Japan from the inside out

Nippon Noel: PET bottle Christmas trees!

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 25, 2007

POLYETHYLENE TEREPHTHALATE—or PET for short—is a type of polyester used to make fibers, bottles and jars, and injection molding parts. Synthetic fibers account for more than 60% of the world’s PET production, and in that application the material is called polyester.

Because it is clear, safe, light, and recyclable, as well as excellent for maintaining product integrity and creating containers of various designs, 30% of the PET produced worldwide is used for bottles or other containers.

And the Japanese have employed their ever-fertile imaginations to find a new application for used PET bottles: Decorations for Christmas trees and the Christmas trees themselves, particularly for public display. The results, as you are about to see, can be visually stunning.

The first place we’ll visit is the last place you’d expect to see a tree made of recycled trash—Fukuoka City’s Tenjin district, Kyushu’s largest shopping and commercial area. Every year, the Daimaru department store erects a large Christmas tree for exterior display, and last year they came up with the idea of using PET bottles to make the tree. They did it again this year, too, incorporating 6,000 bottles in the 14-meter high tree shown in the first photo.

Store workers cut open the bottles to create an estimated 1,000 flower ornaments in 290 different designs. To make the tree more attractive at night, they also trimmed the tree with 30,000 LEDs in three different colors. The tree will be up through Christmas day.

The Tenjin tree is a part of a commercial enterprise, but just as often, the creation of PET bottle trees is the work of a civic group. One example is the trees shown in the second photo, which were put together by the Hamasaka JCs of Shin’onsen-cho, Hyogo Prefecture, and placed in front of the JR Hamasaka Station. The trees are illuminated from the interior, which creates a floating effect that viewers are said to find attractive.
The JCs hoped their project would attract people to the shopping district near the station and raise local awareness of recycling. They put together a total of 14 trees ranging in height from one to three meters by using 340 two-liter bottles and 830 500-milliliter bottles

Not content to do things by halves, the JCs also held a lighting ceremony to present their handiwork. During the ceremony, parents of students attending the Hamasaka Kindergarten sang Christmas songs and performed music with hand bells. The tree will be lit from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day until the 26th.

The creation of five-meter PET bottle trees made with 600 bottles each in Toyosato-cho, Shiga Prefecture, is another JC effort. They were erected in the parking lot front of the town’s municipal offices and are lit every evening at 5:00 p.m.

For the past four years, the JCs have been holding classes for kids to provide instruction in building PET bottle rockets. (I’d like to take that class myself!) This year, however, they decided to do something different and created the trees instead. Each of the trees has conical bases and eight large light bulbs inside.

The groups started collecting used bottles during summer vacation, and the whole project took about six months to finish. The trees will be lit until 11:00 p.m. on the 25th.

The last PET bottle tree is the result of a much larger project in which the whole town participated. The bottles were collected in special boxes placed in front of the local primary school, post offices, and other locations throughout Geino-cho, Tsu, Mie Prefecture.

The tree is 25 meters high and required an estimated 10,000 PET bottles to make. It too was first presented with a lighting ceremony, dubbed Geino Christmas 2007. Performing Christmas songs during the ceremony was Geino Brass, the brass band from the local junior high school. The event also featured a parade with seven cars, which carried smaller trees, reindeer and a sleigh, and model houses with chimneys.

The tree will be lit every day from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. until the 25th.

Lest anyone misunderstand the intent of this post, be assured that every aspect of this activity has my admiration. Though a mere handful of Japanese are Christians, their own traditions have given them a complete understanding of and appreciation for festivals derived from religious ceremonies, not to mention how to conduct those festivals to promote public enjoyment and civic unity. A quick scroll through the Festivals category on the left sidebar will attest to that.

The Japanese have taken the Christmas tree, one of the symbols of what is now a secular global winter festival, and turned it into a public art form. The examples described in this post are made from a recyclable industrial product that has been disposed of after its initial use. It has been employed as the art material to create objects of beauty in public places.

All but one of these exhibitions were created by volunteers with the intention of adding brightness and cheer to their communities during the dark winter months, and they were presented in those communities during ceremonies that offered volunteer entertainment provided by the members of those same communities.

You can call it what you like, but I call that the Christmas spirit!

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