Guiding Youth with Picks in Hand. What is Toyota Doing?


This series showcases Toyota's research in non-automotive fields. This time, we take a venture into the wild to a school in the forest!

Experiencing “diversity” in a genuine setting

Three students who joined last year and came back this year as alumni reflected on how encountering different people and environments led to a transformative shift in their perspectives.

Momoko Abe

Normally, I dress up and go to school, but Shirakawa-go is too cold for that (laughs). So, I focus more on ways of thinking and inner qualities. Changing environments made me realize that my values shift from when I’m in the city... It became a catalyst for thinking about diversity.

Midori Arakawa mentioned that she often hears the term SDGs but joined the program seeking a clearer understanding and definitive answers.

Midori Arakawa

Speaking my thoughts to strangers opened up new perspectives for me. It was fascinating to see my own ideas evolve while conversing around a campfire with people of varied ages and backgrounds (in contrast to university life).

It’s easier to speak truthfully and express differing opinions when surrounded by nature. Last winter, I felt as if my worries were cleansed by the white pristine snow of Shirakawa-go.

Itsuki Kokubo discusses the significance of debating in real-life settings, not just online.

Itsuki Kokubo

It’s easy to make friends on social media, but conflicts also arise easily. In face-to-face interactions, you get to know the other person, including their human side, so even if opinions differ, the discussion can be positive and not awkward. I realized how important it is to gather in one place and talk, like in this program.

Through various experiences, my way of thinking has broadened, and I can now explain SDGs in more detail to the children around me.

Discussions held during the program are always lively, sometimes continuing in the open-air baths.

During the interview, a stink bug flew in, but the three of them said with a smile, “We usually don’t like bugs, but here they somehow don’t bother us.” This might be another example of how a change in setting can alter perceptions.

Growth is hard to perceive by oneself…

Director Yamada explains the purpose of this SDGs Leader Development Program.

Toshiyuki Yamada, Director,
Toyota Shirakawa-Go Eco-Institute

A person's growth is not immediately visible, and it is often hard to feel oneself. It doesn’t happen suddenly but eventually blooms somewhere, sometimes. Hearing their stories (how they’ve absorbed so much) makes me happy, thinking we’ve contributed a little.

SDGs are a list of obligations. That’s why it’s important to make it an enjoyable effort. It’s easier to collaborate toward a goal in that way. For example, understanding the importance of diversity is not just an intellectual exercise. Meeting various people in the real world and experiencing different viewpoints firsthand is what truly leads to embracing diversity.

The Program Director and Facilitator of the SDGs Leader Development Program is Shin Kurosaka. He mentions that there are three key points to the program.

Shin Kurosaka,
Toyota Shirakawa-Go Eco-Institute

Our aim was to enable participants to express SDGs in their own words and sensitivity, focusing on realization, conviction, and honesty. Jumping into action immediately is challenging. Therefore, we thought about providing opportunities to find one’s direction and core beliefs in life, how one wants to be, and how one wishes to live.

I believe it’s rare in Japan to have such a program where people of such diverse regional backgrounds, generations, and thoughts come together to exchange opinions.

Kurosaka also shared the happiest moment he experienced while interacting with many people.

Shin Kurosaka,
Toyota Shirakawa-Go Eco-Institute

The happiest moment was during an outdoor cooking activity when a family spanning three generations participated. An 80-year-old grandfather joyfully said, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.” It felt rewarding to be part of creating such a joyful space.

A child who was initially scared of fish eventually learned to handle them with bare hands and even fillet one the following year. It’s also heartwarming to see parents looking forward to being able to witness their children’s growth.

The rich nature is both beautiful and harsh. That is precisely why it allows one to realize values unnoticed in daily life. The change in each individual’s consciousness is the power that can alter the future.

Even today, deep in the Shirakawa-go mountains, the cultivation of people who can ‘think and act on their own’ continues.