Seeing and experiencing the richness of another culture is one of many benefits of living in Japan. I am so amazed sometimes at how different the daily routine is between the American and Japanese cultures . Of course I am fascinated by the smaller living spaces, the safety, and the food, just to name a few things. But, oddly enough, one thing that I find quite thought-provoking is that recycling is a completely normal routine. I wonder how on Earth this country is able to get the vast majority of it’s people to recycle.
I think this mentality exists for a few reasons. Number one, Japan is a small country with lots of people. As a result, I think many Japanese are used to living in smaller spaces and are used to being more mindful about how they consume. There is a Japanese saying that I hear many of my adult students use the phrase “もったいない” or “Mottai nai” which means wasteful. If someone were to do something like throwing trash on a train floor, driving to a store that’s a three-minute walk away, or anything similar, you might hear this phrase.
The second reason I believe may have something to do with World War II. Many of my older students say that essentials were quite scarce in post war Japan. Several students mentioned that getting good toilet paper was difficult (Why toilet paper? I don’t really know exactly). Anyway, living in conditions of scarcity can sometimes have a major effect on a person’s value system. Having to want for things can make you more appreciative of what you have…when you actually get it (this theory can also work in reverse). Japan now has one of the strongest economies in the world, but it’s one of the most humble, most conservative, most economical societies that I’ve ever seen.
I remember trying to recycle in my hometown, and people would literally laugh at me…so I stopped doing it. It’s just not the case here. I don’t consider myself to be “green” by any stretch of the imagination, but I recycle everyday…just like my neighbors do. There’s really no thinking involve; you know which days to set out which trash items, and you just do it. One of the first items I received when I moved to Ibaraki, was a trash schedule:
As you can see, it’s details which items are to be thrown out on which days. Occasionally you do find the wrong garbage sitting out on the wrong day, but trash people will actually leave it right there until it’s proper pickup day comes around. It’s pretty different from what I’m used to.
Honestly, I find it so refreshing to live in a place where people have such a respect for the environment around them. It’s definitely having an effect on me…but I think it’s a good thing.