This article describes how Japan’s disposable home culture is an environmental burden to the country. Today, a house in Japan has an average lifespan of 30 years, whereby 50% of houses are demolished within 38 years. House value also depreciates to near zero within the first 15 years. Since the past, Japan has been in a cycle of constant house demolition and restoration. During post-World War II period, most structures were destroyed and have to be built from scratch. However, these buildings were not of good quality and have to be rebuilt again. Till today, houses are still repeating this pattern but primarily to suit the government’s building code. This legal regulation will be reviewed every 10 years to adapt to earthquake risk. Instead of spending money to retrofit houses, most people just build new homes. This is not financially viable as people work hard to pay off mortgage that amounts to nothing. Most importantly, this breeds a range of environmental problems, especially for the construction sector.
In the disposable home culture, heaps of construction wastes are produced, and more than 80% of it could be recycled. Since the year 2000, Japan government passed a Law on Recycling of Construction-Related Materials. Concrete waste was recycled as roadbed gravel but there were more discarded concrete than roads available. Consequently, illegal dumping of construction wastes emerges and this accounts for 70% of illegally discarded waste nationwide. Even if waste were to be recycled, the process itself is energy exhaustive and yields less valuable materials than the ones discarded. To top it all, Japanese view houses as perishable and thus neglects proper maintenance of houses. Aggregating all these factors together, the construction industry is not environmentally friendly. Statistics shows the construction sector being the top emitter of carbon dioxide in Japan, releasing 244.78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
It is tough for Japan to withdraw from this cycle, as their preference for wood as building material is a cultural phenomenon. This bandwagon effect is influenced by Japanese perception of nature, whereby their environment is considered benevolent. To maximize contact between inner and outer environments, the Japanese tend to rebuild their dwellings to adjust living spaces for changing conditions (Murato, 1985). Hence, wood as a major structural ingredient was chosen for its reproducibility and easy usage. However, most timber homes are made from imported woods, despite Japan being heavily forested. This inflates the carbon footprint of the construction industry, making it a culturally driven environmental problem.
One solution proposed by the author is to stop promoting home ownership, which corresponds to a 200-year home law. This would avert the need for houses to meet building standards and non-compliance would not warrant its people to pay tax. Providing more condominiums is a good option too. Additionally, renovation companies can promote green buildings and longer-lasting homes to create this necessary shift.
1) Braw, E. (2014, May 2). Japan’s disposable home culture is an environmental and financial headache. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/disposable-homes-japan-environment-lifespan-sustainability
2) Laws and Support Systems for Promoting Waste Recycling in Japan. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://nett21.gec.jp/Ecotowns/LawSupportSystems.pdf
3) Murota, Y. 1985. Culture and the environment in Japan. Environmental management, 9(2), 105-111.