Photo/IllutrationSunset on the Chichibugahama beach in Mitoyo city, Kagawa Prefecture (Uchida Hikaru)

July 15 was "Umi no Hi" (Ocean Day), a Japanese national holiday that falls on the third Monday in July.

Beaches and ocean waves are common enough poetic themes, but the sentimentalism of "Yashi no Mi" (Coconut), by poet/author Toson Shimazaki (1872-1943), is one of a kind.

The poem goes like this: "From a faraway island whose name I don't know/ A coconut has drifted to this shore/ How many months have you been bobbing on the waves/ Since you left your home shore?"

The notion that the ocean "connects" one with a distant world inspired the poet to visualize the land of the coconut's birth. He goes on: "Is your tree still standing and flourishing?/ Are its branches still providing shade?"

I'm sure many people can relate to Shimazaki's musings, recalling how they themselves once stood on the shore one summer day and wondered about what lay beyond the vast watery expanse.

You can't draw a line in the ocean. This thought has become firmly fixed in my mind of late, and that's not because of something endearingly idyllic like a lone coconut, unfortunately.

It has to do with plastic trash ending up in the seas around the world.

According to one projection, the volume of the garbage will continue to grow until it tops the total volume of fish in 2050. Obviously, the situation calls for global intervention.

I visited Germany recently and discovered stores there no longer give out plastic shopping bags. When I asked for one for my purchase, I was offered a paper bag for a fee.

A survey by a United Nations organ found that the United States leads the world in per-capita volume of discarded single-use plastic items, followed by Japan. Consumers in these countries have a lot of catching up to do with their German counterparts.

Next time we shop or eat out, let's picture in our minds the pristine blue seas we have seen while on holiday, or remember from back in our old hometown. This will perhaps better incline us to say, "No, thank you" to the checkout clerk when we are handed a plastic bag or straw.

Or rather, we should probably force ourselves to recall images of the huge masses of plastic garbage ingested by dead whales.

Shimazaki's poem goes on to depict a sunset on the beach: "Watching the sun setting in the sea/ Tears streak down my cheeks in this foreign land."

Marine pollution makes us want to cry. But there are things we can do to wipe away and stop the tears.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 15

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.