|Tikhotskaya I.S. Ecological problems in Japan: between past and future|
Ecological problems in Japan: between past and future
After short historical introduction the author analyses the features of Japanese approach to the solution of ecological problems and ecological knowledge dissemination, ecological legislation as well as ecological footprint of mankind in whole and of Japan.
Keywords: ecological problems, ecological footprint, environment protection, ecological legislation, ecological optimization, recycling society, sound material society, sound material resources.
Environmental care (EC) has turned into one of the most pressing present-day issues - the very existence of people on our planet depends on its solution. The need to upkeep sustainable economic growth that leads to natural resources' depletion, and the mass production and mass consumption society that has formed in the overwhelming majority of countries, the consequence of which is a huge amount of waste, has led to the emergence of acute environmental problems that have never been known to mankind before. Ecological problems consist in the natural environment change as a result of man-caused impact that disrupts the structure and functioning of nature.
In the precapitalist development period, there were no such problems in Japan, and not only because industrial production was still insignificant, and therefore there was no high concentration of production capacities and population in a limited territory. The thing is that in the conditions of a small island territory and limited resource stocks, there has been a long-standing trend for saving them. The need for quick proper handling the waste was dictated by the country's warm and humid climate and also by the absence of "boundless expanses" in it.
The "recycling society", which Japan has been striving to create since the second half of the last century, had actually formed in Japan back in the precapitalist period of development. Thus, ancient Japan already had a system of recycling of objects. For example, when the capital was moved from Fujiwara to Nara, wooden poles and tiles were also transported there, and wooden tablets used for writing - mokkan, the oldest of which date back to the middle of the 7th century, were used many times, because unlike the bamboo ones that were used in China, they were suitable for scraping old writings and making new ones. In addition, information was written on both sides of them. Moreover, writing between the lines of no longer needed documents was also practiced for writing skills training .
The Edo period (1603-1867) can serve as an example of a rational waste policy - it was a society in which all waste products were used. Japan, due to its almost complete isolation from the outside world from the beginning of the 17th century until the middle of the 19th century had to rely on its own resources and as a result - to aim at their economical and reasonable use. That is, the concept of recycling and way of living in accordance with the idea of a "closed cycle" naturally came into existence there . Since it is a country of rice culture, a vivid example is the use of everything that remains after rice harvesting. The traditional tatami mats, which cover the floor, the light sandals zori were made from rice straw, which was also used as fuel and fertilizer. There were many workshops in the country for recycling household and kitchen utensils, umbrellas; many resources were reused, peasants even collected sewage water, which was used as fertilizer. And the content of toilets was so highly valued that the peasants bought feces and used them as fertilizers after fermentation in special lidded pits near the fields (this technology made infectious diseases such like plague and cholera relatively rare in Japan, contrary to Europe that experienced epidemics). This practice stimulated the development of sound material cycle links between the city and surrounding villages, contributed to the development of both cities and villages. This is also an example of an effective economic and ecological cycle . Monasteries also participated in this exchange. For example, in the territory of a Buddhist monastery in Kyoto, many of whose buildings have been turned into a museum, the visitors can see a pavilion with several rows of round holes - once a latrine for monks. And the feces' prices depended on the social status of the people: the content of substances in them most valuable for fields' fertilizing differed depending on what kind of food was consumed. Thus, according to Japanese researcher Kurokawa Kazue, the content of nitrogen and phosphorus was higher in the feces of military .
Ecological problems in Japan began to emerge with the beginning of industrial development after the country's "opening" to the West in the second half of the 19th century. The first mention of the environmental problem was associated with copper poisoning as a result of copper getting into the drainage from the Ashio copper mine in Tochigi Prefecture in 1878 . This happened due to floods in the Watarase River basin and inundation of a large area with cultivated land and settlements of the Tochigi and Gumma prefectures. After the local peasants' appeal to the mining company management, they were paid compensation, and the government organized the construction of dams on the Watarase River.
Domination of the industrial production priority concept in the country from the first postwar years, in fact, meant a complete rejection of the centuries-old model of a careful approach to the environment. In the 1950s-1960s, environmental disasters caused by environmental pollution as a result of improper handling of industrial wastes occurred in various parts of the country. They led to the outbreak of several serious diseases: itai-itai (it hurts-it hurts) - a disease associated with deformation of bone tissue causing intolerable pain, the cause of which is chronic intoxication of the body with cadmium salts. For the first time it was diagnosed in Toyama Prefecture in 1950, (although the first manifestations of the disease were recorded as far back as 1912), where the Mitsui company was engaged in the mining of various minerals, including cadmium ores . Discharges of heavy metal salts caused the contamination of the Jinzu River and its tributaries, the waters of which, in addition to fishing, were used to irrigate rice fields. Later, there were victims among the population of the five neighboring prefectures. In 1956, a new disease appeared in the city of Minamata (Kagoshima Prefecture), which was called minamata byo (Minamata disease), which causes poisoning of the body with mercury compounds, which manifests itself in motor disorders, sensory disorders (numbness, tingling). The reason for this was contamination of the Minamata Bay with mercury as a result of waste discharge from a chemical plant of Chisso Corporation. In Niigata Prefecture, the same disease appeared in 1965. The reason for the outbreak was the Showa Denko chemical plant in the Kanose village that discharged wastewater into the Agano River. The construction in 1956 of the first petrochemical complex in Japan that included an oil refinery and a petrochemical plant and thermal power plants (TPPs), in 1956 in the city of Yokkaichi (Mie Prefecture) led to the appearance of smog containing oxides of sulfur and nitrogen, which provoked chronic lung and upper respiratory tract diseases, including asthma, among local residents. The complex of these diseases was unified under the term "Yokkaichi asthma". The above listed diseases were named in Japan "four major diseases caused by environmental pollution due to improper handling of industrial wastes" (yongai kogai-byo) .
However, Japan had to face the most severe ecological problem at the turn of the 1960s-1970s. This was the result of the Japanese "economic miracle" - an unprecedentedly high rate of the country's economic development, which stemmed from the production growth in the heavy industry sectors, which are characterized by a high pollution level and the formation of large amounts of waste. Coal-fired power plants also made their contribution to pollution. The transformation of the Japanese citizens' perception in the course of the consumer society development also demonstrated the rejection of the old traditions. Gradually, a careful and rational attitude to things in the conditions of growing incomes was more and more driven out by the desire to replace old things with new ones, the urge to purchase goods with new properties, which was to a considerable extent promoted by advertising. This led to the daily formation of huge amounts of household waste. The development of the leisure industry, which leads to a high concentration of people in a limited area, also made its negative contribution to the aggravation of the household waste problem.
Taking into account the peculiarities of the territorial structure of the economy and settlement, which is characterized by a particularly high industry concentration in the Pacific industrial belt, the environment pollution problem, which manifests itself in upsetting ecological balance, has aggravated. In addition to chemical, biological, thermal pollution, the country experienced a change in the physical state of the environment - noise, vibration, electromagnetic, light and radioactive contamination. It was then that the word kogai (literally meaning "public nuisance"), which became synonymous with "environmental pollution," entered the world lexicon.
Discharges of waste and sewage caused a high degree of pollution of water reservoirs with lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, phosphorus, nitrogen and other organic compounds. This resulted in the shortage of fresh water both for industrial production and the population. The Pacific coastal waters, especially around large ports with enterprises, were contaminated with oil and petroleum residues. The struggle against the odor nuisance, as well as soil pollution, has become a serious problem - as hazardous substances accumulate in the soil and subsequently get into agricultural products. In urban areas, noise became a real environmental disaster - more than one-third of all public complaints were about environmental pollution in 1970,  the sources of which were different: industrial enterprises, construction sites, transport (especially along highways and railways, which are areas with a very large population), as well as entertainment facilities.
To overcome the environmental crisis in Japan, a variety of measures have been taken - from the introduction of strict legislation that regulates environmental pollution by enterprises and establishes the three Ps principle (Pollution Producer Pays, the polluter pays) and imposes responsibility for the household waste disposal on municipal authorities, to the awareness-raising activities among the population. To this end, special information booklets are currently constantly distributed, media advertisements placed, banners hung in stores in Japan; pickups equipped with loudspeakers that move between houses at a low speed and urge the people to scrap the items they no longer need are also used.
In the first half of the 1970s, the system of environmental authorities was established in the country, including the Environmental Care (EC) Directorate (1971, which was transformed into a ministry in 2001). In the mid-1970s, the EC quality management came to the fore, and since then the environmental policy includes a combination of administrative (norms, the introduction of product quality and environmental standards, monitoring, environmental expertise, agreements between local power bodies and enterprises on pollution control, the environmental conflicts' arbitration system) and financial and economic measures (preferential loans, tax incentives, fines, contributions). Somewhat earlier, in 1969, the Consumers Union of Japan was founded in order to address the populations' health problems arising from the misconduct of companies, because it was the unrestrained economic development that was thought to be the cause of outbreaks of diseases (in the 1970s, the Union led the opposition to the nuclear power industry development, conducted anti-nuclear campaigns).
Among the main Japanese laws designed to protect the environment from pollution are the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control (1967), the Environment Protection Act (1972) and the Basic Environment Law (1993) (which became known as the Constitution of Japan's environmental legislation), which proclaimed the creation of a sustainable development society. Since 1984, the White Paper on the Environment has been regularly published in the country.
A strict environmental policy, which has turned into an independent direction of the state policy and which is based on the organizational and legal, financial, material and scientific fundamentals of the environment protection, has proved to be effective in the conditions of Japan, and the ecological situation in the country has significantly improved. The discharge of hazardous substances by enterprises and vehicles has significantly decreased (primarily owing to the introduction of more advanced technologies and equipment), the segregated household waste collection was gradually spreading more widely, and as a result of this, Japanese cities are now distinguished by purity against the background of others. After the 1970s, the spread of the above-mentioned four diseases significantly slowed down. So, as early as at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, the environmental situation in Japan turned from adverse into fairly favorable. For example, in 1995, carbon dioxide emissions in the country amounted to 5% of global emissions, compared to 24% in the United States, 14% in China and 13% in Europe in general (although the UK and Germany were more successful - 2.4% and 3.7% respectively). Air pollution per capita also declined in Japan much more considerably than in other developed countries. The ecological situation improvement was also promoted by the structural reorganization of the Japanese economy and moving of industrial enterprises, especially the "dirty" production facilities, abroad - thus cutting the share of power-consuming and material-intensive industries decreased the burden on the environment. Active promotion of environmental knowledge, the spread of segregated waste collection and other measures contributed to citizens' more conscious approach to the environment protection. As a result, the annual amount of household waste in Japan stabilized at 52 million tonnes from 1995, and from 2010 - at 45 million tonnes (the highest rates are recorded in larger populated areas - in major urban agglomerations and large prefectures (Hokkaido).
The creation in 1993 of the Minamata Disease Municipal Museum serves as an example of how the Japanese transform the most severely damaged by pollution territories and seek to promote environmental knowledge (and what is their desire to solve environmental problems). It is built on reclaimed land in the Minamata Bay from where contaminated soil was removed and replaced. The museum plays a large educational role, about 700 thousand people, not only from Japan (including groups of schoolchildren and students from different prefectures of the country), but also from 175 different countries have visited it. The museum exhibits give the idea of what the environment is, highlight problems associated with its pollution, and also explain the human rights basics. The city of Toyama became an official ecotown in 2001, and in 2008 - a "model ecotown" in the category of small settlements (its population is 26 thousand people). In 2012, the Ita-itai Disease Museum was opened here, which was visited by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in autumn 2015 .
Strict control over conservation areas, activities aimed at the conservation of natural ecosystems, flora and fauna (including regular surveys of the state of nature every 5 years) also contribute to controlling the man-induced impact in general. Japan has three types of nature parks. These are the national parks, created in exceptional places, the nature of which is Japan's nationwide asset (the most famous of which are Fuji-Hakone-Izu, Nikko and Shikotsu-Toya); then the natural parks, equaled with the national (so-called quasi-national) - the natural objects, inferior in value to those protected in the national parks, but also having national importance. There are also prefectural nature parks that serve the purpose of protecting natural sites characteristic of a particular locality. There are 396 natural parks with a total area exceeding 53 thousand square kilometers (about 15% of the country's territory!) in Japan: 31 national, 56 "quasi-national" and 309 prefectural. Marine natural parks for protecting coastal waters and coastal areas have been created in the overwhelming majority of Japan's national and more than half of "quasi-national" parks. Part of the Japan's Inland Sea with islands in it (Setonaikai) was declared the first national park in 1934.
Natural parks play an important role in preserving natural ecosystems in Japan and serve as a recreation place for people. Any activity in them is strictly regulated, about one-third of their territory is considered especially protected. Any activity that may cause physical or aesthetic damage to nature is prohibited there. Any works in such zones require a special permit from the Ministry of the Environment (for the national and "quasi-national" parks) or from the governor (as regards the prefectural parks).
The importance of ecological optimization has increased in urban planning. Since 1992, Japan has been implementing a special program against global warming, which envisages such measures as urban greening and the creation of park areas, transport systems with relatively low levels of carbon dioxide emissions, more efficient and economical energy consumption in public places (installation of motion sensors for switching on and off lights, air conditioning), priority introduction of the most environmentally friendly machines and equipment, promoting the use of more "ecologically clean" energy sources.
However, the environment protection is a problem, the solution of which requires constant efforts. In addition, technological advances and technological progress have a downside. Thus, they have increased the danger to the environment caused by electronic radiation, radioactive contamination and pollution with rare chemical elements and their compounds, the possibility of the emergence of new, including dangerous to humans, biological species as a result of genetic manipulations. The active building of artificial islands, especially in the waters near large cities also disrupts the natural ecosystems, which gives rise to concern among the environmentalists. The Japanese public, concerned about the possibility of a new ecological crisis, with even more dangerous consequences, advocates for the further improvement of control over the state of the environment, reorienting the environmental policy from damage reparation to prevention. Since the late 1990s, the toughening up of environmental legislation has taken place. The following laws were passed: the Environmental Impact Assessment Law (1997), the Green Purchasing Law (2000), the Act on Enhancing Motivation on Environmental Conservation and Promoting of Environmental Education (2003), the Law on the Promotion of Business Activities with Environmental Consideration by Specified Corporations, etc., by Facilitating Access to Environmental Information, and Other Measures (2004) .
The development of an innovative concept in Japan and the adoption on its basis in 2000 of the Basic Act on Establishing a Sound Material-Cycle Society is of major importance in terms of environmental load reduction. This is a society, based on the traditional Japanese concept of mottainai, which "lays down the principles of handling products, wastes and reusable materials, as well as ensures the appropriate material cycle in nature" . This law is also based on the "3R" principle formalized in legislation in 1992: reduce, reuse, recycle (waste reduction, reuse and recycling) . Now the third fundamental plan for the creation of a society with a sound material cycle is being implemented in the country, in which a new term is introduced - junkan shigen (resources of a sound material cycle). This is the evidence of the transition to a new stage in the advancement to a new type of society in which recycling is measured qualitatively (by reducing the circulation of natural resources and reducing the environmental load), and not only quantitatively .
Since the summer of 2005, the country has been developing the Cool Biz campaign, initiated by the Ministry of the Environment, aimed at reducing electricity consumption during the period of active use of air conditioners. The program recommends setting the air-cooling temperature at least at 28° C (initially in the period from June to September, but after the Great Earthquake in East Japan in 2011 - from May to October). To this end, a strict dress code was canceled in government offices and wearing light trousers and short-sleeved shirts without a tie instead of strict suits was allowed. (According to the 2009 survey, 92% of respondents knew about the campaign and 57% participated in it.) Starting the same year's autumn, the Warm Biz campaign was launched in the country, calling for setting the heating temperature in air conditioners below 20° C, dressing warmer, consuming hot meals, especially root vegetables and ginger, which "warm up the body." (Tea with ginger and honey with ginger, and a honey drink with ginger are sold during the cold season in Japan, and in the streets, especially in the evenings, it is possible to see sometimes small truck-vans with a smoking stove - selling stone-roasted sweet potatoes, called ishi-yaki-imo). However, unlike the first campaign, the second one did not become widespread until the autumn of 2011, when in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant the danger of electricity shortages arose. Wearing warm underwear has always been common in Japan, and the latest developments have made it possible to create new thin fabrics which warm the body better than the ordinary ones by reducing heat losses caused by moisture evaporation (such products made by Uniqlo company have already become very popular in many countries).
Japan is an active participant in international cooperation in the ecological sphere, following the change in the current environmental situation, adjusting its policies and seeking to spread its achievements around the world. The main current problems of the environmental policy in Japan at the present stage are, above all, global problems: climate warming and depletion of the ozone layer, preservation of the natural environment biodiversity. Everything that is of paramount importance for the creation of a favorable ecological environment in the country is important for settling them: the protection of the atmosphere, water and soil from pollution, prevention of the risk of chemical agents' getting into the environment, waste management and development of a sound material cycle, as well as participation in international cooperation.
In the early 1990s, William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel proposed using the so-called ecological footprint (EF) as an indicator for assessing the anthropogenic load on the environment . This is a conditional concept reflecting the consumption of the biosphere resources by humankind: the area of biologically productive land and the water area necessary for the production of resources used by people and the absorption and processing of waste (that is, two main factors - natural resource consumption and pollution of the environment are taken into account). EF is measured in global hectares (gha) - standing for a hectare of land or water area with the global average resource production and waste utilization capacity. EF, despite certain shortcomings, covers the main parameters of human impact on the environment and is an indicator of sustainable development. If in 1961 humanity used less than half of the biosphere's reproduction capacity, then starting from the 1970s it exceeded it: the so-called annual demand for renewable resources exceeds what the Earth can generate each year. The consequences of this "overshoot" lead to natural capital depletion, and signs of impending collapse are already visible in the form of global environmental problems, as well as environmental depletion, including depletion of fish and forest resources. The world population and economy continue to grow, along with the increasing consumption of "ecological capital", which increases humanity's EF, while the Earth's biocapacity is declining (resources are shrinking and competition for them is increasing). If previously only cities and individual countries were experiencing biocapacity deficit, then now it is felt to a greater or lesser extent throughout the world.
In 2009, the demand for resources was 1.5 times higher than the planet could restore, and this 2 times exceeds the level of 1961, when the population was using ¾ of the Earth's biocapacity. Over the recent decades, carbon has been the main and fastest growing component of human EF. In 1961, carbon dioxide accounted for 35% of the total EF of humanity, and in 2009 it increased to 55%. In 2009, the Earth's biocapacity was estimated at 12 billion gha, and EF of humankind as a whole exceeded 17.7 billion gha, hence these indicators per capita stood at 1.8 and 2.6 gha respectively. The signs of global overconsumption of environmental capital are manifested in droughts and climate change, depletion of fish stocks, deforestation, soil erosion. The notion "overshoot day", which marks the point where people exhaust the natural resource stock produced by the planet for the year has been introduced. In 2013, this day fell on August 20, and in 2015 - on August 13  - a week's difference in just two years!
Japan's EF by the 1990s grew almost 3 times compared with 1961. Since the mid-1990s, thanks to the strengthening of targeted efforts for the adoption of the sustainable development concept and the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, it has been reduced (both in general and per capita terms). However, it still remains high, although lower than the average in the so-called golden billion countries, as evidenced by the following data (EF of high-income countries; in parentheses - in Japan):
As you can see, the main source of EF is people's everyday life. This means that EF is highly dependent on the pattern of life and consumer behavior of citizens. The EF value and structure are under the great influence of the socio-economic factors, income level, consumed food items, goods and services, as well as produced waste - all this becomes part of the country's EF.
Japan, which had once borrowed a lot, is now tirelessly amazing the world with its innovative endeavors. One of the innovations that increasingly attracts attention to Japan is the so-called sarupa (Salpa, abbreviated from Salvage Parties), at which a professional chef prepares high-quality dishes from products brought by the party participants from home, which they no longer need for various reasons. The name is linked to the fact that thus they "save" the products that otherwise would have been thrown out. The author of this concept is Hirai Satoshi who started to put it into practice in 2013 with the aim of prompting people to think about how many good products are wasted . The movement has gained popularity and begun to spread throughout the country.
While, according to FAO data as of the beginning of 2015, there were 795 million undernourished people worldwide , one-third of the globally produced food is wasted. In Japan, the food waste amount reaches some 5-8 million tonnes per year, while the country's food self-sufficiency is the lowest among the developed nations (39%) and continues to decline, despite the statements on the need to increase it. The better part of food waste is produced by households and its collection from them is much more problematic than from catering establishments, shops, etc. The sarupa initiative, if it becomes widespread (even now it is gaining popularity in Japan, especially among housewives, as well as during various city public events; it is advertised on television, in newspapers and magazines) may greatly contribute to reducing food waste in the country that has abundance of all kinds of products.
Nutritional habits of people have a major influence on the biosphere needs. Sticking to a vegetarian diet reduces EF 14 times on average compared to a meat diet. The food EF in Japan is rather low - 0.8 gha; it is the highest in Denmark - 2 gha; EF has a very low value in Mozambique (0.3 gha) which is indicative of malnutrition, because although the Japanese began to eat more meat, they consume a lot of vegetables, fruit and fish, and their average per capita consumption there is only 2780 kcal (Austria with 3,800 kcal is the world leader in this respect) with sufficient nutrition . The diet of Japanese is diverse and healthy. However, Japan as a country heavily dependent on food imports is in desperate need of reducing food waste. By excluding its formation alone, the country can reduce its EF by 25%.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, which has had many negative consequences, has caused a decrease in the country's biocapacity. The large-scale (and necessary!) cleanup of fields, forests and villages exposed to radioactive contamination initiated by the Japanese government is causing concern among experts - too much pressure on the environment may lead to the emergence of other ecological problems.
The ability to address urgent environmental problems is increasingly becoming the determining factor on which economic success depends. As for EF, although it is not devoid of shortcomings and, in the opinion of many scientists and analysts, needs a revision, its calculation (including the individual footprint of each person) and the desire to reduce it offer an aid in the overall environmental strategy. Although Japan has a relatively low EF, it has a high dependence on external biocapacity for resource provision and is an environmental "debtor." This fact forces it to exert efforts with the aim to improve the ecological situation in the whole world as well. It seeks to achieve sustainable development and wants to serve as a model for the East Asian region and all other countries. It aims to mitigate environmental problems and create a model of a sustainable society through the use of its unique, centuries-old knowledge and combining it with modern technologies and trained human resources.
A group of Japanese ecologists has worked out recommendations the observance of which in everyday life by each person can to a large extent contribute to solving environmental problems. They are as follows: to unplug electrical appliances after use; increase / lower the temperature in air conditioners (keep it in summer time at least at 28º C, and in winter not above 20º C); refuse from excessive packaging; not to step on the gas when starting the engine; save water by more frequently closing the tap - during washing hands, dishes, teeth cleaning (in the latter case it is preferable to use a glass).
Being among the first countries to declare ecological safety of its territory as one of the priorities for ensuring national security, Japan is insistently moving towards creating a "green superpower" . In addition to the natural factors and high concentration of economic activity and population in a small area, the traditional closeness to nature characteristic of Japanese, as well as their specific ecological thinking have played a role. "Eco symbiosis" (or "coexistence with nature") has become one of the key words in Japan also in the planning and development of urban areas. The ecological component plays an increasingly important role in improving the economy's efficiency and the population's life quality. It is well understood in Japanese society that many ecological costs have an increasing tendency to turn into an economic category: favorable environmental living conditions are not only people's quality of living requirements, but are also necessary for the functioning of high-tech industries.
This, however, does not mean that all problems in the country have been resolved. The very existence of people on the planet depends on constant environmental conservation efforts, therefore waste management is of paramount importance. If initially the waste problem solution was seen mainly in getting rid of waste by all means (incineration, landfill, dumping into the sea, etc.), then later the concept of a recycling society was developed, which grew into the concept of a sound material cycle society proposed by Japan [1-5]. In 2013, the country adopted the Third Plan for its implementation. Although there are still many problems to be solved, even now it is fair to assume that in the 21st century Japan will be attracting the attention of the whole world, and, similar to its models of economic growth and labor management in the 20th century, many countries will be adopting its experience in the field of environment conservation.
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Tikhotskaya Irina S., Ph.D. (Economics), Associate Professor, Faculty of Geography, Lomonosov Moscow State University. E-mail:
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 Everything in the world is godsend, and it is a sin to waste, lose or throw away anything.
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