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/

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_-.

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/

Balance of power: Redefining Japan’s energy needs (Crystal and Irfan)

The article is about Fukushima’s push for renewable energy, specifically solar and wind energy, in the wake of the 3.11 disaster. While Fukushima has installed many solar panels in various areas, some villages such as Otama are worried the panels would hurt tourism opportunities. Other factors such as the expensive price of renewable energy compared to nuclear energy or fossil fuels, and difficulty in setting up wind turbines have made people more cautious when it comes to renewables. 

While the article does not explicitly say Japan is a “green nation”, it subtly hints at it, where the article mainly emphasizes on the renewable energy efforts and how much the villages treasure their “natural landscape”. The article also portrays a dichotomy between the government and the villagers in Otama, Fukushima. The villagers try to preserve the beauty of their landscape, or fūkei as McMorran (2014) put it. The government on the other hand has pushed for the implementation of solar and wind energy plants in Fukushima in its endeavours to find alternative sources of renewable energy. People reading the article at first glance might think of Japan as becoming more “green” or eco-friendly, which makes it surprising that Japan still relies on fossil fuels for a large part of its energy consumption. 

Within the article title is the phrase “energy needs”. We can thus derive the conclusion that Japan’s hunt for renewable energy sources is inevitably linked to its environment; energy is extracted from the environment and harnessed for the benefit of Japan’s inhabitants. The article mentions how concern for the environment becomes a point of consideration in the endeavor to find renewable energy sources – the villagers of Otama detest the idea of destroying the landscape with swaths of solar panels. The idea of “green” here hence is of eco-friendliness; in discussing the eco-friendliness of the hunt for renewable energy sources we, in essence, discuss  “green-ness”.

The Otama villagers are evidently worried about the solar panels “destroying the aesthetic landscape”, voicing their concerns about the scenery and the increase in landslides through their Deputy Mayor (Martin, n.d.). McMorran (2014, 5) mentions in his paper on the idea of fūkei, which is one of several terms meaning landscape, where this landscape can be shaped and be continuously shaped by humans, constantly being in a state of change (Schein 2010, 662). 

The shaping of landscapes likely extends to Otama, showing that while the Japanese seem like they love nature, they in reality only like certain parts of nature. As the deputy mayor mentions, “It’s our duty to protect the majestic scenery of our village for our children”. However, the picturesque scenery is likely to have been intentionally landscaped, manipulated and maintained by the residents and the village administration. Their actions could be called fūkeizukuri, which can be roughly translated as “landscape-making” (McMorran 2014, 5). This fūkeizukuri has helped the village maintain its membership of The Most Beautiful Villages of Japan, which is an organisation that recognises villages and towns with spectacular natural resources (Martin n.d.). It is not out of true desire to protect their way of life or the scenery around them for their children; rather, it is a manicured way of maintaining the dream of an idyllic village life, which in a way is controlling nature’s expression.

While more can be said, this article, once one looks deeper, clearly debunks the idea that Japan is a green nation, for the article highlights the controlling of nature, not only by the citizens, but also by the government who wants to harness nature for its own needs.

(597 words excluding bibliography)

Bibliography

Martin, Alex. n.d. “Balance of power: Redefining Japan’s energy needs.” Japan Times. https://features.japantimes.co.jp/climate-crisis-renewables/#pagetop.

McMorran, Chris. 2014. “Landscape of “Undesigned Design” in Rural Japan.” Landscape Journal 33 (1): 1-15.

Schein, Richard. 2010. “The place of landscape: A conceptual framework for interpreting an American scene.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 87 (4): 660-680.

Revival of Japan’s Wild Game Cuisine (Qing Ning & Wei Lin)

This article makes a distinction between a more familiar urban Japan and a “deep Japan” in the mountains. It proceeds to give a history of hunting game from pre-Tokugawa times to postwar Japan, though it only refers to “ancient Japan” very vaguely. Furthermore, it portrays wildlife as not being hunted since the “early years”, due to Buddhist beliefs. The article then seems to encourage the hunting of game by framing it as a solution to control wild animal populations causing damage to human areas, a way to inspire Japanese-French culinary culture, as well as the path towards “coexistence with nature”. This allows the article to represent recent trends of game hunting as a significant “return” to nature that will allow humans in general to start “rethinking the relationship between people and nature”. While the article concludes that hunting game exemplifies Japan as wholly ‘green’, the restaurants referenced at the end of the article with their addresses and websites attached make the article seem slightly disingenuous about its message. This reveals that rather than a respect for nature, the actors in question are still controlling it for their own anthropocentric means. Furthermore, the article carelessly lumps the whole of Japan into the hunting trend when there is in fact only a particular group of people who are dealing with game meat. This also obscures the difference between groups of Japanese people by giving the impression that all Japanese in the Tokugawa era were Buddhists that did not hunt game at all.

Hunting game can be considered green as it allows local municipalities in Japan to control the alleged overpopulation of wild animals to prevent damage to the human areas. The way in which hunting can be rationalised as a ‘green’ activity parallels Kirby’s (2011) analysis of how whale ‘overpopulation’ was “sustainably” maintained via culling in order to prevent the alleged fish scarcity (p.167). However, the culling of whales was legitimised via selective use of scientific data and the convenient use of ambiguous terms like “sustainable” to suit the whalers’ objectives (p.167). It appears difficult to justify hunting as a way to control animal populations when there is no given proof that said deers and boars are even overpopulating.

While game animals such a deers are reigned as “special national treasures” (Lecture video 8), it is ironic that these said “treasures” are perceived as pests that disrupt human lives especially in rural areas. Whereas in urban areas, deers are more likely to be seen as celebrities in places like Nara Park. This difference in perception is highlighted in Knight (2006), where media and entertainment parks influence the perception of animals of especially urban dwellers (p.118-119). Also, the fact that the Nara park is designated as a “priority protection zone” where deers are not allowed to be culled as compared to rural areas, highlights that most Japanese may prefer to observe nature in more controlled and sheltered parks, instead of nature in its most uncontrolled form in the rural mountains (Nara Prefecture Guide; Kalland & Asquith, 1997, p.15).

In essence, this article reiterates the concerns of political ecology, particularly in how political, economical and social forces influence the environmental decision to cull game animals. These take the form of local policies, monetary loss due to animal destruction and the impact on neighbourhoods (Robbins, 2003, p.6-7). Wild animals in particular are the locus of these forces, caught in the political, social and cultural whims of human activity. As Waley (2000)’s article has mentioned, the preservation of nature tends to be seen through human needs only (p.213). As such, while the article laments about “natural balance” and “return to nature”, it remains a question as to whether the culling of game animals would ultimately benefit the environment.

(628 Words)

Bibliography
Asquith, P. J., & Kalland, A. (2004). Ideals and Illusions. In Japanese images of nature: cultural perspectives (pp. 15–15). essay, RoutledgeCurzon.
Kirby, P. W. (2011). Constructing Sustainable Japan. In Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan (pp. 164–170). essay, University of Hawaiʻi Press.
Knight, J. (2006). Monkeys. In Waiting for wolves in Japan: an anthropological study of people-wildlife relations (pp. 118–119). essay, University of Hawai’i Press.
Robbins, P. (2007). The Hatchet and the Seed. In Political ecology: a critical introduction (pp. 6–7). essay, Wiley-Blackwell.
Uehara, Y. (2020, May 30). Revival of Japan’s Wild Game Cuisine. nippon.com. https://www.nippon.com/en/views/b01712/.
Waley, P. (2000). Following the flow of Japan’s river culture. Japan Forum, 12(2), 204. https://doi.org/10.1080/09555800020004020
Nara Prefecture Guide (奈良のシカ保護管理計画検討委員会). 「奈良のシカ保護管理計画」の策定について . http://www.pref.nara.jp/secure/157799/04_04_01_siryou1.pdf.