We are taking this article
by Pan Wen & Chun Hou
This article by Lauren Altria discusses recycling efforts in Japan through an interview with Ishizaka, the CEO of an environmentally friendly recycling facility. Operated by the Ishizaka Group, the facility recycles up to 98% of the waste it collects. This is just one of the many local initiatives which hopes to inculcate “green consciousness” in the population. In comparison, government efforts on the national level appear limited, with its most recent policy being the introduction of plastic bag charges.
The article looks beyond the common assumption of Japan being an inherently green nation. It points out the enduring problem of waste treatment in Japan. In comparison to other OECD countries, Japan has one of the lowest recycling rates, at approximately 20%. Restricted by the environment with a lack of space for landfills, Japan burns most waste at “environmentally friendly” incinerators with advanced filter systems that removes harmful pollutants usually emitted during incineration. Besides adopting such technologies, the Ishizaka recycling facility also has viewing platforms and conducts educational tours that attract many visitors. As such, despite the persisting problem of waste treatment, the adoption of the environmentally friendly technologies and advocating the “green consciousness” make Japanese firms such as the Ishizaka Group appear “green”.
This article debunks the myth of Japanese having an inherent “love for nature” (Kalland and Asquith 1997, 1). It shows some of the contradictions responsible for the limited effects of Japan’s environmental policies despite the island-state’s commonly believed and self-embracing image of being a “green” nation. As the article reveals, Japan’s “reliance on burning its waste fails to put the 3Rs at the heart of its waste strategy” (para 10). While Japan is known to have stringent waste segregation requirements (Kirby 2011, 181), such an approach ultimately defeats the purpose when the majority of the waste end up being incinerated. The contradictory and non-committing approach illustrates how Japan’s policies focus on the form over substance – measures put up an active front but with little substance and lasting impact. This may be true even for the local-based initiatives mentioned in the article such as Ishizaka facility’s viewing platform and educational tours. While visiting the facility is popular, the initiative may not have sufficient influence on the daily lives of people outside of their one-time visit (para 3). As Kalland and Asquith’s have aptly put, Japan sees nature – and only the beautiful and tamed kind – more as aesthetic than a way of life (1997, 6). In this case, relevant to the Japanese concept of nature, the idea of being environmentally friendly can also be seen as a kind of aesthetic to be appreciated – as an escape from and not a way of the people’s urban life.
Japan’s heavy reliance on incineration also arguably demonstrates Kalland and Asquith’s (1997, 17) idea of “reductionism” in its environmental issues and policies. Just as how the wild and untamed elements are sidelined in the appreciation of nature, the issue of waste management is also ignored in the urban development of Japan. With the vast amount of waste generated kept unseen with “the out of sight, out of mind attitude”, incineration in facilities away from city centres allows the problem of waste management to be reduced as being largely irrelevant to the public. When being green is only a day trip to a recycling factory, the local initiatives’ attempt to develop “green consciousness” in the population remains an uphill task.
Ultimately, the issue with Japan’s waste management and other environmental policies may be the unsustainability of the reasons that drive its environmentalism. As Ishizaka admitted in the interview, Ishizaka Group’s waste management facility only took a turn because of public concerns over health implications from emissions of waste incineration. This may be reflective of Japanese attitude and reason for actions towards environmental conservation. As seen in the shifts in attitude towards industrial waste over the years, the Japanese government only adopts seemingly environmentally friendly policies when faced with criticism and pressure (Kirby 2011, 177-9). Instead of truly recognising the need to become environmentally friendly, international criticism from foreign environmentalists and local pressure due to health concerns appear to be the main forces pushing Japan towards environmentalism. While there have been some desirable outcomes, policies motivated on such grounds are likely to be superficial, as seen in the futile segregation of waste when most are still burned in the end (Kirby 2011, 187), and do not contribute to environmental conservation in the long-term. Furthermore, the problem of excess waste is perpetuated when the demand for incineration increases with Japan using burning of waste to generate electricity (Kirby 2011, 189). Thus, being green only due to criticism and pressure results in the focus of form over substance in Japan’s waste management, and environmental policies at large, and hence its limited effectiveness and sustainability.
Altria, Lauren. 2019. “The Burning Problem of Japan’s Waste Disposal.” Tokyoreview.net. https://www.tokyoreview.net/2019/07/burning-problem-japan-waste-recycling/
Kalland, Arne, and Pamela J. Asquith. 2020. “Japanese Perceptions Of Nature”. In Japanese Images Of Nature: Cultural Perspectives, 1-35. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press.
Kirby, Peter Wynn. 2011. “Constructing Sustainable Japan”. In Troubled Natures. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.
“The Light on the Moss” CC
The article written by Oishi Yoshitaka discusses the lofty status of Japanese moss and its degradation due to increasing urbanization. Yoshitaka (2020) begins by detailing the cultural significance of moss in Japan and how its beauty, imperfection, and ephemerality underpin its appeal.
Japan’s abundant rainfall allows for 1,700 varieties of moss to flourish. The centuries-old admiration for moss is not only seen in literature and art, but also in the Japanese gardening techniques of the Muromachi period (1336-1573). The rise of Zen Buddhism during this period also elevated the status of moss by molding the aesthetic taste of the Japanese (Yoshitaka 2020). Imbalance, simplicity and asymmetry came to be valued in many parts of Japanese culture (Hane 2000, 33). Thus, the simplicity of moss came to embody Zen, making it an essential part of Japanese gardening.
Yoshitaka (2020) points us to the diversity of moss within Japanese gardens, which can contain over 100 types of moss and other rare species. Urbanization however has drastically changed the landscape and made it difficult for moss to thrive. For instance, the profusion of concrete and asphalt in urban areas have increased nighttime temperatures and harmed moss colonies. The plant’s sensitivity to the environment warns us of the damage done by climate change. Yoshitaka (2020) highlights that the degradation of moss is representative of the greater environmental consequences that will eventually befall other organisms, humans included. Yoshitaka (2020) ends the article with uncertainty over whether humans will heed the warning signs and avoid greater environmental tragedy.
This article frames Japan as a “green” nation, calling attention to the collective admiration for moss, cultural prominence, and common concern over its future wellbeing. In this sense, Yoshitaka (2020) conveys how nature is a core component of the Japanese identity and ethos. Japan’s harmonious relationship with nature has been hailed as a model for the rest of the world, especially vis-á-vis the West’s rapacious exploitation of the environment (Kalland and Asquith 1997, 2). For example, Nakamura (1992) posits that the Japanese have a “love [for] mountains, rivers, flowers, birds, grass, and trees, while Murota (1985) contends that “nature is at once a blessing and a friend to the Japanese people” (114; 105). Yet this nature-loving narrative is a superficial account of the nuanced, complex dynamic between Japan and the natural world.
Yoshitaka (2020) describes how the Japanese admire moss for its “subtle beauty” and soothing aesthetic. These qualities make moss a perfect ingredient in the aforementioned Japanese gardens and “carefully-groomed” miniature terrariums (Ibid.). The perception of moss as “earthly loveliness” is a manifestation of the Japanese love for an idealized form of nature (Ibid.). Kalland and Asquith (1997) contextualize this dynamic by means of a “nature continuum,” in which one side is representative of nature that is “tamed” and “pure,” while the other is “wild” and “unbound” (13). Japanese culture is fixated on the former, as it values the “gentle and intimate aspects of nature” rather than its untamed, superfluous characteristics (Kalland and Asquith 1997, 16).
The Japanese obsession with moss is thus ensconced in a deeper cultural understanding of nature is and what it should be, namely a mechanized form that is amenable to viewing and sensitive interaction. This challenges the nature-loving Japanese narrative, as this idealistic view of nature suggests that the Japanese do not really care for the real, untouched natural world. While Yoshitaka (2020) mentions the anthropogenic dangers to both garden and natural moss environments, the presiding cultural norm would suggest that the Japanese would tend more to the urbanized moss gardens than to their natural counterparts.
“Green Carpet” CC
Moss’s importance in Japanese literature and art also evinces the Japanese penchant for idealized nature (Yoshitaka 2020). More specifically, moss is seen as a portrayal of the “human condition” and the natural oscillation between life and death (Ibid.). This exemplifies the Japanese proclivity to use nature as a metaphor for the various emotions and experiences that are present throughout life (Kalland and Asquith 1997, 23). However, this suggests that Japanese literature is similarly predicated on an idealized conception of nature, as pruned moss gardens are utilized to make sense of life’s questions while “real” nature is left unexplored and ignored. As such, the Japanese appreciation for a tamed sense of nature is a type of cultural common thread, running through the physical (e.g. moss gardens) to the intangible (e.g. literature and art).
While the article paints Japan as a “green” society that not only loves moss and nature in general, analysis of Japanese cultural norms challenges this common narrative. That being said, this conclusion is not intended to over-generalize the beliefs of the Japanese people, but rather to complicate prevailing images and ideas.
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Hane, Kikoso. 2000. Japan: A Short History. Boston: Oneworld Publications.
Kalland, Arne and Pamela J. Asquith. 1997. “Japanese Perceptions of Nature: Ideals and Illusions.” In Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives edited by Pamela J. Asquith and Arne Kalland, 2-23. London: Curzon Press.
Murota, Yasuhiro. 1985. “Culture and the Environment in Japan.” Environmental Management 9(2): 105. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01867110.
Nakamura, Hajime. 1992. “The Idea of Nature in the East in Comparison with the West.” GeoJournal 26(2): 114. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41145342?seq=1.
Yoshitaka, Oishi. 2020. “Japan’s Emerald Carpets: The Cultural Importance and Environmental Promise of Moss.” Nippon.com. https://www.nippon.com/en/japan-topics/b02350/japan’s-emerald-carpets-the-cultural-importance-and-environmental-promise-of-moss.html.
By Angie Tan and Faith Siauw
News Article: Feeling the heat: Japan uses 2020 Olympics to further climate awareness by Luke Mahoney
Mahoney’s article highlights Japan’s efforts to become a global leader in sustainability and climate change through the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Japan aims to achieve this by implementing various innovative technologies that will contribute to an eco-friendly and sustainable Olympics. Examples include uniforms manufactured with recycled plastics and venues powered with renewable energy. Through these technologies, the Tokyo Olympics would hopefully set a precedent for sustainable initiatives in other Japanese cities and the rest of the world. Moreover, an eco-friendly and sustainable Olympics would send a clear message that Japan is going green.
In his article, Mahoney presents Japan as a country with a long history of being environmentally conscious. He highlights the significance of the 1997 Kyoto Agreement, which was ratified in Japan. Moreover, Japan has considerably lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to other developed countries. This can be traced back to their culture of frugality that was closely associated with the samurai class in the Tokugawa period (Kirby, 2011). This attitude sustained throughout World War II and continued even during the post-war period, where frugality was promoted to reduce Japan’s reliance on foreign powers for resources (Kirby, 2011). Current policies and initiatives to reduce waste can therefore be attributed to Japan’s history and culture. Furthermore, Mahoney mentions how Japan is seen as being “in harmony with nature”. The fundamental nihonjinron argument states that favourable weather and rich resources available in Japan have allowed the Japanese to live in peace with nature, shaping the unique Japanese culture (Kalland & Asquith, 1997). Thus, Japan’s efforts at sustainability are seen as part of their deep-rooted culture and their harmonious relationship with nature.
Mahoney also presents Japan as a country that has been active in their efforts to become more eco-friendly. He raises the example of Kamikatsu, a city in Shikoku that has a strict recycling policy. The city worked towards becoming waste-free after a waste management crisis when one of their trash incinerators was put out of use. More emphasis has been placed on recycling and reducing waste in light of several pollution disasters that have occurred in recent history. One prominent example is that of Minamata City, where mercury poisoning led to the deaths and permanent disability of many (Kalland & Asquith, 1997). As a result, the Japanese government started to prioritise the environment, creating the impression that they are an eco-friendly country.
The upcoming Olympics and Japan’s long term efforts to be eco-friendly will help to solidify the image of a nature-loving Japan. The article highlights how, aside from the Olympics, Japan’s environmentalism can also be witnessed from its efforts to become waste-free. Using examples such as the Olympics and Kamikatsu’s recycling policy, the article bolsters the image of Japan as “environmentally friendly and in harmony with nature”. This image is in line with how Japan has been portrayed as nature-loving, both internationally and in Japan itself (Kalland & Asquith, 1997). The Olympics can therefore be seen as part of Japan’s long term efforts to showcase their love of nature, which then strengthens the idea of a unique Japanese culture and contributes to the nationalist discourse of nihonjinron.
Furthermore, the Japanese government intends to use the Olympics as a platform to showcase an innovative and eco-friendly Japan, so as to establish Japan as a leader in the global green movement. The article explains how the Olympics intend to ensure sustainability through the use of “eco-friendly and renewable technologies” in Tokyo. By doing so, Japan hopes that these innovative technologies will be taken up by other cities in Japan and other countries. This will contribute to the global green movement and build on Japan’s image as an eco-friendly nation. Therefore, Japan will be able to leverage on its technologies and reputation for more influence in the global environmental discourse.
Japan has used the ideology of nature to further their nationalist discourse and their international influence. This exemplifies how the human-nature relationship can be defined subjectively to fulfil a country’s political aims. However, the complex and varied perceptions of nature also means that the definition may be contested. Despite the Olympics’ focus on sustainability, the Olympics can also be seen as antithetical to nature and sustainability. For example, many areas were demolished to make way for Olympic venues, which has incited many local protests.
Japan’s efforts to make the Tokyo Olympics eco-friendly are representative of the human-nature relationship in Japan. These efforts serve to strengthen the image of a nature-loving Japan, and while what is behind this image may be debatable, it is certainly a step forward in making Japan more eco-friendly.
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Boykoff, J., & Zirin, D. (2019, July 22). The 2020 Olympics Are Likely to Be a Disaster. Retrieved from https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/tokyo-okotowari-olympics-protest/
Kalland, A., & Asquith, P. J. (1997). Japanese Perceptions of Nature: Ideals and Illusions. In P.J. Asquith & A. Kalland (Eds.), Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives (pp.1-35). Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press.
Kirby, P. W. (2011). Constructing Sustainable Japan. Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan (pp.160-192). Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Mahoney, L. (2020, January 14). Feeling the heat: Japan uses 2020 Olympics to further climate awareness. Retrieved from https://japantoday.com/category/2020-tokyo-olympics/feeling-the-heat-japan-uses-2020-olympics-to-further-climate-awareness
Can Tragedy be Good?
News Article: The Floating Electric Car That Was Born From Tragedy by David Grossman, published January 18 2018.
From earthquakes to volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, Japan has seen many natural disasters that has claimed the lives of many. Events such as the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake are some of the most devastating natural disasters in the world (Hannah, 2018).
However, for Hideo Tsurumaki that survived the 2011 tsunami, he does not take nothing from the tragedy. Inspired by the tsunami, he constructs a floating vehicle powered by electric. According to Mr. Hideo, he believes that floating cars can greatly reduce the death toll generated from tsunamis, as the vehicle can float on flood waters and can drive through it. Additionally, the vehicle can even be used for daily activities to run errands.
Japan is no stranger to creative and innovative inventions. Being situated in a region susceptible to many forms of natural disasters, as a result of its geographical, topological and meteorological conditions (Hayashi, 2010), they have adapted to these occurrences by constructing earthquake-proofing buildings and large dams to hold back flood waters. In relation to Kalland and Asquith’s reading, a central theme that appears would be how the Japanese appreciation for nature is limited to forms which entail cultivation and having control over it. Being averse to the “wild and grandiose aspects” (pg. 16) of nature, the desire to transform and “tame” (pg. 16) it to their perceived idealised state takes precedence over nature’s original form. This reveals how their ‘love’ comes with the conditionality of having dominance over nature. The floating car, along with other technological constructions for disaster prevention, therefore emulates how these constant innovations produced advances towards their desire for absolute control over the unpredictability of nature, thus having their conditional love of nature be met.
Additionally, we can also analyse the claim of Japanese being harmonious in nature through their adjectives “mizukara” and “onozukara” from ancient times, which provides an insight as to why the Japanese have a conditional love for nature. As mentioned in the readings, the literary translations of “mi” and “ono” connotes that while nature is located within the body, it can be contrasted by oneself. In other words, an observer looking within. This creates an innate perception that humans have the capability to understand and observe ‘universal Principle’ (pg. 10), distinguishing us from plants or animals which nature encompasses and implying the superiority of humans in nature. In relation to the invention of floating cars, this superiority is then translated to the conditional love that the Japanese have for nature. To rise against the prowess and unpredictability of natural forces with innovations shows an unwillingness to be submissive to the elements, thereby choosing to contrast oneself by adopting a superior position towards nature. In doing so, the ‘ono’ plus ‘-kara’ aspect in relation to nature is emphasize in the resistance and controlling the forces of tsunamis and typhoons.
Focusing on the ‘green’ aspect, this article mentions that Mr Hideo aims to improve his prototype by making the car electric, removing its combustible engine. Cars are one of the most major source of air pollution in Japan along with industries, especially in major cities such as Osaka (Makiko, Itaru & Sonoyo, 2015) and Tokyo (Toshio, 2013). By opting for alternative sources of engine and energy fuel, the floating cars highlights the possibility for Japanese car makers to go green and start producing vehicles that do not exhaust harmful fumes. Inventions such as the floating car shows how newer car models are being developed with increasingly more concern to go green and be more environmentally friendly. As the article notes, more cars are being sold without combustion engines. The choice to be use energy alternatives reveals an underlying understanding of how humans are escalating pollution levels, which inevitably results in climate change and more importantly, in the context of Japan, more frequent natural disasters. Thus, the ‘green’ technology should be rightfully championed as a necessity and investment.
In conclusion, we see that natural tragedies can inspire new inventions which can be environmentally friendly in its own way. Whether these innovations are born out of their ‘love for nature’ is contestable, we acknowledge that Japan is making the effort to be more environmentally conscious. Just as Mr Hideo’s efforts has the potential to inspire other major car producers such as Toyota to follow suit on building electric or other types of vehicles that do not emit combustible gas, the Japanese perceptions of their love for nature should undoubtedly continue to inspire the population to be active in environmental issues, hence providing us a silver lining.
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Hayashi H. (2010). Natural Disasters in Japan. In: Marquina A. (eds) Global Warming and Climate Change. Energy, Climate and the Environment Series. Palgrave Macmillan, London
Nakata, M., Sano, I., & Mukai, S. (2015, March 18). Air pollutants in Osaka (Japan). Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fenvs.2015.00018/full
Ritchie, H. (2018, October 5). What were the world’s deadliest earthquakes? Retrieved from https://ourworldindata.org/the-worlds-deadliest-earthquakes
Toyama, T. (2013, April 29). Air Pollution and Its Health Effects in Japan. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00039896.1964.10663646
The following is a review of Amy Chavez’s article from the Japan Times.
This article is about the interaction between humans and nature on Shiraishi Island in Okayama, Japan. Amy Chavez, the author of this article, lives on this island and writes about how the residents seem to care about the environment by recycling, but their other actions portray otherwise. The article encourages a deeper inquiry into the motivation behind “green” actions. The islanders live much closer to nature and even depend on it for their livelihoods. Thus, they provide a different perspective on what nature means to different groups of Japanese people.
The residents seem to be enthusiastic about protecting the environment through their active recycling habits. They sort their garbage and recycle their glass, cans, PET bottles and other recyclables. The recyclable garbage day comes once a month, when their recyclables will be collected. However, it seems that they only do this because they are taught to do so. They are not taught “to choose environmentally friendly products over ones that aren’t, or to say no to plastic” (Chavez, 2020) because consumption is “what’s fueling the country’s economy” (Chavez, 2020). This creates a dichotomy between what is being stereotyped of Japanese people and their mindsets about recycling. Additionally, the islanders often incinerate their waste to make room for more trash. The author argues that the islanders find this acceptable because others (namely, the factory the the mainland) incinerate their rubbish as well. Thus, islanders may recycle not because they love the environment, but because recycling is a social norm they learned from young. This idea is further supported by the strong stigmas that many Japanese people attach to those who fail to recycle properly (Quek, 2018). Recycling can thus be seen as a social ritual for affirming one’s place in society (Kalland & Asquith, 1997, p. 12). Therefore, the author argues that environmental problems in Japan must be approached socially through the use of role models and effective education.
The article also touches on more pragmatic aspects of the human-nature relationship: utility and policy. For example, while islanders occasionally initiate beach cleanups, the author believes that they do so to beautify the beach for beach-goers. This relates to the idea that the Japanese people love only certain manicured and controlled forms of nature (Kalland & Asquith, 1997, pp. 16-17). Controlled forms of nature are more readily appreciated and used by people and might thus be preserved for those purposes rather than out of a love for nature itself. This view of nature as a commodity has become increasingly common (e.g. among advertisers) and contrasts with the more symbolic form that brings to mind the Japanese people’s love for nature (Kalland & Asquith, 1997, pp. 22-23). Unfortunately it is pragmatism that guides policy. For example, the author describes how the government fails to restrict unsustainable tourism practices such as jibikiami (tourists throw large nets into the ocean to catch few large fish for barbecue, killing thousands of smaller fish in the process) while being quick to build sea walls and provide subsidies to the fishermen affected by the sea walls. By building the sea walls, islanders “feel safe”, fishermen are satisfied with the subsidies, jobs are provided for workers in construction companies and everyone benefits. This apparent focus on immediate economic gains challenges the idea of a nature-loving Japan.
Admittedly, it is understandable for people whose business and livelihood depend on nature to see environmental protection as an obstacle: sustainable practices can be costly (the article mentions that it’s cheaper to buy a new bottle of soap than to get a refill that uses less plastic). Additionally, the islanders could perceive the “environment” we try to protect as distinct from the “environment” they interact with on a daily basis. The former is a material resource while the latter is an abstract idea that they interact with through social or religious rituals (e.g. recycling). This could explain why people fail to connect the consequences (e.g. air pollution) with their own actions (e.g. incineration of trash). It does not help that the government has historically reinforced this dichotomy through their shallow, short-sighted and disjointed policies (Sumikura, 1998, pp. 247-248). By distancing the consequences of environmental degradation from the root causes, this conception of nature could cause people to thoroughly extract nature’s resources without realising that they are simultaneously causing their own demise.
The ethnographic account of life on the Shiraishi Island encourages us to question the idea of nature and what it means to different people. Ideas of nature are highly fluid and contextual, and these ideas guide action. Thus, it is imperative to understand how groups of people perceive nature in order to fundamentally change habits to be sustainable.
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Chavez, A. (2020, January 27). There’s a case for climate concern but not everyone in Japan is ready to go the extra mile. Japan Times. Retrieved from https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2020/01/27/our-lives/climate-change-japan-ready/.
Kalland, A., & Asquith, P. J. (1997). Japanese Perceptions of Nature: Ideals and Illusions. In P.J. Asquith & A. Kalland (Eds.), Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives (pp.1-35). Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press.
Quek, T. (2018, April 18). Make environmental mindfulness a social norm. The Straits Times. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-in-print/make-environmental-mindfulness-a-social-norm
Sumikura, I. (1998). A Brief History Of Japanese Environmental Administration: A Qualified Success Story? Journal of Environmental Law, 10(2), 241–256. doi: 10.1093/jel/10.2.241
This news article by Mai Yoshikawa talks about Bio Hotels Japan, a hotel franchise promoting organic living. In the words of Kazuhiko Nakaishi, its representative director, “It’s impossible to live free of chemicals. But in a hotel, if it’s just for a night or two, you can get a true, raw, organic experience…” (Yoshikawa, 2019). In this article, the bio hotels are perceived to be ‘green’ because they are actively trying to reduce their harm on the environment. Consuming organically-sourced foods is also a means for consumers to go ‘green’. However, even though organic products are ‘greener’ and healthier, Nakaishi highlighted the difficulties in getting consumers to purchase organic products because they are much more expensive than non-organic products in Japan.
The article also discusses other difficulties in going ‘green’ and organic living in Japan. Apart from manpower and money issues, consumer attitudes remain a stumbling block to promoting a more organic tourism industry. In addition, Nakaishi emphasised how the onus lies not only on the consumers, but also on companies to be ‘green’ through sustainable operations instead of focusing on “convenience and short-term profit” (Yoshikawa, 2019). Despite these issues, Nakaishi remains committed to promoting a ‘greener’ way of living through the bio hotels. He also believes that going green can allow firms to benefit economically, and it is therefore in their interest to be green.
The article actually debunks the myth that the Japanese “have a love of nature” (Kalland and Asquith, 1997), by showing us how there are actually challenges in getting Japanese citizens to take on a ‘greener’ lifestyle. In our opinion, the representation of Japan in this article is positive as it shows that there are individuals such as Nakaishi who understand the importance of going ‘green’ and are trying to improve the situation locally by providing avenues such as the above-mentioned eco-friendly hotels despite existing challenges. Furthermore, such a representation is perhaps more accurate given that Nakaishi, being a “Japanese environmental activist” (Yoshikawa, 2019), would have a clearer picture of how the situation in Japan is like.
However, the article has a few contentious points that we wish to analyse and comment on. It insists that only locally grown ingredients are used in cooking and no “genetically modified food or imported fruit” are served at the bio hotels (Yoshikawa, 2019). This is seen as a way of going ‘green’, but it does not explain why locally grown foods are ‘greener’ than imported or genetically modified food. This insistence on using local produce could be because the hotels see local produce as a source of national pride to “set Japan apart as unique” through the “ideology of nature” (Kalland and Asquith, 1997, p. 26). It is also likely due to more Japanese farmers marketing their produce as “additive-free” or “chemical-free” (Kalland and Asquith, 1997, p. 27). Despite these efforts, consumers are still picking what is most convenient for them regardless of how it harms the environment. This article challenges the notion that ecotourism has taught the Japanese “a new way to appreciate nature and to view nature as something to be protected and treasured for its own sake” (Kalland and Asquith, 1997, p. 27). Over twenty years have passed since this argument was made, yet most Japanese consumers are still reluctant to choose eco-friendly options. This further corroborates the argument by Kellert that the Japanese do not especially love nature and have little drive to “conserve nature and wildlife” (as cited in Kalland and Asquith, 1997, p. 7). Based on the article, nature is only enjoyed by the Japanese when it is easy for them to do so.
Next, the article states that in the bio hotels, it is possible for guests to gain a “true, raw, organic experience” (Yoshikawa, 2019). What constitutes a true organic experience? We believe that it is an idealised view of nature that the hotel management wishes to present to its guests. Ultimately, there is no objective view of what constitutes this true organic experience, and the nature that is presented is one that was transformed by man into a form not “in its original state but its idealised state” (Kalland and Asquith, 1997, p. 16). In the case of the bio hotels, nature is transferred to a setting where it normally does not exist so that guests can enjoy ‘nature’. Nature is incorporated to create a “stress-free environment” where they aim to convince guests to go ‘green’ afterwards (Yoshikawa, 2019). In that regard, even though the ‘nature’ that the guests enjoy is artificial, the bio hotels are probably still successful in promoting a more environmentally-friendly way of life to its guests, even if what they are exposed to is an idealised form of nature (Kalland and Asquith, 1997). This perpetuates an appreciation for idealised nature instead of natural nature.
Kalland, A., & Asquith, P. J. (1997). Japanese Perceptions of Nature: Ideals and Illusions. In P. J. Asquith & A. Kalland (Eds.), Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives (pp. 1-35). London: RoutledgeCurzon.
Yoshikawa, M. (2019, November 16). Eat, sleep and stay green at one of Japan’s eco hotels. The Japan Times. Retrieved from https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2019/11/16/travel/eat-sleep-stay-green-one-japans-eco-hotels/#.XjLupmgzaUk