7 Eco-Tips I Learned From Living in Japan

The natural world in Japan is cherished. Life in Japan revolves around the four seasons and the inherent preservation of the environment is a part of Japanese culture.

Kyoto Gardens Japan

As a foreign national living abroad in Japan for three years, I was able to learn how environmentally progressive practices and customs are ingrained in Japanese society. Many of the fundamental habits that come so naturally to the Japanese person were of wonder to my North American ways. It was a complete culture shock. With little daily thought to how connected these practices are to the environmental impact of the earth, the Japanese lifestyle is devoted to the preservation of their environment through the simple actions performed each day.

Here I share with you seven of the most eye-opening eco-practices that I learned in life while working in Japan. These practices are rooted in the habit and culture of Japan.

 1. Public Transportation is King

From the CEO of the company to the doorman, everyone in Japan uses public transportation. The system is so efficient, that taking the car is more time-consuming and burdensome. Trains and buses run so accurately, that even two minutes off schedule is shocking. Train lines are so ubiquitous that even small, country towns rely on public transit to get around. The widespread use of public transportation in Japan cuts down immensely on the carbon footprint given the population of 126 million people, and the population density of 347 people per square km (compared with that of the USA at 36 people per square km).

There is a whole etiquette on how to use a train in Japan. If you are a frequent train user while traveling you can see the differences between Japan lifestyle to other countries in Europe and America for example.

Ueno Station, Japan

2. Quality Over Quantity

The Japanese family would much rather save up for something of quality than purchase the least expensive option. This focus on quality adds to sustainability on many fronts. Goods last longer, are used more, and need to be replaced much less. When broken, torn, or ripped, it is more culturally acceptable to focus on repairing over repurchasing which is paramount. The desire for only quality goods contributes to less waste and less need for new products to be manufactured.

3. Local and Controlled Heating and Cooling

In Bill Gates’ book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”, he details how we need to adopt better practices for increasing and decreasing temperatures for us to reach zero by the year 2050. The heating and cooling of households and workplaces in Japan are much more effective than in North America. The Japanese house is often divided into smaller rooms and components. This is done to provide more efficiency when it comes to having the right temperature for the rooms. Japanese customs have it that adjust only the room that you are currently using.

Heat is also offered locally. For example, rather than heating the whole bathroom, only the toilet seat is heated. Another example would be how low-lying kitchen tables are heated from underneath with a blanket draped around them to preserve the heat from escaping.

Japanese companies also practice something called “Cool Biz”, where employees agree to wear less restrictive clothing in the summer to keep the air conditioner at a maximum of 28C or 82F.

4. The Small Portions of Meat

The Japanese do enjoy a very balanced diet. Food is regarded as sacred, and time for eating is carved out of even the busiest of working hours. Bento Boxes are eaten with a large variety of different foods at mealtimes, sometimes even up to 15 very small dishes of noodles, sushi, and rice that are served together in one bento box. Raising livestock in rural areas is a large contributor to the effects of the environment, and the need for only small portions is a huge difference in mentality compared to the North American diet. Less meat per person means a lower footprint overall.

5. Water is Often Used Twice

The evening bath in Japan is a common cultural practice that continues to this day. Bathwater is often used for the whole family. While North Americans may think of this as gross, the Japanese make sure to wash and clean themselves before immersing themselves in the family bathwater.

Water is often recycled within the home. My apartment while living in Japan also had a spout from the top of the toilet to wash hands before being used to flush the toilet. Some of the sinks in kitchens also recycle the water after being used for other areas of the home, such as the toilet and garden.

Japan Water Recycling

6. Litter is Nonexistent

The streets in Japanese cities are cleaner than the streets in Canada! Littering in Japan is akin to wearing your street shoes in your home…it’s just not done! Leaving garbage on the street is so frowned upon that I once witnessed a Japanese man yell at a Gaijin (foreigner) for throwing a cigarette butt on the sidewalk. Garbage cans and recycling bins are everywhere, making ease of disposal thoughtless. For more information about reducing waste, read “What is Zero Waste? Simple Strategies to Start”.

Japan Litter Deposal

7. Bicycles are EVERYWHERE!

Nagoya, Japan Bike Ride

If you’re not taking the train or a bus, you’re walking or cycling around the city. Cities are designed with ease and efficiency. Long lines of bicycle racks are everywhere, and biking for safety is encouraged and accepted. The bike culture in Japan allows for less dependence on traditional modes of transportation and leads to fewer emissions and less carbon overall. The ease of cycling also leads to a healthier society and overall benefits for the environment.

The Future of Eco-Japan

Many of the traditional practices in Japan are eco-oriented, yet as a developed nation, Japan still requires some work to reach the current global goals. As a G7 country, the Japanese government has pledged to commit to zero emissions by 2050. As Japan continues to develop and adopt new and innovative technologies, it will only seek to improve its global impact.

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