bank was our first corporate supporter, and volunteer help from friends, staff from our small French language school, members of JEAN (Japan Environmental Action Network), the Kanagawa Prefectural Coastal Foundation, and the Ocean Conservancy all played an important part in getting the initiative off the ground.

The October cleanup marked our first involvement with the International Coastal Cleanup Campaign that takes place each autumn in more than 100 countries. Participants become citizen scientists for the day, and the Fujisawa Beach Cleaning Project team count, survey, and record their findings. The data is then sent for inclusion in national and global reports on the health of the world’s marine ecosystem.

Since 2010, the Fujisawa project has been scheduled each year before and after the peak tourist season. It is held in spring to celebrate Earth Day (April 22), and in autumn as part of the International Coastal Cleanup campaign, which this year will be held globally on September 16. The crowds may have disappeared, but there is no season for marine debris, which ceaselessly continues to filter through.

Fast forward eight years, and the project has been joined by 3,500 volunteers plus a few more corporate partners—many of whom are members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ).

In April 2016, we celebrated the 15th Fujisawa Beach Cleaning Project with the launch of a Community Sailing Program, held in Enoshima, the venue for sailing events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This year, the autumn beach clean-up is scheduled for September 24.

Inquiries from volunteers about other kinds of experiences began arriving in 2014, resulting in the launch of the SEGO Initiative, a not-for-profit association. SEGO stands for multiple things. In English, it means sustainable and social, education and environment, global and grassroots, outdoors and outcome. In French, it can be read as solidarité, empathie, générosité, and ouverture d’ésprit—in keeping with our French language school endeavor. The main mission of SEGO is to create more opportunities for corporations to engage with the local community.

To the Fujisawa Beach Cleaning Project and SEGO, we added the Community Sailing Program in April. This new program provides a chance to sail on the waters of Sagami Bay, promotes local areas, and attracts new enthusiasts for marine activities. Language is not a barrier because, as with all our family-friendly projects, the activities are conducted in French, English, and Japanese.

Each project has development and operational costs that can be shared, but each still requires that ever illusive liquidity. As a player in the local economic community, we also work with small suppliers who are passionate about the cause, but are not in a position to donate services or products. For SEGO, like many other organizations, the biggest challenge is creating a sustainable funding pipeline with ways to leverage these community projects and the great location.

To this end, a new ecosystem of programs, events, and activities for community reinvestment is taking shape. The TIWAL B1G1 (Buy One Give One) program is one such initiative, and redirects a portion of the sales of TIWAL sailing dinghies to support the Community Sailing Program.

Since the sailboat can fit in the trunk of a car, SEGO does a Drive & Sail Experience Program. This involves driving to locations mainly in Enoshima and other Shonan areas for trial sailing sessions, but can also serve as a vector for inbound tourism. Jaguar Land Rover Japan is providing a Range Rover Evoque sports utility vehicle for the program.

For the Fujisawa Beach Cleaning Project in Enoshima on September 24, we are hoping to gather 500 volunteers, and more opportunities have been added for corporate partners who like to engage in the International Coastal Cleanup Campaign. In addition to supporting our teams of employee volunteers, companies can also support activities such as a collaborative coloring wall for kids, an outdoor temporary art exhibition, and the sailing experience area. As the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games approach, there will be even more chances to plan events and activities.

These are all open to ACCJ members and interested corporate partners, and we invite everyone to spread the word and enjoy a beautiful autumn day on the Shonan shores.

Alana Bonzi is a freelance writer, CSR lecturer at Keio University, and co-director of SEGO Initiative, developing, planning, and fundraising CSR and sustiability projects for business and community.
Keeping the beaches clean while hosting such crowds is a challenge.