Kengo Okada's Japanese manga book "Little Orca's 5000 Mile Journey" is surprisingly touching as it explores how the boundaries that separate us can also bring us together.
Okada, CEO of Ripro Corp., the world's largest manufacturer of plastic survey markers, was inspired to write the book after one of his company's survey markers traversed the Pacific Ocean after the 2011 tsunami.
Survey markers, which look like stakes, are marked with numbers and characters that carry important information about the location of the stake and what it marks.
When Tom Averna retrieved the survey stake in Orcas Island, off the coast of Seattle., he saw Japanese characters on it and realized how far it must have come. The story made the national news.
John Hohol, president of the International Federation of Surveyors, saw the story on TV news, and he recognized the stake as being made by Ripro. He phoned Okada, whom he had worked with in the past, and told that the stake had traveled halfway across the world.
Okada traveled to Seattle to retrieve the survey marker and a new friendship developed, not only with Tom Averna but also between the people of Hidaka, the small town in Japan where the marker had been staked, and the people of Orcas Island.
Okada has worked for Ripro since 2001 and is philosophical about the meaning of his products.
"These years, Japanese young people are not as open-minded about other foreign countries. I want my kid to go abroad and see other countries and have friends around the world. That's why I wrote this book about a stake that goes on an adventure. Even a stake can go to adventure to [the] U.S. and meet people and create a friendship."
In the book, Okada gives the stake a name and a personality, as he describes the harrowing journey it took and imagines how it might have ended up in Seattle.
Okada, whose own son was born in 2011, wants young people to have a better understanding not only about the importance of using recycled materials — Ripro's products are made from recycled PET and polypropylene — and about ocean waste.
"If there had been no tsunami, there would be no story. The tsunami brought a lot of ocean debris to the U.S. I have responsibility for all our products, and that's why I visited the U.S.," he said.
Okada and a friend who works for Japan's famed Gibli Studios are working on a second manga book, again on the topic of ocean waste and survey markers.
"Our survey markers are boundary stakes," he explained. "Boundary stakes make good relations between countries, but sometimes boundary markers can make war. I wish for peace."
In this day and age, when sometimes it seems there is more to separate us than bring us together, a book like "Little Orca's 5000 Mile Journey" can remind all of us to look for the things that bring us together, rather than the things that pull us apart.
Kanthor is a Plastics News correspondent based in Shanghai.