April 03, 2024 TOPICS

Working on regional revitalization through the lens of energy policy to “create a social system that allows people to enjoy themselves and change their behavior”

Mana Kubozono (3rd year, College of Social Sciences)

Carbon neutrality refers to initiatives aimed at reducing the greenhouse gases that cause climate change to virtually zero worldwide. To help realize this goal, Mana Kubozono has delved into the practical study of the environment and energy. “I feel it is important to change society in a comprehensive manner, not only from the perspective of environmental protection but also from the standpoint of economic and social inclusion. To achieve this, I want to create a social system that allows people to enjoy themselves and change their behavior without even trying.”

An encounter that led to a guiding principle

Kubozono was born and raised in Kagoshima City and on Amami Oshima Island. There, she saw the towns that she loved fall into disrepair, and this experience of confronting the problems of the declining population and aging society, left a nagging question in the back of her mind: How can you revitalize a region and preserve it for the future? She was not always keenly interested in energy and environmental issues, however. Rather, she says she struggled with identifying what her interests were when she entered college.

Kubozono dedicated herself to taking a wide array of classes, and she deepened her learning about the many social issues covered in those classes. But one encounter had a truly profound impact on her.
From the second semester of her first year to the first semester of her second year, she took a class on environmental energy taught by Professor Ayumu Yamaguchi, who would later become her seminar supervisor. She was blown away by a talk given by a guest speaker, Hiroki Kihara (Class of 2000, College of Social Sciences), an alumnus who had started a local energy company. “Mr. Kihara talked about how we could solve both the energy problem and other local issues, and in turn, help to realize a more sustainable local society, if we could create a social structure where everyone in the community is involved in the supply and demand of energy. This made me realize that energy could be a major tool for engaging a community. I was impressed, but at the same time, I felt a strong sense of urgency."

A twist of fate

After this, Kubozono went on to implement a variety of initiatives for regional revitalization centered on energy policy, not only on campus, but also outside of the university.
First, she wanted to study diplomacy and security, two areas other than environment and energy that had piqued her interest, so she decided to join the AY2022 Honors Program, a special program that cultivates students into human resources who will be active in the international community. While her focus on energy policy used to be regional, taking classes in the Honors Program led her to think about national and regional energy policy from a more macro-level perspective.

Kubozono made friends with a classmate in the Honors Program, and this led her to expand her scope of activity outward. This friend asked her for her help in planning and running a workshop on the theme of decarbonization for young people offered by Impact Lab, a general incorporated association that her friend belonged to which had been commissioned by Shiga Prefecture to hold the workshop, and whose mission was to solve social problems by bringing together businesses, universities, government, NPOs, and other organizations. The workshop series was held over five days between August 2022 and March 2023. Despite it being her first time, Kubozono visited communities that were undertaking decarbonization efforts and worked with them to plan the workshop.
Soon after, Kubozono joined Impact Lab herself, where she worked as a student writer. She covered workshops on environmental energy organized by the Ministry of the Environment and wrote articles. Then, in August and September 2023, she planned and organized a second workshop series for Shiga Prefecture.
Through these activities, Kubozono visited various communities and got a firsthand feel for the issues each community was facing, which was a great learning experience for her. “There are people from all walks of life in a local community. I am very conscious of the fact that I am in a position to learn through the activities I undertake, but I came to think that young people like myself are the ones who have the ability to engage the diverse array of stakeholders in a given community. Many communities want to hear what young people have to say, and they want to take action together with us, so I realized why it is important for young people to go out into the community,” she said.

Planning a session that left a lasting impression

In parallel with her work at the Impact Lab, Kubozono actively participated in overseas training programs to hone her international knowledge. In February and March 20223, she studied abroad at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) on a two-week program open to students from throughout Ritsumeikan University. She learned about environmental energy, urban development, and agriculture in Malaysia. Then, in August and September of the same year, she visited the Indonesian island of Natuna for a training program sponsored by the Honors Program. There, she conducted fieldwork and issued a proposal to the deputy mayor on how to use tourism to revitalize the town.
In addition to fieldwork, Kubozono participated in two international conferences, one in Korea and one in Hungary, in November 2023. In Korea, she gave a presentation on her efforts to achieve carbon neutrality on campus. In Hungary, she joined a session run by young people entitled "How young people can get involved in the sustainable conservation of lakes and marshes.” She served as the session director, and was involved in everything from planning to implementation.

In this way, Kubozono has been involved in a wide variety of activities, but she says the most interesting of these was working as a Student Ambassador to plan and implement a session for OIC Connéct, which she was introduced to by a friend. Kubozono, who was entrusted with the project from the initial planning stage, invited Mr. Kihara, the entrepreneur who had a major impact on her, and Mr. Tomoki Ehara, who runs an environmental energy company, to speak on the topic "Can Carbon Neutral be Achieved by 2050? A Message for 2050 from the Cutting Edge of Community Development.” She served as the moderator for the session, and she describes the intent behind this event as follows: “Watching these two, who have undertaken a wide range of events with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality, I saw how much they enjoyed their work, so by inviting them to speak, I wanted to convey to the audience that going carbon neutral is not something to be endured, but something that can enrich your town as well as your own life. I think it would be great if we could change the entire social system and create a society where people can unconsciously change their behavior while enjoying themselves. This session was meaningful because we could discuss matters like this with all the participants. I was also reminded of the importance of this project because I came to understand that society will not change if we all just sit by and wait; we need to change the system from the ground up.”

Aiming to become a hands-on government official

Looking back, Kubozono says she has achieved significant growth by pursuing all of these initiatives one-by-one. “It's interesting to see how my horizons have broadened and how the way I view society has changed by learning about different values. The foundation for this was covering workshops and training sessions as a student writer. Then, the experience of meeting and working with many different people and learning a great deal from them led me to take the next steps, like planning the OIC Connéct session and the youth session in Hungary.”
Kubozono says her goal for the future is to become a government official. “My goal is to use my experience become a hands-on government official who can understand what the people in a community value. I want to keep learning so I can understand the different perspectives that different people have.” We look forward to the day when Kubozono creates that “enjoyable” mechanism that will change society for the better.


Mana Kubozono
Kubozono graduated from Kagoshima Prefectural Tsurumaru High School. She has enjoyed playing volleyball since the first grade of elementary school and served as the captain of both her junior high and high school teams. She also likes to watch comedy shows and listen to the radio. She says these are a good change of pace because they allow her to empty her mind.
Her favorite saying is a quote from Dr. Stephen Hawking, who said “Life would be tragic if it weren't funny.” She says it’s important to keep a sense of humor and fun in everything she does.


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