Outnumbered but Unafraid: Japanese Youth Activists and the Environment (Erica & Lei)

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Japan’s youths have an increased awareness of the country’s unsupportive stance towards climate change, and they are moving to advocate for change. This Japan Times article covered several young climate activists in Japan, focusing on Mika Mashiko, a 20-year-old university student. Mashiko’s passion for the environment was awakened when she realised the detrimental impacts of installing solar panels in her hometown, Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture. Japan’s young climate activists have a mindset that is “more global and collaborative” than ever, setting up advocacy groups such as Fridays for Future (FFF) branches. In the article, two opposing stances were being depicted – namely the environmentally-driven youths and the economically-driven Japanese government. Amidst the global COVID-19 situation, young climate activists face more difficulty in their campaign than before. Nevertheless, they remain positive in face of adversity and continue to push for a more sustainable Japan.

Japan and the Environment

In this article, Japan and the environment take on the role of the “taker” and “giver” respectively. The country capitalises on its natural resources, masking its ulterior motive of economic benefits behind a mask of environmental consciousness. For instance, the solar panel project in Nasu appears to be environmentally friendly since renewable energy will be collected. Solar energy is a more sustainable alternative as compared to energy from “coal-fired power plants” as mentioned in the article. However, Mashiko soon realised that this project will bring about large-scale deforestation and the energy generated may not be used in Nasu but sold elsewhere. 

Japan is also portrayed as being unwilling to prioritise environmental initiatives. Member nations were required to revise their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), an indication of their plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Being a member nation at COP25, Japan “quietly announced” that their NDC will remain the same despite the global consensus to be more sustainable. Additionally, environmental experts and activists do not believe that the government will be proactive in slowing down climate change without external pressure. 

Green Subjects

Japanese youth climate activists such as Mashiko are viewed as “green” in this article since they are illustrated to be proactive. Without existing organisations that align with their ideology, they take the initiative to create their own, namely the 22 FFF branches all over Japan. By having clear goals such as reducing carbon emission, plastic waste and encouraging renewable energy sources, young activists are portrayed to be actively advocating for their cause to “spark changes from the ground up”. 

Common Concepts

It is highlighted that the general population lacks environmental consciousness despite Japan’s image as nature-loving. This parallels Kalland and Asquith’s concept that the Japanese love for nature is one-dimensional (1997, 29). There is also a possible link with the concept of furusato and nostalgia; Mashiko’s love for Nasu only awakened after she was exposed to the urban life in Utsunomiya, where she attended university. The abundant nature in Nasu only seemed more attractive and worth protecting after she returned to Nasu, similar to the tourists visiting Kurokawa. The situation in Nasu calls upon Robbins’ idea of political ecology; nature and environment are politically embedded, where Mashiko’s hometown is “being appropriated by forces beyond her”. Significantly, changes to nature are not driven by environmental causes, but deeply rooted political and economic agendas (2007, 4). Evidently, the complicated concept of political ecology is underlined where “powerful corporate interests [are] trying to defile it [Nasu]”; good-natured intentions are double-looked with hidden agendas by the government. As a result, onlookers conclude that climate change is “not a priority for the Japanese government.” This complements Kirby’s argument on the government’s ecological behaviour being driven by economic rationalism (2011, 178). 

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Kalland, Arne, and Pamela J. Asquith. 1997. “Japanese Perceptions of Nature: Ideals and Illusions.” In Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives, edited by Arne Kalland and Pamela J. Asquith, 1–35. Richmond: Curzon Press.

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

McMorran, Chris. 2014. “A Landscape Of ‘Undesigned Design’ in Rural Japan.” Landscape Journal: design, planning, and management of the land 33 (1): 1–15. muse.jhu.edu/article/553176.

Robbins, Paul. (2007). Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction. 1st ed. Wiley-Blackwell.

Takahashi, R. (2020). Outnumbered but unafraid: Japanese climate activists confront Society to Save it. The Japan Times. Retrieved October 31, 2021, from https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/05/12/national/japanese-climate-activists/. 

Japan’s aviation industry and the use of biofuels as a sustainable alternative (Vivian & Matin)

Link to article: https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Environment/Climate-Change/Japan-s-JGC-and-Cosmo-to-begin-jet-biofuel-production-in-2025 


This article overviews the current efforts by fuel companies in developing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) using biofuel and how it will help the Japanese aviation industry achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. It outlines how Biofuel is a more sustainable fuel source for aircrafts as it is made from waste plastics or biomass. Compared to traditional jet fuel, the use of biofuels in jet engines can result in up to 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.


Japan, or rather the Japanese aviation industry, appears to be innovative in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions. It highlights how Japan seeks to employ new methods of tapping onto waste materials as a sustainable resource in creating a carbon neutral aviation industry, illustrating Japan’s intention in moving towards sustainable development. With the initiation of commercialising aviation biofuel, it could be a viable option in achieving carbon neutrality. This is because biofuels can help to mitigate the issues of resource depletion and carbon emissions from the excessive use of traditional fuels (Zhu et al. 2020, 381). This is especially so after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, which resulted in the diversification of energy sources in Japan (383). Conversely, with the implementation of measures to limit carbon emissions by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, together with the widespread use of biofuels by other countries, Japan could also appear as a nation feeling external pressure to increase its production and use of biofuels in the aviation sector.


The employment of biofuels in the Japanese aviation industry connects back to the nation’s interest in maximising waste management systems and underexploited resources (e.g. waste cooking oil) to generate new possibilities of energy production (Kirby 2011, 189-190). Additionally, this illustrates how the aims of the Biomass Nippon Integrated Strategy, which envisions the use of biomass in key stages of production, have begun to take shape in Japan’s economy (191). Thus, the employment of biofuels does not merely stem from Japan’s environmental consciousness, but illustrates how the interactions with nature can be manipulated into aligning with Japan’s aim of economic growth. 


The reverse is also true as we see how scarcity in light of “economic and development-focused orientation” can support environmental objectives in Japan (191), thereby advancing the research on environmentally-sustainable energy sources. This article is also exemplary of how Japan responds to gaiatsu. We observe how Japan’s aviation industry is willing to adopt the use of more environmentally sustainable fuel sources similar to other nations, which aligns with the goals of the nation and the industry itself. This therefore illustrates how this pursuit is not motivated by a sense of conformity to gaiatsu but rather one that is motivated by the nation’s domestic prerogatives (165). 


By seeking an alternative to traditional aviation fuel despite the considerable higher cost of production of biofuels, it is an example of “planting the seed” in sustainable development (Robbins 2007, 13). Yet, this could also be seen as something political due to external pressure that could possibly hinder airlines from landing in Japan in the future if biofuel supply were to be unavailable. The use of biofuels also illustrates how “resources are constructed rather than given” (8).  This shows how the Japanese aviation industry is adapting to meet the changing needs of society (9).


In conclusion, the Japanese aviation industry intends to reduce its carbon emissions in the future with the recent initiation of commercialising biofuels. While this can be seen as a move towards sustainable development, it could also be due to external political factors that could hinder Japan’s economic growth.


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


Nikkei staff writers. “Japan’s JGC and Cosmo to Begin Jet Biofuel Production in 2025.” Nikkei Asia, July 30, 2021. https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Environment/Climate-Change/Japan-s-JGC-and-Cosmo-to-begin-jet-biofuel-production-in-2025. 


Robbins, Paul. 2007. “The Hatchet and the Seed.” Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction, 1-16. London: Blackwell Publishing.


Zhu, Danmei, Seyed M. Mortazavi, Akbar Maleki, Alireza Aslani, Hossein Yousefi. 2020.” Analysis of the robustness of energy supply in Japan: Role of renewable energy.” Energy Reports 6 (November): 378-391. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.egyr.2020.01.011.

Knowledge sharing: Shiseido the first cosmetic company to join sustainable tech sharing platform WIPO GREEN (Nathalie & Jia Ho)

Main article: https://www.cosmeticsdesign-asia.com/Article/2021/07/27/Shiseido-the-first-cosmetic-company-to-join-sustainable-tech-sharing-platform-WIPO-GREEN 

The article highlights Shiseido, a Japanese cosmetics company, as the first cosmetics company to join WIPO GREEN. WIPO GREEN is an international technology sharing programme by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) for companies to share sustainable technology and processes. Shiseido is one of most active partners, sharing technology and processes that reduce water and energy consumption.

They hope to achieve 100% green packaging for their cosmetics by 2025. To this goal, they have partnered with Japanese materials company KANEKA to produce packaging made of a new biodegradable polymer. The Aquagel Lip Palette range launched in 2020 uses this material and has 80% less packaging than individual lipsticks.

In the article, Shiseido is painted as not only environmentally conscious, but also generous and willing to share environmentally beneficial technology with other companies for the ultimate goal of helping resolve issues of pollution and global warming. As a Japanese company, the image of Shiseido reflects back on Japan as having environmental responsibility, being technologically advanced and the valuation of overall societal progress over individual profit.

Shseido’s investment into developing environmentally sustainable technologies and willingness to share such technology and processes at no monetary benefit to themselves indicates an altruistic dedication to environmental protection. By innovating their production and transport processes to be more sustainable and empowering others to do the same, the company comes across as a “green” company.

Shiseido’s focus on sustainability seems at odds with the theme of the rural-urban divide, where urban populations are more detached from nature and see it as a source of recreation rather than a force to be respected and feared, deprioritising environmental concerns for profit. Given that Shiseido is an urban-based company yet has a dedication to sustainability, this may indicate a modification to the textbook dynamic. Unlike pollution in the Miyamata case, where the cost was largely localised to the fishermen and wildlife of the area, global warming may be a universal enough threat that even urban populations are confronted with nature’s impact on their life, creating more of an environmental awareness in urban spheres.

Despite heightened awareness of the environment, Shiseido may not indicate a complete reversal of trends. As mentioned in Kirby’s article, the Japanese government seems to be in no hurry to alter their environmental policies unless the solid allegations against them become known to the public. (Kirby, 2011, pg. 188) Shiseido only has one example of a product that was made with the biodegradable material. There are a wide variety of products from Shiseido and the lip palette represents a small change towards sustainability. This aligns with Kirby’s reading that the firm’s priority seems not to be pushing sustainable development but profits, monitoring sales of the lip palette as a test to see if “green” products are profitable before transitioning the rest of their packaging.
This article can be linked to Walker’s reading on how the process of industrialization brings upon devastating harms to the environment and in turn, to the people living around it. The Chisso corporation was a historical example of how a large corporation in pursuit of profits was able to harm the locals on a large scale. (Walker, 2011). That being said, perhaps this is the one small step for a Japanese corporation and one big step for Japan as a whole when it comes to implementing sustainable development. There are definitely measures and alternatives that large companies such as Shiseido, Toyota, Fujitsu, etc, create and with their potential scale of production, it will be heartening to see that there can be substantial efforts when it comes to green innovation.
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Kirby, P.W. (2011). Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Walker, Brett L. The Toxic Archipelago: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2011.

Caring through Concrete? – Katoku’s Divisive Sea Wall (Li Shan and Joshua)

Main Article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/13/world/asia/japan-katoku-seawall.html

Katoku Beach, one of the few remaining concrete-free beaches in Japan, was recently minted as a UNESCO heritage site. However, shortly after, a sea wall project was implemented to protect the beach and village there from natural disasters. This concretization project has divided local and international actors into various camps. The article links Katoku’s concretization to the broader conflict surrounding the concretization of natural spaces in Japan, shedding light on the actors and agendas involved in this discourse, as well as the diverse range of attitudes towards nature even within the same scales.

The article represents Japan as a country that “confront(s) nature with concrete”, placing economic and practical concerns above nostalgic sentiment in policy-making. Similar to Waley’s paper on the concretization of rivers due to floods (Waley, 2000), the main justification for Katoku’s concretization is also risk posed by natural disasters like typhoons. Interestingly, even opponents of the construction of the seawall also prioritise economic concerns, as the beach is Katoku’s most valuable asset. Overall, local actors prioritise an anthropocentric approach that favours human interpretations of human needs (Kalland & Asquith, 1997). Ultimately, both proponents and opponents of the seawall prioritise human needs, whether it be safety, economic concerns, or nostalgic sentiments “of a pastoral existence”.

The article also touches on the role of an underlying political economy that has superseded risk as a concern in the concretization of Japan. While analysts concluded that the concrete sea berm could accelerate sand loss, thereby increasing risk, non-traditional ‘greener’ solutions were not considered. Activist Sono suggests that this dominant reliance on concrete is politically driven by politicians and residents with industry ties rather than for protective reasons – one that favours those with vested interests, at the expense of the local populace (Robbins, 2007).

The idea of political ecology is especially salient here, where differences in power amongst the various actors involved shape the nature-society relations in Katoku at different scales (Robbins, 2007). Many different stakeholders, with different agendas and levels of authority, compete for control over the limited beach space (Rots, 2019). However, such agendas are multifaceted and can vary considerably even within the same scale. Mayor Kamada, as both official and resident, advocates for the seawall for the proven safety it provides; a view shared by resident Hajime who sees it as a necessity despite his general opposition to construction. In contrast, residents like Ms Yoshikawa oppose the project but fear speaking up due to the minority position they hold. Thus, while power relations do mediate environmental attitudes, nuances in an individual’s positionality can ultimately influence their stance regardless of the scale they operate at. These individual stances can be shaped by larger, global forces – some residents who formerly opposed the seawall project changed positions after experiencing typhoons exacerbated by climate change. Aging populations and the hollowing-out of small towns similarly incentivised Sono’s advocacy for preserving the beach.

These polarising positions can also be attributed to a spectrum of attitudes towards nature. The preference for a controlled form of nature on one hand, is taken to an extreme when safety and economic concerns are prioritized by the residents whose livelihoods are at stake (Kalland & Asquith, 1997). Alternatively, activists like Takaki hold a romanticized perspective towards the unadulterated form of the rural, island landscape. Katoku beach embodies the nostalgic countryside and “exotic otherness” of Okinawa (McMorran, 2014; Rots, 2019) that mainlanders and foreigners alike aim to protect. These conflicting views reflect not only the clash between foreign interference and Okinawan self-determination (Rots, 2019), but also how nature is defined and managed by each stakeholder in different ways.

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Asquith, P. J., & Kalland, A. (1997). Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives. Curzon Press.

Dooley, B., & Ueno, H. (2021, October 13). This Pristine Beach Is One of Japan’s Last. Soon It Will Be Filled With Concrete. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/13/world/asia/japan-katoku-seawall.html

McMorran, C. (2014). A Landscape of “Undesigned Design” in Rural Japan. Landscape Journal, 33(1), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.3368/lj.33.1.1

Robbins, P. (2019). Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction. Blackwell Publishing.

Rots, A. P. (2019). “This Is Not a Powerspot”: Heritage Tourism, Sacred Space, and Conflicts of Authority at Sēfa Utaki. Asian Ethnology, 78(1), 155–180. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26704759

Waley, P. (2000). Following the flow of Japan’s river culture. Japan Forum, 12(2), 199–217. https://doi.org/10.1080/09555800020004020

A greener Tokyo Olympics: myth or reality? (Kai Jun and Yi Yi)

Main article: https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/plastic-podiums-recycled-medals-cardboard-beds-sustainability-tokyo-2020-2021-08-03/

Japan is in the limelight for its sustainability at the 2020 Olympic Games. Athletes were seen standing on podiums made from recycled plastics, receiving medals made from recycled electronics, and sleeping on cardboard beds. In addition, many venues were built from recycled wood, which could be easily torn down and repurposed after the Games. Going beyond reusing materials, transportation services like electric cars were utilised to ferry competitors around the Olympic Village. Carbon offset programmes were even carried out before the Games, with Japanese businesses donating 4.38 million tonnes of carbon credits for going beyond carbon neutrality.

The Games’ sustainability has generally declined over the 16 Summer and Winter Games since 1992, with the 2014 Sochi Olympics ranking at the bottom (Müller et al., 2021). As sustainability has become a hot topic in recent decades, much attention was on Japan to show how a country known for being eco-friendly can negotiate traditionally unsustainable approaches to hosting the Olympics. Japan’s goal was simple. It is to prove to the international community that it is possible to organise the Olympics as a carbon-neutral programme, rethinking how we can deal with excessive carbon emissions in and outside Japan.

Clearly, these sustainability efforts in the Tokyo Olympics highlight Japan’s commitment to going green for the event. Given the high-profile nature of the Olympics, these efforts are seen as the Japanese government bowing to gaiatsu, or “external pressure”. As illustrated by Kirby (2011), the Japanese government has occasionally responded to international pressure to address environmental issues—most notably in 1991 when it amended the Waste Disposal and Public Cleansing Law to emphasise reuse and recycling in the lead-up to the watershed 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. But more explicitly, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) contractually requires host cities to commit to sustainability, which is also one of the core pillars of the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 (Müller et al., 2021). This would explain why the Japanese government has gone out of their way to organise a sustainable Games with recycled materials and carbon reduction programmes.

With that said, these efforts can be likened to greenwashing. Preliminary evaluations from Müller et al. (2021) showed that Tokyo 2020 is actually the third-least sustainable Olympics from 1996 onwards. Additionally, numerous reports of massive food waste in the Games had emerged, countering the organising committee’s claims of sustainability (Brasor, 2021; McCurry, 2021). Moreover, some scientists also cast doubt on Tokyo 2020’s zero-carbon goals, citing that carbon offsets do not actually eliminate emissions entirely; the event was still estimated to produce 2.3 million tonnes of CO2 even after banning spectators (Hahn, 2021; McDonnell, 2021). 

These contradictions in Tokyo 2020’s green efforts point to what Kirby (2011) sees as the unstable rhetoric of sustainability in Japan, where ambitious policies may not always translate to practices on the ground. However, unlike Kirby (2011)’s argument that Japan tends to frame sustainability as a matter of pragmatism and scarcity, Tokyo 2020 is hardly the case. Gaiatsu seems to be the dominating force at play, where the Games’ green practices can be seen as attempting to comply with international standards set forth by the IOC, and part of the wider messaging that the Olympics is organised sustainably—all of which play into the global politics of spectacle that dominates the event. Furthermore, the overspending and resultant wastage from Tokyo 2020 (McCurry, 2021) is far from pragmatism on the government’s part, especially when we consider that the Games were held in a state of emergency amid the pandemic with significant public disapproval. 

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Brasor, P. (2021, August 14). Were the Olympics sustainable? Reports of waste suggest it’s not easy being green. The Japan Times. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/08/14/national/media-national/olympics-sustainable-green/

Hahn, J. (2021, July 23). Tokyo 2020 Olympics accused of “superficial” sustainability efforts. Dezeen. https://www.dezeen.com/2021/07/23/tokyo-2020-olympics-sustainability/

Kirby, P.W. (2011). Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

McCurry, J. (2021, October 11). Doubts on legacy and cost concerns hang over Tokyo Olympic Games. Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2021/oct/11/doubts-on-legacy-and-worries-on-cost-worries-hang-over-tokyo-olympics-and-paralympics

McDonnell, T. (2021, August 2). The Olympics are becoming less sustainable. Quartz. https://qz.com/2037375/what-is-the-carbon-footprint-of-the-olympics/

Müller, M., Wolfe, S. D., Gaffney, C., Gogishvili, D., Hug, M., & Leick, A. (2021). An evaluation of the sustainability of the Olympic Games. Nature Sustainability, 4(4), 340-348. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00696-5

Teo, A. (2021, August 4). Plastic podiums, recycled medals, cardboard beds: sustainability at Tokyo 2020. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/plastic-podiums-recycled-medals-cardboard-beds-sustainability-tokyo-2020-2021-08-03/

Danger into Waters: A Radioactive Threat brewing in Fukushima (Yan Yuet & Fatimah)

Article link: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/backstories/1633/


This article addresses the effects and reactions brought about from the Japanese government’s decision to dispose of treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the ocean. The verdict received backlash from many locals due to the environmental, economic and safety issues that would arise from the water disposal. The water disposal poses the risk of increasing radioactive levels in the ocean, consequently harming local fisheries and the tourism industry. The risk of radiation may detriment the overall safety of the locals, particularly those in Fukushima prefecture. While the Japanese government is pushing Tokyo Power Electric Company (TEPC) to provide compensation, the locals remain skeptical and wish for increased communication and transparency from the government.

While most of the article addressed a diversity of economic and safety concerns for locals in Fukushima prefecture, such worries stem from the risk of environmental detriment from this method of water disposal. This article thus tackles the issue of environmental pollution – specifically water pollution from nuclear power plants – and its impact on society. As such, the events and intricacies described in the article align with a multitude of ideas that seek to comprehend the relationship between Japan and nature.

Firstly, the article shows that Japan largely seeks to exploit the environment. This is observed when the government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company decided to dispose of treated water from the nuclear power plant into the ocean. Nevertheless, there are other stakeholders with a different stance. As the article points out, locals, fishermen, and even a professor, do not support the decision wholly. Hence, the representation of Japan and the environment is a contested one due to different opinions held by stakeholders. Despite this, it seems that the exploitative representation of Japan and its environment trumps, since the Japanese government implemented the verdict without consulting others’ opinions. This therefore reflects a power imbalance between the government and other stakeholders. 

The article reveals a similar perception of nature amongst the government, TEPC, and fishermen. All three groups view nature from an anthropocentric viewpoint since they see the ocean as a ‘potential resource to exploit’ (Kalland & Asquith 1997,30). For the government and TEPC, the ocean is a dumping ground when the storage facility runs out of space. As the news article stated, ‘Part of the Japanese government’s message is that discharging water containing tritium into the ocean is nothing new’. Meanwhile, for the fishermen, the ocean is a source of income and livelihood.

Next, the news highlights the lasting effects of pain with relation to the environment. The more humans try to distance themselves from nature, the more they are reminded of their relationship with nature through the manifestation of pain (Walker 2011,8). While the waste disposal industrialised the oceanic landscape and thus reflected a distance from nature, the threat of an industrialised ocean revived the public’s memories of the pain with regards to experiences during from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, “their lives were upended” (Akihito et al. 2021). It exhibits the repetition of pain as a sacrifice to the modern industrialist regime

Lastly, the news brings attention to economic attitudes towards waste disposal in Japan. Kirby states that “waste was framed in terms of resources and cost rather than byproducts and environmental defilement (Kirby 2011, 170). The article mirrors this line of logic with the decreasing amount of space to store treated water. The government expresses that “there will be no room for any more in a matter of years” (Akihito et al. 2021), showing a focus in the storage space instead of the environmental risks posed. 


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Akihito, Yoshida, Takasu Eri, and Goto Shunsuke. “Water Disposal at Fukushima Plant Raises the Stakes for Public Understanding: NHK WORLD-JAPAN News.” NHK WORLD. May 24, 2021. Accessed October 22, 2021. https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/backstories/1633/.

Kalland, Arne, and Pamela J. Asquith. 1997. “Japanese Perceptions of Nature: Ideals and Illusions.” In Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives, edited by Arne Kalland and Pamela J. Asquith, 1–35. Richmond: Curzon Press.

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

Walker, Brett L. 2011. Toxic Archipelago: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan. Seattle: University of Washington Press.


Japan’s 2020 Olympics: Not so green after all? (Nely & Bella)

Link to article: https://www.npr.org/2021/07/06/1013496227/theres-work-to-do-if-the-olympics-actually-wants-to-be-environmentally-friendly

From cardboard beds, to podiums made of recycled plastic, to medals made of extracted metals from old electronics; the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was advertised as the most eco-friendly one ever. The organisers found ways to create many items from recycled materials; an example of their pledge to use sustainable materials in the Athletes’ Village. Although some environmentalists applaud the efforts, others have called it an exaggerated “greenwash”. Data has unfortunately shown that sustainability in all dimensions has been decreasing over the past few decades. Some environmental groups still give the Olympic organisers credit for trying. At the games, any extra electricity required will be 100% renewable energy. But flying in thousands of athletes from around the world would leave a heavy carbon footprint in the form of harmful gas emissions. However, organisers have collected enough carbon credits from companies to make this the “first ever carbon-negative Olympics”. Links can be seen to Kirby’s (2011) sustainable Japan, where Japan strives to be a more eco-friendly and sustainable country.

By organising the first ever carbon-negative Olympics, a great milestone in the history of the games, Japan attempted to showcase its global green leadership. This has been a breakthrough and fostered a new paradigm for promoting sustainability and environmentalism in international sporting events. The use of recycled materials and renewable energy also embodied how Japanese perceive resource-conservation as a social virtue (Kirby, 2011). For instance, the medals are made of recycled metal from electronics collected from Japanese citizens. Involving the public in the production of the Olympic medals has shown a greater sustainability effort for the Tokyo Games.

Despite their best efforts at eco-friendliness, however, it was found that the tropical plywood used in construction of stadiums came from Indonesia where deforestation was an issue. These rainforests were being converted into palm oil plantations which further endangered animals like the orangutans. The Olympic officials, however, rejected these complaints. This issue is a mirror to the reading from Knight (2006), where the monkeys being pushed out of their forest homes end up invading villages in a bid to survive. Similar issues could occur in the future with these orangutans as they lose their homes in Indonesia, and possibly invade rural villages for food. Japan reaped the “benefits” of using the plywood from the rainforest and was complimented for being “green” at the expense of the orangutans, who suffered the “cost” of us destroying their natural habitats. This shows the uneven distribution of the cost and benefits with environmental change (Robbins, 2007).

Additionally, overfishing proved to be an issue when serving athletes seafood at the Olympic Village. The Organizers had initially set a standard for sustainability; with strict rules of sourcing seafood. But eventually, the issue of how to cater to the athletes’ great demand for fresh marine products without resulting in overfishing became a conundrum for the Japanese suppliers. The sustainability plan written ended up being ignored after the suppliers’ successful lobbying with the organizers.

To fulfill the ambition of hosting an environmentally-friendly Olympics, the authorities attempted to control resources through propagandizing “sustainability”. However, as Wolfe argued in the article, “sustainability increasingly tends to take a back seat to corporate profits and ambitions to put on bigger, more impressive spectacles.” How the sustainability of the Olympics is framed and marketed revealed the contours of Japanese-style sustainability and manifested their attitudes toward ecology. Podiums, medals, and cardboard beds as the symbol of sustainability, only exaggerated the unfavourable reality. The economic benefits have inevitably been a driving factor behind the authorities’ decision-making, which hampered the sustainability effort of the Olympic Games.


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Kirby, P. W. (2011). Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan. University of Hawaii Press.

Knight, J. (2006). Waiting for wolves in Japan: an anthropological study of people-wildlife relations. University of Hawaii Press.

Robbins, P. (2019). Political ecology: A critical introduction. John Wiley & Sons.

Upcycling Disposable Umbrellas in Japan (Dora & Kang Rui)

Link to article: https://zenbird.media/worlds-first-hat-upcycled-from-used-plastic-umbrellas/

Umbrellas are deemed a highly disposable commodity in Japan, with 120 to 130 million consumed annually. Most umbrellas that go into waste are made from plastic.  By leveraging the water-resistance of plastic, Plasticity managed to combine layers of plastic taken from umbrella waste to form a hat that possesses remarkable strength and water resistance. The handmade hat has low maintenance and can be used to substitute umbrellas. Moreover, hats that are produced vary from one another and are processed based on the combination and condition of different umbrellas.

The Umbrella bucket hat represents the disposable plastic situation in Japan to raise consumer awareness about plastic wastage and sustainability.

Commonly used in Japan, transparent umbrellas are seen as temporary and disposable as they are sold cheaply, widely accessible and made for one-time emergency use. The recent increased torrential downpour in Japan has led to a rise in sales of transparent umbrellas, causing a surge in plastic umbrella waste. Japan is the second-largest contributor of plastic waste in the world, producing 8.5 million metric tons of plastic garbage annually. Increasing plastic waste has become a national concern and the Japanese government intends to reduce disposable plastic by 25% by 2030. More than half of plastic waste is burned to produce electricity or sent abroad, with only 20% of plastic waste reused to make new products. (Mainichi, 2021) To achieve sustainability and decarbonization of the economy, more methods of reusing plastic waste are needed to reduce plastic waste.

This upcycling project is considered a green initiative because it extends the functionality and useful life of disposable plastic umbrellas in Japan, where these umbrellas are just as convenient and cheap to buy as they are to be left behind. This initiative essentially prevents environmental plastic pollution by repurposing the plastic material of the disposable umbrella into Umbrella Bucket Hats. Furthermore, the effect that this upcycling effort has on preventing plastic environmental pollution is multiplied because several layers of plastic from multiple umbrellas are utilised to produce one hat, meaning that every one unit of this upcycled product saves the environment from more than one unit of plastic trash. This project is therefore not only green but SUPER green.

This news relates to the lecture in week 6 on ‘Sustainable Japan’, specifically on the topic of ‘Waste & Recycling in Minamata’. As we have studied, Minimata has had a tragic history of environmental pollution disaster by Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory in the 20th century, leading to severe methylmercury poisoning of the ecosystem and, by extension, the Minamata residents (Walker, 2011). The lingering impact of the disaster in everyday practices is manifested in the Waste & Recycling Programmes in Minamata today, where the communal effort to reuse and recycle materials extensively is orchestrated in hopes to impede the recurrence of the tragedy. Remarkably, the stringent Minamata waste management is accredited to Minamata becoming the first Eco-Capital of Japan in 2011 (Foreign Press Center Japan, 2013). A notable contribution to the sustainable movement in Minamata is the creative repurposing initiative by eco-craftswoman Yoshinaga Rimiko who extends the life of “unrecyclable” alcohol glass bottles by turning them into beautiful – and functional – drinking cups (from Minamata Recycling Tour lecture by Dr. McMorran). Similarly, PLASTICITY extends the functional life of disposable plastic umbrellas – almost indefinitely – into upcycled Umbrella Bucket Hats, turning a plastic “waste” that was awaiting disposal into a practical and sustainable fashion accessory.

Word Count: 569


Mainichi, T. (2021, June 15). Editorial: Japan has a new anti-plastics law coming, but the Devil will be in the details. The Mainichi. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20210615/p2a/00m/0op/026000c.

Foreign Press Center Japan. Notice: Minamata Press Tour “Polluted City Turns to Eco-Capital of Japan” (June 26-27, 2013) | 公益財団法人フォーリン・プレスセンター(FPCJ). Accessed October 16, 2021. https://fpcj.jp/en/assistance-en/tours_notice-en/p=4556/.

Walker, Brett L. The Toxic Archipelago: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2011.

The protectors and promoters of Japan’s National Parks (Shae & Koko)

Find the Article here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/paid-content-the-protectors-and-promoters-of-japans-national-parks

This article explores human-nature relationships in the context of two national parks in Japan. For this essay, we focus on Towada-Hachimantai National Park. Through interviews with various people who live and work in the park, the author explores the relationships these people have with the area. The people interviewed are: nature guide Shuhei Murakami, park ranger Mizuki Yamasaki, fish breeder Yoshimi Kobayashi, and finally Kazushi Sato, chairman of a ryokan located in the park.

The subjects of this article, parks and nature reserves, are quintessential examples of “green” spaces. We take the view that Towada-Hachimantai’s “greenness” can be understood as both an untamed and a cultivated nature. 

The article represents Japanese people as being very much intertwined with the untamed environment of Towada-Hachimantai Park because of a close physical connection. Japan’s national parks are described as a “mix of the untamed and lived-on – and everything in between”. Humans live in close proximity to wild nature because many private settlements were absorbed into government-defined park boundary lines, resulting in a significant portion of the population living within “nature”.  The article also shows that the people who work at Towada-Hachimantai have a close emotional connection with nature. Yamasaki states that Japanese people grow up with a close connection to nature, and “don’t think of nature as a separate place from where [they] spend [their] daily lives”. Murakami says that when he stands in the presence of the park’s beech trees, “[t]he entire forest had this gentle feel to it”.

On the other hand, the environment of Towada-Hachimantai Park is also represented as a resource that is manipulated and exploited by these same workers in the name of environmental preservation. Boosting the appeal of Towada-Hachimantai as a tourist destination is shown to be the primary incentive for an active emphasis on protecting fragile alpine flora. There is also a focus on managing the human element of the park by restoring park trails and preventing traffic jams.

Overall, the article supports the idea that Japanese people’s perceptions of nature are diverse (Kalland & Asquith, 1997). To visitors, Towada-Hachimantai’s nature is a source of spiritual comfort and healing (Fukiji, 2015) where visitors relax in an idealised furusato landscape to recover from the weariness of urban life (McMorran, 2014). This is different from the love that the people who make a living off Towada-Hachimantai have for the park. While they appear to have a close physical and emotional connection to wild nature, they also value it as a resource to be exploited for profit. 

The love that the park workers have for Towada-Hachimantai Park is complex. However, we believe that they largely take an anthropocentric view towards the park’s nature, where the value attributed to nature is not so much an intrinsic one as what it can do for people (Kalland and Asquith, 1997). For example, we can see this through Kobayashi’s role as fish breeder. His role is to breed only a single type of fish  – the kokanee – to stock Lake Towada. He does this only because the species lures gourmands to the area’s eaters and fishing enthusiasts to the lake. Ultimately, the fish are a resource used by humans. 

We think that the breeding of kokanee may also be considered a sustainable practice, since doing so protects the kokanee population whilst balancing economic purposes such as tourism. However, since “sustainability” is ambiguous and can be easily appropriated (Kirby, 2011), people can readily frame fish breeding as a positive compromise between economic development and environmental preservation. This is even if, in reality, priorities lie more on promoting economic growth through tourism. 

Word Count: 598 words


Asquith, P. J., & Kalland, A. (1997). Japanese Images of Nature: Cultural Perspectives. Curzon Press.

McMorran, C. (2014). A Landscape of “Undesigned Design” in Rural Japan. Landscape Journal, 33(1), 1-16. https://doi.org/10.3368/lj.33.1.1

Kirby, & P.W. (2011). Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan (pp. 160-192). Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Fujiki, K. (2015). My neighbor totoro: The healing of nature, the nature of healing. Resilience: A journal of the Environmental Humanities, 2(3), 152-157. https://doi.org/10.5250/resilience.2.3.0152



Absent crowds, Tokyo Olympics have a shot at being green (Elizabeth & Jun Wen)

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic games is slated to be one of the greenest Olympic games in history. While Japan already had several energy saving measures in place such as the use of electric cars and medals made out of recycled metals, the unexpected lack of spectators at the event due to Covid-19 further added to Japan’s bid in making their Olympics green. The article highlights how the lack of spectators will reduce the Games’ carbon footprint by 12%.


The article presents Japan’s handling of the Games in a positive light, specifically in the way how an unfortunate circumstance can actually be beneficial to the environment. The article also highlights how the Olympics have been increasingly unsustainable in recent years, with the carbon emissions for a single Games surpassing the emissions created by cities such as Vancouver or Melbourne in an entire year. The push for a greener Games is also further emphasised by how climate change has already begun to impact Japan with summer temperatures reaching over 30 degrees Celsius when the Games begin. As such, Japan also hopes that their green Olympic games can be a “space for promoting decarbonisation and sustainability” with their initiatives.


The adoption of sustainability practices in Tokyo 2020 is in line with Japan’s construction of sustainability and ‘sustainable development’ as highlighted by Kirby (2011). While Japan employs tactics to reduce carbon emissions from the Games, the act of hosting the Games falls under the contradictory notion of sustainable development – whereby the act of development requires countries to tap on the use of natural resources and for the sake of economic growth (p. 163). Countries bid to host the Games in the hopes of boosting the local economy with tourism and improving the country’s reputation in the world – it is a matter of prestige rather than the celebration of sport. What is even more ironic about this article is that the lack of spectators is attributed to how the Olympics has a ‘shot’ at being green – implying that even with Japan’s sustainability measures in place, it is simply not enough to make the Olympics ‘green’ and once again placing the responsibility of reducing climate change on individuals rather than governments and corporations. If Japan was so concerned about sustainability issues, implementing tedious recycling measures as explored in Kirby’s reading, then why bother to host the Games at all? Tokyo 2020 ties into the paradox of Japan’s sustainability and supports Kirby’s argument that Japan’s sustainability is merely constructed – whether Japan truly cares about the environment is questionable despite their actions to promote sustainability and to set an example for future Olympic events.


While reading this article, we wondered if Japan’s “sustainable” initiatives are enough to cause a material impact in reducing the carbon footprint of the entire Games. While the article does talk about how scholars have suggested holding the games at a few selected cities and choosing a slower mode of transport instead of flying athletes in from around the world, we simply felt that perhaps the extravagant opening and closing ceremonies could be reduced to make the games more sustainable without reducing the significance of the Olympic Games to each and every athlete.


(529 Words)



Kapoor, K. (2021, July 22). Absent crowds, Tokyo Olympics have a shot at being green. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/absent-crowds-tokyo-olympics-have-shot-being-green-2021-07-22/

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