The Paradox of ‘Sustainable Luxury’ in Ecotourism (Belle and Jonina)

At first glance, the phrase ‘sustainable luxury’ appears to be inherently contradictory. How can sustainability, usually associated with concerns over depletion of natural resources, be related to luxury which is often perceived as indulgence, excess and waste? Our news article explores this concept of sustainable luxury by introducing the concept of eco hotels – hotels which are advertised as a stress-free and organic environment for holidayers to escape the bustle of city life. Environmental activist Kazuhiko Nakaishi promotes the importance of running more environmentally friendly businesses as Japan is lagging behind in green tourism as compared with the world. He states that despite marketing the unique experience as well as healthy organic food as the selling point in eco hotels, the price-sensitive Japanese consumers are still focused on convenience. While the Japanese are interested in environmentally-friendly practices, the increase in price is still a deterrent. The issue prompts further investment in eco-friendly practices in Japan to change the country’s culture to be more sustainable. 

Japan is depicted as improving their stance on sustainable practices, albeit at a slower pace than intended. The article cites the Ecotourism Promotion established in 2007 as part of nationwide efforts to encourage both Japanese consumers and tourists to support ecotourism by visiting these eco hotels that offer organic produce and services. Nakaishi intends to increase the number of eco hotels where possible in order to normalise sustainable living practices as an improved lifestyle compared to what it currently is.

The ambitious goal to increase the amount of eco hotels and change overall local consumer trends to be more organic and sustainable can be seen as “green” as it not only raises awareness of environmental issues but addresses the need to change habits of both consumers and companies to choose more environmentally friendly practices despite the increase in cost. There is great emphasis on the fact that Japan is lagging behind in environmental awareness as compared to other places, and that it must be changed as soon as possible to keep up with the rest of the world. Interestingly enough, while Nakaishi invokes the notion of sustainability to encourage consumers to change their consumption patterns by purchasing ecotourism related products and services, he does not make any moves to urge people to curb excessive consumerism as a whole. 

This concept of sustainable luxury by which Nakaishi reconciles his dual roles as environmental activist and hotelier is an extension of Kirby’s (2011) ‘sustainable development’ paradox. Kirby argues that the term is inherently contradictory because the sheer amount of resources required to support the expansion of urban populations will inevitably do devastating damage to ecologies (163). For Kirby, sustainable development is a false compromise that appeases environmentalists while allowing businesses to pursue their commercial activities as long as they appear to be eco-friendly (163). While the article portrays eco hotels as a godsend to the tourism industry for both the environment and consumers who benefit from the ecologically conscious approach, the environmental benefits of the sustainable practices marketed by the eco hotel are contentious. The main focus is on promoting healthier living through strictly organic produce and marketing such organic produce as part of an “organic lifestyle” experience rather than other more important changes that need to be made such as reduction of use of plastic or reliance on environmentally sustainable means of resource acquisition. Ultimately, the message of this article is not that excessive consumption is undesirable, but that there is a way to assuage any guilt about the environmental impact of your consumption by supporting these eco hotels. 

Word Count: 591

References:

Kirby, Peter Wynn. “Constructing Sustainable Japan.” Essay. In Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan, 160–92. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2011. 

Yoshikawa, Mai. “Eat, Sleep and Stay Green at One of Japan’s Eco Hotels.” The Japan Times, November 16, 2019. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2019/11/16/travel/eat-sleep-stay-green-one-japans-eco-hotels/

‘Green’ fishery gear key to ocean plastic problem (Jia An & Laura)

The article introduced the persistent problem of marine plastic with fishing gear contributing to 40% of marine waste washed ashore, far exceeding plastic bottles that contribute just 8%. In an effort to reduce marine plastic waste, corporations attempt to utilise “green” materials for fishing equipment. Bringing up that their green material is biodegradable which reduces the impact of the fishing industry on the environment. Several Japanese companies are focusing on developing environmentally friendly materials for fishing tools and promoting their recycling to tackle this issue.

Sakamoto pointed out the reason why fishing tools represent a large proportion of marine plastic waste in Japan as many in the industry do illegal dumping as opposed to recycling or opting for proper waste management as it is a much cheaper option. Despite being able to sell used gear to recycling companies, few actually do so. While Japan constantly paints a rosy picture of the public’s environmentally sustainable efforts to recycle, as highlighted by Kirby concept of  Japan’s vision to achieve “zero-emissions” by directing waste to recycling companies (Kirby, 2011), certain corporations do not carry the same sentiments as the general public as they place their priorities in maximising profits. The exploitation of nature for economic gains reminds us of the Minamata disaster and we see similarities in how different stakeholders are affected by corporate actions. In the past, fishermen made use of fishing gears produced by the Chisso factory, who in turn released hazardous waste into their waters (Walker, 2010). Today, an even wider spectrum of stakeholders are unknowingly supporting corporations that are polluting their waters. This further highlights Walker’s point that Japan’s industrialisation is also “industrialising” themselves. It seems that plastic generation is seen as a driver of Japan’s development only at the expense of the ecosystem.

The “green” aspect of this article is embodied in highlighting recycling corporations’ efforts in tackling an issue of fishing equipment plastic which is represented as one of the main culprits of marine plastic pollution. In response to Japan’s shift towards more sustainable practices, there has been a rise in recycling corporations venturing into the fishing industry to tackle the issue of plastic pollution. These companies are producing fishing gears with biodegradable materials or offering the service of recycling them. This helps fishermen sustain their livelihoods without harming the environment. One of the companies mentioned, Refinverse, can be seen as an eco meister on a corporate scale as they are able to turn used fishing nets into nylon fibres for clothing and plastic resins as raw material, giving the unwanted items a new life.

This is an example of how “some consumer product makers have started taking action to meet U.N. Sustainable development Goals” as mentioned in the article, highlighting Japan’s underlying shift to adopting “sustainable” business practices due to “Gaiatsu” as discussed by Kirby (2011). Companies in Japan succumbing to foreign pressure also emphasises the workings of a larger, global power, thus reflecting the idea of political ecology as mentioned by Robbins (2007).

However, it is important to note that the “green” alternative to conventional fishing gear does not address the root issue of dumping excessive waste into the waters. This illustrates the concept of anthropocentrism, like how bugs in the Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind represent a kind of inconvenient truth in our discourse about nature. Humans tend to act in their self-interest and dictate what they feel is best for nature.

To conclude, we feel that Japan is undeniably taking steps towards becoming a more sustainable nation. However, it is important to ensure actions tackle the root cause of the problem (marine plastic pollution) and not seek to distract.

Word count: 609

References

Sakamoto, Kanoko (2020, 17 October). ‘Green’ fishery gear key to ocean plastic problems. Nikkei Asia. Retrieved from: https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Environment/Green-fishery-gear-key-to-ocean-plastic-problems

Kirby, Peter. Wynn (2011). “Constructing Sustainable Japan”. In Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan, pp. 160-192. University of Hawai’i Press.

Robbins, Paul (2007). “The Hatchet and the Seed” Political ecology: a critical introduction. Malden MA: Blackwell Pub: 3-16.

Walker, Brett L (2011). Toxic archipelago: a history of industrial disease in Japan. University of Washington Press.

3 Japanese brands innovating products from repurposed waste material (Rachel and Winslow)

The article that we have chosen is titled Waste not Want not in Japanese Design, published by The Japan Times. It features three Japanese design companies which, in their own ways, have creatively innovated products from repurposed various waste materials. In this news review, we shall analyse the authenticity of these “green” initiatives, as well as the ways in which they have been presented in the article. Henceforth, we shall discuss how they reveal Japan’s relationship with the environment in the context of key concepts that have been touched upon in our syllabus.

The common underlying idea that is being reiterated brings out the Japanese spirit of mottainai, which as we learnt has been repopularized in modern times. The act of repurposing excess material that would have otherwise been disposed of, and giving them new life no doubt is a step in the “green” direction. It (ideally) ensures that there is no waste created from the production process by fully utilizing even the by-products. 

What is novel and noteworthy, however, is the capitalization of a virtue that was borne out of the scarcity of resources. Unlike in Mottainai Grandma, which aptly employs an archetypal character from the older generation where people tended to be more frugal, this form of mottainai has evolved with the times and been popularized as a trendy style of its own. We witness that in the article’s mention of the urban portmanteau, “Newsed” (New + Used) as a successful tool for marketing sustainability. Perhaps sustainability needs to be trendy to keep up with the consumerist pressures of modern capitalist Japan. 

The danger in that lies when brands miss the point. We see that in the second exemplar, the Oogiri-Insatsu project. The article dedicates most of its feature to commending the project’s comedic, almost satirical innovations which were inspired by people’s tweets, and the concept that “recycling can fuel the imagination”. Meanwhile the need for sustainability, frugality, or even basic practicality is deemed as secondary or a bonus feature, “whether [the project is] producing practical products from scrap is debatable”. Coupled with the fact that Oogiri-Insatsu was birthed by the Japan Federation of Printing Industry Associations and its PR company, one questions if this is merely another instance of greenwashing or a PR stunt. 

In its final feature, the article introduces social entrepreneurship alongside sustainability – Atte’s project is a touchingly communal effort, “selected by the local government […] as an initiative to help revitalize the 2011 tsunami-struck areas in Ishikawa Prefecture [in collaboration with] the local forestry association”. Upon light investigation, the last initiative emerges to be considerably more transparent and intentional with their sustainability efforts. In addition, the “Ishikawa-inspired designs” can be seen as a form of remembrance of the town’s tragic history, encapsulating loss, pain and the past in nostalgic design. 

One wonders, however, if the project promotes a singular idea of the town – like Minamata, will it be permanently “post-disaster”? Similarly, does it promote a singular idea of nature? In further using the all-purpose, renowned Japanese Cypress hinoki, it possibly runs the risk of creating an aesthetic abstraction that has little relationship to the “nature” of a real ecosystem, perpetuating the anthropocentric view of that nature is to be utilized by humans above all (Totman, 1993). 

Nevertheless, there is some poetic beauty to be found in the fact that the effects of the tsunami –  a humanly-perceived destructive form of nature – are being healed by other regenerative forms of nature such as the “scent and anti-bacterial” character of the hinoki. Coupled with redeeming human efforts of repurposing hinoki chippings and recycling them into paper, it is a truly remarkable initiative that almost seems to come full circle. 

(612 words)

 

References: 

Atte Chou Chou. (2018).  “アッテ・シュシュ – ATTE Chouchou”. Retrieved from atte.jp/chouchou/.

CMYK. (2018). “大喜利印刷”.  Retrieved from oogiri-insatsu.com/.

Kenelephant Company LTD. (2014). “Project Recycle Standard. Retrieved from: corp.kenelephant.co.jp/recycle-standard/.

Yamada, Mio. (2019). “Waste Not Want Not in Japanese Design.” The Japan Times, Retrieved from:  www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2019/12/30/style/recycled-design-japan/.

 

Japan’s eco-friendly chicken and eggs receive new label (Ching May and Wei Song)

This article introduces a new label under the Japanese Agricultural Standard system. According to the article, the initiative has been created to assist shoppers in buying environmentally friendly chicken meat and eggs. To qualify for the label, the products have to be of domestic breed, farmed under less stress and fed with more Japanese-grown feeds. Farms are also required to meet requirements on odor control and recycling, and convert chicken waste into fertilizers and fuel. The label came after ‘demand from private-sector poultry farmers’ and is expected to boost competitiveness of their products. Thus, this label involves the Japanese authority (Ministry of Agricultural, Forestry and Fisheries), farmers and the consumers of the product. 

In this article, the Japanese authority is portrayed as a green ambassador that promotes environmental-friendly consumption and production. By creating a new label that recognises poultry ‘farmed through sustainable means’, Japan not only guides consumers in making more environmentally friendly shopping decisions, but also encourages farmers to adopt farming practises that take less toll on the environment. The new label is arguably green because it is only awarded to chickens and eggs raised in farms that meet recycling standards, such as converting chicken waste into fertilizers and fuel, among other requirements. Through recycling and repurposing waste produced in the process, farms should create less waste in their production of poultry and hence contribute to sustainability. Thus, this label reflects Japanese concern over the environmental impact from the domestic poultry industry.

Upon closer inspection of the label, however, one would notice that it is in fact the product of economic and political calculations. Other than the aforementioned requirements, the rest of the qualifying criteria are not directly related to environmental sustainability. Rather, they are aimed at encouraging consumption of local products and protecting the Japanese agriculture industry from its foreign competitors. The label, therefore, represents a deliberate attempt to interpret sustainability in a way that meets the agenda of specific stakeholders. This is congruent with Kirby’s argument that Japanese institutions have “framed and marketed to the public” the concept of sustainability (2011, p.161). While the idea of sustainability allows various stakeholders to reach a compromisation  (Kirby, 2011, p.163), its vagueness makes it vulnerable to manipulations. This is evident in the case of whaling in which sustainability is being employed by both supporters and anti-whalers to justify their positions. Similarly, sustainability has been appropriated by the Japanese government to reason the creation of a label that protects domestic industry. 

The political backdrop behind the new initiative also confirms that Japan does not have an inherent love for nature. In his analysis of key moments in Japan’s forest history, Totman (2009) demonstrates that it was the desire for development, rather than love for nature, that has guided Japan’s environmental management for centuries. By highlighting that demands from local farmers as the cause that triggered the formulation of the label, the article affirms that economic imperative continues to inform environmental management policies today.

Lastly, the new initiative echoes Robbins’(2007) argument that politics and ecology are inseparable from one another. By instituting the label, the Japanese authorities define and control the standards of sustainable farming. At the same time, the policy “ecologises” the political economic imperative to shelter local farmers, thereby blurring the lines between politics and ecology.

The new label established by the Japanese authority appears to be geared towards promoting a higher level of eco-friendliness in the production of poultry. Yet, closer examination on the different stakeholders raised the question of whether the creation of such a label is truly motivated by eco-consciousness. 

Word Count: 596

Reference:

Kirby, P. W. (2011). Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Matsuo, Y. (2020, January 14. Japan’s eco-friendly chicken and eggs receive new label. NikkeiAsia. https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Agriculture/Japan-s-eco-friendly-chicken-and-eggs-receive-new-label#:~:text=The%20new%20label%20under%20the,waste%20into%20fertilizer%20and%20fuel

Robbins, P. (2007). Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction. London: Blackwell.

Totman, C. (2009). “Japan’s Forests: Good Days and Bad,” —Rhythms of Damage and Recovery. About Japan: A Teacher’s Resource (online resource). Retrieved 29 June, 2020, from https://aboutjapan.japansociety.org/japans_forests_good_days_and_bad_–rhythms_of_damage_and_recovery_-.

Nestle Japan’s Solution Towards Sustainability? (Aqil & FangLing)

Paper packaging for selected KitKat flavours: Hojicha (credits: FangLing)

 

News article link: https://www.insider.com/kit-kat-nestle-replaces-plastic-wrap-with-paper-origami-japan-2019-8

In recent years, plastic waste and pollution have gained much attention and generated numerous head turning headlines; conglomerates such as Nestle are increasingly being held accountable for their prevalent use of plastic packaging. In the bid to reduce plastic waste, Nestle Japan has launched the first paper packaging for their KitKat line, specifically their multipack KitKats. This packaging comes with a gimmick that allows the waste paper to be cut out and used as paper for origami. The packaging even comes with a set of instructions on how to fold a paper crane. The switch to paper sees a reduction of 380 tonnes of plastic, a step away from further plastic pollution.

For Nestle Japan, paper seems to be more desirable since its natural origins stood in stark contrast against man-made plastic. Given the global negative connotation with plastics, this initiative by Nestle would seem appropriate at first glance especially since various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), such as Greenpeace, have been putting pressure on Nestle for their incessant use of single-use plastics across the majority of their product lines. With Nestle offices located globally in more than 80 countries, the paper packaging debut in Japan not only paints and reinforces the country’s image as a sustainable and waste efficient country, this assimilation with origami reiterates the traditional Japanese relationship with paper, further justifying the switch to paper. However, upon closer inspection, one could also question if this move is any different from what KitKat Japan has been doing for years with cardboard outer packaging for certain products. Furthermore, virgin paper is used as the replacement and it can be argued that material burden is not reduced but transferred from the plastic to the forestry industry and countries whom Japan imports virgin pulp from. However, the fact remains that this measure possibly maintains the status quo on single-use packaging or even justifies single-use culture, an argument stressed by Greenpeace (Morgan, 2019), an one that is originally propagated by convenience stores and supermarkets.

The case to popularize paper as a more sustainable alternative by reading into a specific perspective of a traditional Japanese culture – origami, can be argued as an attempt at nihonjinron, nationalist discourse mentioned in Kalland and Asquith (1997). By taking on a global discourse of sustainability (finding sustainable alternatives to plastic), Nestle Japan makes links between global sustainability and the specific origami tradition to reinforce the importance of paper to the Japanese society and paints a “green image” of Japan mentioned earlier. Yet, other historical narratives of paper/forestry such as forestry mismanagement and overexploitation are excluded. Political ecology and the complexity surrounding sustainability mentioned by Kirby are also relevant ideas. Each party involved in Nestle’s move towards plastic waste reduction all have their own definitions of what is considered to be a sustainable alternative to plastics as well as specific motivations as to what waste should be or how it should be produced and treated for recycling (Kirby, 2011). 

Hidden behind the ‘green’ movement are the Japanese paper conglomerates bidding for a share of the green pie. For example, the Nippon Paper Group, one of the top papers and pulp companies in Japan, created a “Paperising Promotion Office” in 2018 to promote “paper culture” across Japan. Oji Holdings, their competitor, could possibly be doing the same by being the supplier of this initiative by Nestle though “paper culture” here can be likened to Waley (2000)’s “river culture” where paper is pitched to be sustainable alternative to plastic much like how images of rivers has been controlled, changed and represented in Japan.

 

References:

Asquith, Pamela J. & Kalland, Arne (1997). Japanese Images of Nature Cultural Perspectives. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Man and Nature in Asia, No. 1, pp. 1-36. Curzon Press.

Morgan Jennifer (2019). We’re going after Nestle. Here’s why. https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/21712/were-going-after-nestle-heres-why/.

Kirby, Peter. Wynn (2011). Constructing Sustainable Japan. In Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan, pp. 160-192. University of Hawai’i Press

Waley, Paul (2000) Following the flow of Japan’s river culture. Japan Forum, Vol. 12, No.2, pp. 199-217. Talyor and Francis. 

Additional resources:

KitKat advertisement for its new paper packaging (in Japanese): https://buzzgang.jp/main/71531

Nestle’s future plans for sustainable packaging: https://www.nestle.com/ask-nestle/environment/answers/greenpeace-break-free-from-plastic-report

Nara has a new way to stop its deer from eating plastic bags (Bernice and Shawn)

In light of several deer deaths caused by tourists’ improper disposal of plastic bags and food wrappers at Nara Park, locals have invented the “shika gami”, or deer paper, able to safely pass through the stomachs of deer without harming them. Hidetoshi Matsukawa, the man behind the product, highlights the importance of the deer in Nara and how they must be “preserved and treated with respect”, but also raises the point that “protecting deer means protecting the economy of Nara”. Furthermore, the “hefty price tag” of the shika gami proves to be a barrier to widespread usage of the product.

Ostensibly, the article showcases the conservationist desire of Nara locals to preserve their local wildlife, although fundamentally for the sake of the economy through the continuous attraction of tourists. Japan is showcased in its nature-loving facet, where its deer should be protected from death by ingesting plastic bags and other rubbish. Despite that, the invention of an eco-friendly paper bag suitable for mass human usage shows progress towards a more sustainable form of consumption. By introducing non-harmful bags made from recycled materials like old milk cartons and rice bran, Nara locals have found a new way to reuse their waste. The initiative of the people in Japan to adopt ideas that align with the sustainable development goals set up by the U.N. is shown. (namely Goal 12 and 15: “Responsible Consumption & Production and Life on Land.)

Similar to how a Hongu man has considered planting fruit trees to attract monkeys to his restaurant so that tourists would patronise his business while photographing the monkeys (Knight 2006, 119), the Nara locals consider deer a major source of revenue through their mere presence, which increases tourist foot traffic in the prefecture,  and allows for locals to profit from shika senbei and deer-related merchandise sales. This, in turn, creates instances of speciesism when their treatment is compared to that of other animals native to Nara. Animals are often attributed with certain roles and attributes in Japanese folklore. In Nara, the deer hold mythological and cultural value as messengers for the Gods. Monkeys, on the other hand, are often anthropomorphized with “human capacities, actions, and desires”, and are often seen as the demonic, monstrous Other (Knight 2006, 86). While deer feeding is largely encouraged by the locals, feeding monkeys on the other hand is actively discouraged, with campaigns instructing against the feedings of monkeys (Inoue 2002, 93).

The article also highlights the vulnerability of Japan’s environment to pollution and waste mismanagement, brought about by Nara Park’s popularity as a tourist destination. However, it also shows how environmental degradation is an acceptable trade-off in exchange for the economical benefits reaped through tourism, a similar sentiment observed in post-war Japan’s bid for the nation’s economic “growth-at-all-cost” (Kirby 2011, 170).  By explicitly stating that the conservation of Nara’s deer is tied to the economic well-being of Nara, it confounds the intent of Nara locals in adopting this ecologically-friendly approach, be it for the benefit of the deer or other stakeholders who are negatively affected by their deaths, but demonstrates their interconnectedness.

Whilst this article portrays Japan’s conservationist stance on protecting local deer, it is also worthy of note that since 2017, Nara has begun its deer culling program in response to the deer’s damaging of local farmers’ fields and rice paddies (Baseel 2017), suggesting that the deer are only appreciated when their “dangerous wild” nature is brought into a controlled, “manageable” context, in what the Nara locals perceive as their “idealised state”, turning on the deer when they threaten human activities (1997 Kalland and Asquith, 14, 16).





Bibliography:
Baseel, C. (2017, August 8). Nara begins deer culling program. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from https://japantoday.com/category/national/Nara-begins-deer-culling-program

Fukuoka, R. (2020, September 24). Nara has a new way to stop its deer from eating plastic bags. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/13715142

Inoue, M. (2002). Yama no Hatake wo Saru Kara Mamoru (Protecting Fields in the Mountains from Monkeys). Nobunkyo, Tokyo. 

Japan For Sustainability. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2020, from https://www.japanfs.org/en/projects/sdgs/index.html

Kalland, A., & Asquith, P. J. (1997). Japanese perceptions of nature. Japanese images of nature: Cultural perspectives.

Kirby, P. (2011). Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan. University of Hawai’i Press. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.

Knight, J. (2006). Monkeys. In Waiting for wolves in Japan: an anthropological study of people-wildlife relations, pp. 84-122

McCurry, J. (2020, October 21). Doe your bit: Japan invents bags deer can eat after plastic-related deaths. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/21/japan-bags-nara-deer-eat-plastic-deaths

Hungry Nara Deer! (Sabrina & Elaine)

The dramatic fall in tourism in Japan due to pandemic restrictions has caused problems for Nara deer. These animals reside in popular tourist attraction, Nara Park. Without tourists to partake in the novelty of feeding crackers, the deer are denied a stable food source. Some appear emaciated.  Having to seek food elsewhere, deer wandered into the city. They graze on shrubs, thereby destroying greenery. As they are accustomed to coexisting with humans, some deer are emboldened to run across roads and enter subway stations, disrupting city life. Locals hope that tourists will return to Nara soon to feed the deer and alleviate these issues (O’Connell. 2020).

Image Taken by Elaine in 2015

This article caught our attention as it demonstrates blurred interactions between humans and animals in Japan and the implications of such relationships. On the surface, visitors see a harmonious and mutually beneficial relationship between man and animal, where man gets entertainment and economic profits, while deer gets food. This is a mirage that we will soon assist in dissipating. 

In the first place, we believe the problem of starving deer should not even exist. Nara deer are traditionally believed to be national treasures and supposedly revered by locals, necessitating conservation. Yet, the lack of food for the deer depicts the conflicting relationship that Japan has with these animals. Different stakeholders (namely: government, locals, tourists) have different aims as to how Nara deer should be managed. The state protection of deer had been tentatively accepted by the other stakeholders. However, this implicit agreement is not without the condition of profit. 

Nara deer serve as a tourist attraction, a commodity for revenue by both locals and government. The tourists are mainly driven by self-indulgence of the novelty of interacting with the “seemingly” tamed deer. The locals benefit from the influx of tourism as a way to make money – without tourists, they have little incentive to care for deer. This can be seen by locals hoping for tourists to return (O’Connell. 2020), rather than feeding the deer themselves and preventing them from reaching starvation. The government aims to preserve the perceived cultural heritage of Nara Park through legal protection of deer. This can be seen in restrictions on culling, where locals are not allowed to manage the increasing population without permits (Otake. 2016). The resultant overwhelming population of 1500 deer has become unsustainable without human intervention to feed them. The deer, in search of food for survival, have no choice but to venture outside of  Nara Park. This would lead to rising tensions between the deer and locals as a result of property damage, traffic jams and injuries. These inconveniences remain relatively unseen in the eyes of visitors. 

The problems faced by the deer got us thinking: who gets to control the deer’s fate? The humans spoke for the deer, controlling whether the deer got to live or die. The voice of the deer had been either absent entirely in the entire discussion or is used as a mouthpiece to further the agendas of humans. For example, the government was able to instill an artificial boundary on the protection extended to the deer; deer outside of the park are allowed to be hunted while the ones within the park are protected by the state. This boundary is obviously not recognised by deer and enforced by humans. This demonstrates the unequal power dynamic between animal and human in Japan. The lives of the animal being dictated on the whim of humans, in this case, the lives of the deer being the property of the state and not themselves. 

(584 words, excluding citations)

References:

Connell, R. O. (2020, March 29). Nara’s deer lonely for humans bearing snacks. Retrieved October 28, 2020, from https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/travel/naras-deer-lonely-for-humans-bearing-snacks

Otake, T. (2016, March 3). Nara to allow some deer to be culled under new management policy. Retrieved October 28, 2020, from https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/03/03/national/nara-allow-deer-culled-new-management-policy/

After 2011 Disaster, Fukushima Embraced Solar Power. The Rest Of Japan Has Not. (Kim & Ya Hui)

The article focuses on former Fukushima residents who began businesses in the renewable energy industry. Their experience of the Fukushima disaster and the life they had spent believing in nuclear power had changed their perspective of nuclear energy completely, having lost their homes in the aftermath. They move forward with a desire to not let the Fukushima nuclear disaster happen again. Unfortunately, although the Japanese government initially started legislation to support the renewable energy industry early in the 2010s by offering incentives for power companies to tap into it and made them pay adequate compensation for the renewable energy producers, they have backtracked on this. This caused the companies to stop accepting alternative energy sources and Japan as a whole became increasingly reliant on fossil fuels than ever before. Even so, the Fukushima residents forge forward despite being the only group pushing for renewable energy, because they wish to protect the future of Japan.

This article represented Japan in how the government and the civilians approached energy production after the nuclear disaster. As mentioned, after the Fukushima disaster, the government took responsibilities to halt nuclear plants and to tariff the renewable energies. This led to a renewable energy-boom by power companies and households living near disaster sites. However, the government stopped the feed-in-tariffs, resulting in the power companies withdrawing from renewable energy. Undeterred, the residents from Futaba town and Iitate in Fukushima prefecture continued their support for solar farms, partly due to their land being contaminated by radioactive materials. This illustrates how Japan’s approaches toward one common event can differ from different stakeholders. This article also partly depicted how interviewees had nostalgia towards their hometown landscapes, regardless of whether it had been affected by the disasters or chosen to be developed. However, the sentence “Lush vegetation creeps over the edges of the surrounding fence” implies the coexistence of nature and solar panels in these areas.

The article argued that the “continuous embracement of solar power in Fukushima” shows the efforts by the residents in replacing nuclear power with renewable energy, thereby constructing the theme of “green” for the article. The interviews with Endo, a solar farm owner in Futaba town, gave an insight into why the locals continued their support for solar farms for the “future Japan”. Japan’s goal of being the “green nation” has also been displayed by the government’s proposals of propelling renewable energy in Japan, even though their backpedaling led to doubts on their commitment. Therefore, the unceasing debates toward energy transformation in Japan and regional attempts to construct a better future, discussed in the article, clearly illustrates why it is “green”.

The news article relates to political ecology, sustainability and nuclear energy. Firstly, it showed that the Japanese government is in control of the relationship between nature and humans, as they are the ones who set the legislations in place by determining what everyone should do in order to reduce their carbon footprint (Robbins, 2007). In the article, the government determines the direction of Japan’s energy usage with policies that may aid or hinder their progress towards sustainability. Initially, they made it easier for people to start renewable energy businesses, but their investments tapered off eventually. Kirby (2011) has said that the pursuit for more energy to power the nation meant that the government eschewed sustainability for maintaining the status quo. So long as the government continues to not invest in renewable energy, there is nothing much the Fukushima residents can do, supporting Kirby (2011) that the government is in control of the ecological narrative. The institutions are too powerful and it falls on the locals to pick up where the government has stopped. Finally, it is rather ironic that Japan relied on nuclear power to escape its reliance on oil (Yoshimi & Loh, 2012), and once nuclear power had failed, they fell back on fossil fuels instead of forging forward on newer alternative technology.

Word count: 640 words (exclusive of citations, 649 words inclusive of in-text citations)

References

Lonsdorf, K. (2020, September 9). After 2011 Disaster, Fukushima Embraced Solar Power. The Rest Of Japan Has Not. National Public Radio. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2020/08/20/904354757/after-2011-disaster-fukushima-embraced-solar-power-the-rest-of-japan-has-not on September 24th, 2020.

Kirby, P. W. (2011). Constructing Sustainable Japan. In Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment,  Japan (pp.160-192). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Robbins, P. (2007). The Hatchet and the Seed. In Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction (pp.3-16). London: Blackwell.

Shun’ya, Y., & Loh, S. L. (2012). Radioactive Rain and the American Umbrella. The Journal of Asian Studies, 71(2), 319-331.

Japan’s new plastic bag charge: What it means for the country and its environment (Sihao and Yu En)

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) have implemented a policy to mandate a charge for single-use plastic bags starting 1 July 2020 in an effort to reduce the amount of plastic waste going into the environment. Many retail outlets such as convenience stores and supermarkets are now charging around ¥3 per bag in hopes of discouraging unnecessary waste. Store cashiers have since started asking customers if they require plastic bags before handling them out. Reusable bags were issued by some local governments in advance to prepare consumers for this new policy. 

Single-use plastic wastes have been causing extensive environmental damage as they not only pollute the oceans around Japan, but also serve as health hazards when they break down into microplastics and bioaccumulates in the food chain. As Japan both represents itself and is represented by others as having a “clean” environment, the mandatory charging of plastic bags can be viewed as a national effort in curtailing usage of single-use plastic waste which is estimated to be around 200,000 tons annually. There were also discussions to recycle 100% of Japan’s PET bottles by 2030 and do away with other single-use plastics such as straws and utensils. 

Yet, creating a sustainable environment is not necessarily the goal, but rather part of the political agenda to appear green. Additionally, private establishments like bento chains and retail shops are charging for plastic bags not because they want to preserve the environment, but rather as a regulation that they must comply. In Japan, consumers are to be treated with high regard and not providing something as basic as plastic bags is considered an inconvenience. Instead, some would offer plastic produce bags which defeats the purpose of the whole initiative in reducing plastic consumption.

Just as Kirby (2011) demonstrated the possibility of different interpretations of sustainability held by different stakeholders, Japan and its environment is represented differently through the eyes of multiple stakeholders. For the most part, the Japanese government views the country as a sustainable nation concerned with its environment. With the country’s strict garbage disposal system, there is a strong image of recycling associated with Japan. A similar image of sustainability can be seen through the article, where Japan has created and is enforcing laws that aim to reduce plastic waste produced by the nation. Although the reason behind this move may partly be an earnest attempt by the government to decrease the amount of plastic waste ending up in Japan’s natural environments, the article also stresses the influence of international pressure as a motivating factor for change  (Johnston, 2020). As such, Japan’s move towards sustainability may be an attempt to “save face” through the compliance of gaiatsu, or “outside pressure” (Kirby, 2011, p. 164).

As mentioned briefly above, the new policy, which has been implemented largely because of increasing domestic and international pressure, reflects the idea of gaiatsu as a force that is still pushing Japan towards the road of sustainability (Kirby, 2011, p. 164). Japan’s bowing down to international pressure may also highlight the workings of a larger, global power, thus reflecting Robbins’ idea of political ecology (2007). Additionally, the article introduces multiple stakeholders — international organisations, the Japanese government and Japanese locals. The very notion of sustainability, or Japan as a “green nation”, is defined differently for each stakeholder. This is similar to the ideas brought across from Totman’s reading on forest management and the different ideologies held by stakeholders on forest sustainability (2009). Finally, the article also highlights that damage to the environment can eventually affect locals themselves through bioaccumulated microplastics. This explicitly ties to Walker’s idea that people are undoubtedly, timelessly connected to nature (2010, p. 8).

 As such, we need to reconsider the notion of Japan as a green nation.

(625 words)

Resources

Johnston, Eric (2020). “Japan’s new plastic bag charge: What it means for consumers and the environment”. The Japan Times. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/07/01/national/japan-plastic-bag-charge-consumers-environment/#.X0zrvMgzaUk (accessed 26 September 2020). 

Kirby, Peter. Wynn (2011). “Constructing Sustainable Japan”. In Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan, pp. 160-192. University of Hawai’i Press

Robbins, Paul (2007). “The Hatchet and the Seed” Political ecology: a critical introductionMalden MA: Blackwell Pub: 3-16.

Totman, Conrad. Davis (2009). “Japan’s Forests: Good Days and Bad – Rhythms of Damage and Recovery”. Retrieved from http://aboutjapan.japansociety.org/content.cfm/japans_forests_good_days_and_bad_–rhythms_of_damage_and_recovery_-.

Walker, Brett L (2011). Toxic archipelago: a history of industrial disease in Japan. University of Washington Press.

Japan’s Sustainability Efforts For and Beyond the 2020 Olympics (Zihan & Chu Yu)

This article was written by the Governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, for the World Economic Forum. It details Tokyo’s measures to make the 2020 Olympics a “green” one, in line with the city’s commitment to embracing environmental sustainability and their corresponding goals by 2020 and 2030. The “greenness” of the Tokyo Olympics is evident through the measures that aim to make the Games a sustainable one, such as the use of recycled metals to craft medals. This is laudable given how major sporting events are typically characterised by huge volumes of resource use and wastage under the justification of serving as a springboard for international travel and sponsorships of single-use paraphernalia.

On a broader scale, the article also highlights Tokyo’s progress in achieving these goals and the renewed emphasis on not just balancing environmental sustainability goals with economic growth, but ensuring that sustainable policies can be “a boon for Tokyo’s economy”. As an op-ed submission that also sounds like an open declaration of Tokyo’s commitment, the article ends off with a call to action for cities to initiate policies for a “more prosperous and sustainable future”.

In detailing Tokyo’s proposed measures and progress towards sustainability thus far, Japan is depicted as an ideal that cities should strive towards in terms of environmental management and green measures. Koike mentions that “Tokyo can serve as a model for other fast-growing urban areas”, signalling Tokyo’s hope to be recognised as a leading example of sustainable growth internationally. Despite extolling their remarkable progress thus far in terms of reducing waste and disposable bags, switching to renewable energy, reducing overall energy consumption and the citywide shift to green alternatives in terms of buildings and cars, the article is also candid in revealing the reason why Tokyo is so committed to sustainable development. It draws parallels with the previous Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 1964 where economic growth was prioritised ahead of environmental concerns, and how environmental degradation followed a period of high growth. This relates to Kirby (2011:174)’s account of the history of “sustainability” in Japan, where environmental problems accompanying economic growth, such as the Minamata Disease and Tokorozawa dioxin scare, have been spurring Japan’s “sense of atonement” and, in turn, commitment to reform its sustainability practices. In this sense, Japan is represented as a city with a dark past that has undergone a paradigm transformation, serving both as a warning of unbridled economic growth, and a testament that cities can achieve sustainable development.

However, the article overlooks less progressive nuances of Japan’s approach towards sustainability. Japan’s pursuit of sustainable development is in reality performative and focused more on the traditional pursuit of economic development rather than sustainability (Kirby 2011:192). As Kirby (2011:170) notes, part of Japan’s sustainability is based on “performative frugality and resource-conservation [which] have long been framed as social virtues and as elements of national competitiveness”. Given how the Olympics is an event that attracts immense worldwide attention and viewership, it is a sensible move to craft a positive, praiseworthy narrative surrounding Tokyo’s efforts to be sustainable. However, sustainability encompasses much more than ‘greenifying’ events like the Olympics – Tokyo can do more to tackle climate change and other environmental issues, such as by investing in renewable energy technologies and biodiversity conservation. More specifically, Japan can be more transparent about their regular whaling activities, and give more importance to the sustainability of marine ecosystems over their desire to hunt whales for food as a ‘tradition’. Such changes would have more lasting long-term impacts and would be more concrete strides towards making Japan more “green”.

(597 words)

Bibliography:

Kirby, P. W. (2011). “Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan”. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, pp. 160-192.

Koike, Yuriko. (24 October 2019). “Tokyo’s commitment to sustainability will extend beyond the 2020 Olympics”. Japan: World Economic Forum. Retrieved from  https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/10/tokyo-sustainable-games/