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PHOTO FEATURE

Surf Shacks 006 – Hiromi Matsubara

Meet Hiromi Matsubara, CEO of Surfrider Foundation in Japan. Hiromi is a free spirited yoga instructor, macrobiotic vegan chef, environmentalist, and all around amazing human being who embodies the generosity and hospitality of the Japanese people. She lives in the woods in Chiba, close to the beach in an incredible artist community where she hosts many a wandering traveler, showing them the best that Japan has to offer.

Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Hiromi Matsubara. I live a life of a surfer, NGO director, chef and yoga teacher. After graduating college, I started my corporate career in a mega financial institution (wasn’t my fit), then shifted to the non-profit sector to be part of something good, then started my own media venture company to share good ideas and stories for positive social change, then did a national radio hostess job and I am currently working for Surfrider Foundation Japan.

Where are you from? Where do you live now?

I spent 5 years of my early childhood in London UK and after that grew up mostly in Chiba Japan. Now I live in the woods in Chiba, a lush forest community 90km east of Tokyo, 10 min to the beach.

What do you do for a living?

CEO Surfrider Foundation Japan

Describe a typical day at work these days.

When the waves are good, I go surfing with friends or alone before work, head into the office (3 minutes from the beach!), have my cup of coffee and start my work. Recently as we have been organizing lots of events to increase our membership, I spend a lot of time on planning and meetings, sometimes catching the train into Tokyo. And of course with the recent leaking of radiation from the crippled Fukushima plant, we have been busy with lobbying actions, collaborative efforts with other NGOs.

Has your job become more demanding after the disaster at Fukushima?

Definitely yes. Many people (not just surfers) are concerned about the state of our ocean and we’d like to be a reliable, authentic, trustworthy source of information. But it’s very hard, as it is an unprecedented time in history where nobody yet really knows the full scope, scale and the real impact to the health of the planet and its people.

There is a lot of conflicting news out there about radiation levels in the Pacific ocean and in our seafood. What can you tell us about Surfrider’s research and testing lately on the subject?

We have been conducting water quality and bottom sand (knee-thigh high deep) testing programs to measure radiation (C134, C137). Fortunately we have not yet detected any harmful amounts of radioactive isotopes in the water nor sand, but with our limited sample and lack of professional knowledge and expertise, it will be inappropriate to declare, with 100% confidence, the safety of the ocean. We just don’t know yet. But, we hope to build a metric or some sort of independent water quality standard with experts and officials in the future. Now talking about the food contamination. It is true that radiation does accumulate in the ecosystem (soil and food system) and some isotopes have long half lives so we just have to be cautious about where we live and what we eat, to minimize radiation exposure (both external and internal exposure).

What has been your biggest challenge as an environmentalist in Japan?

I think all of the environmental problems today are derived from human ego. We have destructed, taken so much out of the nature, in the name of development, better lives, good lives… (but is it really that good and worth it???)

In the developed world, we have to realize that we already have so much stuff and waste in our society and yet we are still driving consumerism and capitalism which is so unsustainable. The challenge is to make people realize that we are all part of a finite system and we are the cause of the results of our problems. Only humans make waste that nature cannot digest. So we have to rethink our core behavior so we can also be part of the solution. The richest person is not the one who has the most, but who needs the least. Less is more, small is beautiful.

On a lighter note, Surfrider is such a great organization to be a involved with. What is the best part about your job?

Meeting liked-minded passionate people from around the world and sharing the enjoyment of surfing with them.

How did you find this place and come to live here in the woods of Chiba? How long have you been here?

I just came across it randomly through a local real estate agent when my friends and I were looking for our satellite office (for my previous job) somewhere in the countryside. When we found this place, it was love at first sight. We started renting in Summer 2009 and I moved out of the city and moved permanently in April 2011 — so almost 4.5 years.

What is your favorite part about your space?

I love everything about the house (except for the fact that it is darn cold in the winter!) But maybe the view from my dining room. The green, lush rice fields in the summer are absolutely stunning and it nurtures my soul and DNA.

Your home feels like it belongs somewhere in California, instead of Japan. Is American surf culture where you draw inspiration from aesthetically?

It’s a mix and bit of everything. Californian, Hawaiian, Australian, European, Scandinavian, Balinese and Japanese. A lot of the stuff I have in the house are gifts from people who have stayed with and visited me. It’s a nice way to always remember them, the fun times spent together and feel their presence somewhere in the house.

What is your favorite part about the area you live in and your community?

It is so quiet that I can hear the trees whisper, the birds sing, the insects cry and the sky is actually so open and the air is so fresh, which has become almost unnoticeable in the city. People don’t even have the time or space in their minds to look up to the sky and breathe deeply.

Nature is so powerful and when I see the seasons change slowly and elegantly, I feel so much alive here. And I think being surrounded by something bigger than yourself, people become humble, gentle, giving, creative and sensous and hence try to be themselves to live life, and live their dreams. Everything here is REAL, nothing here is fake and you cannot be pretentious.

In nature, you can really let go the suppressed emotions, get in tune with you your values and follow your passions.

It’s kind of the quality of life that money nor time can buy — you just have to be here in THIS moment, HERE and NOW, to be appreciative that you are simply alive.

Also, people chose to live here intentionally, whether for surfing, in pursuit for organic, sustainable living or for other reasons. There is one thing in common; we all have a story to be told and shared and we have time and space to listen to others. It’s the story that led us here in this present living, the story we chose to be different from the norm and to be unique which is much needed in the Japanese society.

How has this area changed over the years with surf culture in Japan being more popular than ever, and with the environment being so threatened?

Surfing, or surf culture is a massive trend in Japan. The fashion industry started to penetrate into the surf lifestyle / culture and now it’s booming with hipster high end clothing apparels in the surf scene. It is estimated that more than 2 million surfers are in Japan! And many surf stores have opened up in my local small surf town. After the earthquake in 2011, the beach was so quiet, primarily due to respecting the sufferers and victims of the Tsunami and also people were afraid of the radiation risks. The local business were hit hard. Many of the conscious surfers, some whom are really good friends, fled and moved out of Chiba very quickly down to as far south as they could get, to escape any potential risks and threats of radiation exposure. It was sad to see them leave but sometimes we just have to accept some things and such is life. Move on and learn from our mistakes, and do good things for the future. Now people are a bit more educated and although the environment is still at risk, the 2013 summer season was busy once again with many surfers out in the water of Chiba.

What are your favorite local hangouts?

Brown’s Field (organic farm and macrobiotic cafe), Travel Coffee, Primrose (Indian curry restaurant in my community), Jamnesia, my office lounge.

Where is your favorite place to surf in Japan?

Malibu, Katsuura.

You are an excellent chef. Where did you learn to cook such amazing macrobiotic vegan feasts?

Mainly self taught, but I have assisted in a cooking workshop tour (to Australia ) with macrobiotic chef, Deco Nakajima (founder of Brown’s field). I have recently started my vegan macrobiotic catering, “Hiromix Kitchen” and just love cooking and being creative with new recipes. It’s all about mixing traditional healthy Japanese ingredients and cooking methods with western or foreign ideas to create something new, inspiring and colorful. It’s where people meet and mingle (hence the name Hiromix) over healthy tasty meals and there the conversation is naturally bound to be about healthy conscious eating habits. Good food speaks for itself.

Have you always been vegan? What led you to your dietary lifestyle choices?

Not really. My principle is to enjoy home made fresh, local and seasonal food and listen to what my body wants and what nature can provide. So if I go out for a meal with friends, I would be selective, but not too picky and would eat fish and maybe a bit of meat occasionally – to appreciate what is given and have a good time and laugh.

When working in the city, my  diet became very unbalanced – eating out all the time so i decided to cook and eat well and detox at least when i was at home and started practicing macrobiotic.

You have hosted many a wandering traveler here in Chiba. Who has been your most interesting house guest and why?

That’s a hard one. I don’t know how many people from how many countries have come through… But maybe the Vouch Surf crew from Byron Bay, Australia who came right after you left. I hosted 6 Aussie Boyz (all of them first time ever in Japan) and 1 Japanese guy whom I never met before. They stayed for 5 nights and it was sheer madness… So much fun! I prepped breakfast, dinner and basically was a mom of 7 kids.

We scored good waves at Malibu from the typhoon swells, entertained the crew with a lot of new cultural experiences, had sleepless nights with an unbelievable amount of joy and laughter, and the house was full of good energy and happiness. Byron is the place I call my second home and to be able to meet, hang out with and to be part of such fun loving group of guys made my Byron affection so much stronger. I think everything happens for a reason and we all meet for a reason. I was blessed to share and give what I could offer and do all the good I can so that their first Japan trip would be memorable and unforgettable as it was so with my frist Byron trip. What you get makes your living, what you give makes your life.

Where is the most place interesting place you’ve travelled for work and why?

Biarritz, France and San Sebastian Spain. I went there in 2011 for the Surfrider International Conference. It was so inspiring to see the surf culture in Europe and the scenery was so beautiful and historical. And of course, shredding with my best mates at 9pm in the Cote Basque  were priceless moments. Oh, and the food was just amazing!

What would you want our audience and the American surf population in general to know about Japanese surf culture or Japan in general?

The Japanese are good at mimic-ing and re-inventing things into something totally new. We have always taken our inspirations from the Hawaiian, Californian, East Coast and now recently from Australian surf culture and cultivated that with our own aesthetics and attention, perfection to details. As In the Japanese saying – “ 温故知新” – ONKO CHISHIN – an attempt to discover new things by studying the past through scrutiny of the old, Japanese culture has its beauty in balancing the old and the modern, being minimal, simple, subtle and modest.

For more on Hiromi, check out her blog “Tales & Trails”:

www.hiromeme.com

/ Photography & Interview by Matt Titone

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