Japan’s Minimalist Version of Lego Is Actually Awesome


Tsumiki, dubbed “Japanese Lego”, is a children’s toy that was designed by Kengo Kuma, a well-known Japanese designer, and the organisation More Trees, which promotes forest conservation. The article is an exposé on Tsumiki, and a comparison between Tsumiki and its Scandinavian counterpart, LEGO. The author compares them in two ways, via the material of the object and the shape of the objects. 

Tsumiki has been designed to look and be natural, it is made of cedar wood, takes a triangular form that is suggestive of trees and mountains and the pieces are intended to be laid one on top of another like a pile of branches. This aesthetic affinity with nature aligns Tsumiki structures to forests and natural environments. LEGO on the other hand is cuboidal in shape, connects with precision and is made of a long lasting plastic. LEGO has the same pragmatic values of our modern architectural building blocks and thus reminds us of the urban built-up environment which most of the world lives in.

The author refers to LEGO as being plastic bricks that are “not pretty” and says that Tsumiki is “lovely”, there is a clear bias towards the aesthetic of ‘primal nature’ which is not unusual for design writers who have a high regard for Japanese design.

Tsumiki is an extension of Kuma’s architectural work, where the reflection of nature plays a large role. His intention for Tsumiki was to design the ‘blocks’ to replicate the weaving of twigs in order to create ‘natural’ forms, however this is a diluted activity that has become a codified nature focused activity (Kirby, 2011:69). 

Tsumiki is also touted as being environmentally conscious as it is made of sustainably harvested cedar(sugi) from the Miyazaki prefecture. This raises both the monetary value and status of the object giving it a particular appeal to urbanites. Tsumiki can be seen as one of the many commodities of Japan’s natural environment that have been ‘wrapped’ and sold to urbanites. (Moon. 1997) This is further seen in packaging of Tsumiki where the blocks are kept in small house-shaped boxes with high ‘roofs’: a nod to the rural landscape that is seen as a more peaceful habitat where the residents are in touch with nature.

In truth, is Tsumiki really that different from LEGO? Tsumiki does aesthetically reflect ‘primal nature’, which both the designer and the author are appreciating and admiring.

Both LEGO and Tsumiki are attempts to have control within our environments and as inspirational toys for building new structures. In addition, Tsumiki may inspire a love for the aesthetic of nature, and in this way it may also have an impact in promoting the protection of nature.

The article ends off by describing a window to the future, it suggests that Tsumiki is a toy that, much as LEGO has done, will inspire future architects with the values it inherently embodies. However, as we continue to dilute the essence of nature by commodifying and defining it, this purely superficial interpretation of nature continues to proliferate.

Word Count: 508


Rhodes, Margaret. “Japan’s Minimalist Version of Lego Is Actually Awesome” WIRED. Web. 24 Sept. 2016. http://kkaa.co.jp/works/products/tsumiki/.

Kongo Kuma and Associates. “Tsumiki” Kengo Kuma and Associates. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. 


Kirby, P. W. (2011). Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan. Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press: 69-75.

Moon, Okpyo. “Marketing Nature in Rural Japan.” Japanese Images of Nature(1997): 221-35. Print. 

Tokyo Olympic medals to be made from e-waste


Medals for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are proposed to be made of metals from electronic products which includes smartphones and other electronic products according to the organising committee. It is potentially viable as Japan has been described as an “urban mine” where the city is a mine where raw materials could be extracted from electronic products. However, there are no implemented systems when it comes to recycling consumer electronics in Japan.

Because of technological advancements, electronic waste is one of the world’s fastest growing waste stream. Man’s relationship with the product ceases the moment they dispose of it and they do not have to understand how the products are treated. Also, people are more likely to throw their spoilt electronics away instead of sending it for repair because of the ease of obtaining electronic products. Thus, Japan’s proposal to extract metals from e-waste is meaningful as it tackles one of the more crucial problems when it comes to maintaining the sustainability of the Earth.

The recycling and reusing of materials is already widespread in Japan as the environmentally-conscious Japanese have internalised the habit of recycling products like plastic and paper. Extending their recycling regime to include electronic wastes creates the image that the Japanese are indeed striving to ameliorate the damage done to the environment. While household appliances carry little precious metals, they are quite significant in terms of their weight and worth.

However, while it appears to be a ‘green’ idea that could potentially benefit the environment, we must not forget this is what Japan desires to present itself to the world – a green nation. It is even more salient when the event at focus is the Olympics; this results in reports, articles and definitely, free publicity and promotion of Japan as green nation. Thus, I argue that the Olympics is used as a platform to show the world how far it has come in terms of recycling and further solidify its position as a green nation just like how it did more than half a century ago when Japan showed the world its recovery from the second world war (Brasor and Tsubuku, 2014).

Moreover, this idea of recycling metal from electronic products is heavily dependent on the private sector’s contribution towards the effort. But their interest might be more of profits rather than doing good for the environment as the extraction of metals from the electronic products are actually profitable (Japantimes, 2013). Thus companies are spurred by the motivations of profit rather than actually conserving the environment when the recycling of precious metals could also be used as secondary raw materials for the factories as well (Wire, n.d.).

Therefore, while the recycling of electronic waste appears to be an effort to show their love for nature on the global arena, this affection for nature is backed by political and economic considerations rather than real love for the nature.

(480 words)


Brasor, Philip and Masako Tsubuku. 2014. “How the Shinkansen Bullet Train Made Tokyo into the Monster It Is Today.” The Guardian. Retrieved September 26, 2016 (https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/sep/30/-sp-shinkansen-bullet-train-tokyo-rail-japan-50-years).

Japan Times. 2013. “Recycling of Useful Metals | The Japan Times.” Japan Times RSS. Retrieved September 26, 2016 (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/04/27/editorials/recycling-of-useful-metals/#.v-jvq_b97iv).

Sakakibara, Ken. 2016. “Tokyo Olympic Medals to Be Made from e-Waste- Nikkei Asian Review.” Nikkei Asian Review. Retrieved September 26, 2016 (http://asia.nikkei.com/japan-update/tokyo-olympic-medals-to-be-made-from-e-waste?page=1).

Wire. n.d. “Urban Mining: the City as a Source of Raw Materials.” Wire.de. Retrieved September 26, 2016 (http://www.wire.de/cipp/md_wiretube/custom/pub/content,oid,10345/lang,2/ticket,g_u_e_s_t/~/urban_mining_the_city_as_a_source_of_raw_materials.html).




Mountain Day – A New Holiday to “Celebrate” Japan’s Nature

Click to article

Mt. Yakedake, Kamikochi

Mt. Yakedake, courtesy of Teruhide, 2010

Starting from this year (2016), Japan welcomes Mountain Day (山の日) as the sixteenth public holiday to be celebrated annually on 11 August.

First enacted by the Diet in May 2014, it simultaneously served as a response to the lobbying efforts of the Japanese Alpine Club and various mountain hobbyists, who wanted to celebrate Japan’s plentiful mountains – rather fittingly, seeing as the nation is made up of 70% mountainous terrains. The month (八) was chosen for its symbolic resemblance to the silhouette of the mountain while the authorities in the mountainous regions have already set aside the date beforehand.

Officially, the objective is to provide “opportunities to get familiar with mountains and appreciate blessings from mountains” (Office Holidays, 2016), reinforcing the global image of the immanent love Japanese have for nature, and confirming the practice of deriving cultures from nature (Kirby, 2011:75). Ignoring the fact that just one-third of the population knew about the holiday, and only 10% of those who knew were actually contemplating a hiking trip, surely there is more to revering the great summits for the Diet to pass it as a holiday.

It is no secret that Japan has been grappling with her economic stagnation since the economic bubble burst in the early 1990s, and from the capitalism viewpoint, Mountain Day (or any holiday) is a potential boost to the declining consumerism. The ¥820 billion windfall projected by The Japan Times and its ready commoditisation by the “tourism, leisure, hospitality, transportation and retail industries” is simply too good to miss (Yui & Urabe, 2016). As a member of the Group of Eight (comprising of highly-industralised nations), Japan not only stands out for having the highest number of holidays but in furthering the image of ‘Green Japan’ for her “overt” appreciation of nature.

Together with other nature-themed holidays like Greenery Day (04/05) and Marine Day (20/07), it is inevitable to consider Japan and nature-loving synonymous as she constantly presents a self-conscious image of being in-touch with nature, even when evidence showed that most people are utilising such holidays to rest at home (Otake, 2016). It should be noted that most of these “nature-oriented” holidays mask political origins – Greenery Day was formerly called Shōwa Day to celebrate Shōwa Emperor’s birthday, but later amended to recognise the controversial wartime Emperor’s fondness for nature without explicit mention of his name (BBC News, 2005).

However, to some extent, Mountain Day does deflect the argument by Kalland (1997) that Japanese “place…greater value on satisfactions derived from control and mastery over nature…rather than seeking harmony” (Kalland, A. and P. J. Asquith,1997:7) by acknowledging the grandeur of mountains and its volatile tendencies. As mentioned earlier, this is not solely a top-down decision, but advocated by the efforts of local alpinists, reminiscent of “The culture of public participation” highlighted by Howard (1997), and speaks of their sincere appreciation for nature (Howard, 1999:427). Regardless, the illusion of ‘Green Japan’ still stands as ultimately, only a small percent actually celebrates the day for its namesake, therefore making it not representative of Japan’s love of nature.

498 Words


BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Japan names day after Hirohito. (2005). News.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 18 September 2016, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4543461.stm

Howard, T. (1999). Japan’s green resources: Forest conversation and social values. Agriculture And Human Values, 16: 421- 430.

Kalland, A. and P. J. Asquith (1997). Japanese perceptions of nature: ideals and illusions. Japanese Images of Nature. P. J. Asquith and A. Kalland. Richmond, UK, Curzon: 1-7.

Kirby, P. W. (2011). Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan. Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press: 69-75.

Mountain Day | Japanese Public Holidays | Office Holidays. (2016). Officeholidays.com. Retrieved 18 September 2016, from http://www.officeholidays.com/countries/japan/mountain-day.php

Otake, T. (2016). A third of Japan unaware of Mountain Day as holiday makes its debut | The Japan Times. The Japan Times. Retrieved 18 September 2016, from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/08/10/national/third-japan-unaware-mountain-day-holiday-makes-debut/#.V95SdDvYofg

Teruhide, T. (2010). Volcano Mountain Yakedake. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/kamomebird/5150232965

Yui, M. & Urabe, E. (2016). Japan firms to see sales peak over new Mountain Day holiday | The Japan Times. The Japan Times. Retrieved 18 September 2016, from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/08/10/business/japan-firms-see-sales-peak-new-mountain-day-holiday/#.V95T5zvYrjZ

Avoiding waste with the Japanese concept of ‘mottainai’


Article Link: Avoiding waste with the Japanese concept of ‘mottainai’

Mottainai – the Japanese notion that expresses regret of wasting a resource; when directly translated to English, it would mean ‘What a waste!’ or ‘Don’t be wasteful’. This concept is the equivalent of the west ideology of ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’, with an additional impression of having respect to the object. While the concept has gained prominence recently through international media and pop-cultural references, it is insisted by many that the spirit of mottainai has been a part of the Japanese culture for a long time.

The representation of Japan and the environment in this article is the concept of mottainai itself – people are aware of the mutual reliance and fleetingness of all things. Having ties with both Buddhist and Shintoism, both reflects the idea of Japanese cherishing and living in harmony with nature and the environment. Buddhist philosophy of interconnectness and frugality shows that there is a sense of wanting to preserve and protect the environment. As for Shinto animism – where spirituality in man-made objects and nature are celebrated, showing that the Japanese have an aesthetic appreciation and respect towards the environment.

What makes the concept of mottainai ‘green’ is the attempt to convey the intrinsic value in an item and to advocate people to utilize it till its full potential; bringing about the concept of recycling. It also serves as a reminder to Japanese that resources are limited and to conserve what they can. As frugality is highly valued in Buddhist philosophy, there is an idea of reducing waste and to reuse objects continuously till the end of its lifespan. Practices of mottainai are such as flushing toilets with waste water, recycling and reusing old kimono cloth to become chopstick holders, purses, fans (Wallace, 2014).

While some may present mottainai as a mentality rather than an economic concept (Coco, 2008), there are many doubts on whether this may be true. Are the Japanese recycling religiously because they love nature? As presented in Totman’s article, recycling was mainly because of economic purposes rather than the benefit of the environment (Totman, 1989). With rapid industrialization and urbanization, the environment has changed drastically. This has led to many Japanese to feel regret that natural sceneries (e.g. fireflies) are not as prevalent as before. This feeling of loss has led to a sense of wanting to preserve the environment through models such as satoyama and furusatos. However as illustrated in Moon’s article, the nature that these urban tourists are presented with is just a construct and commoditized version of nature (Moon, 1997). Therefore, there is a question of whether mottainai is only applicable towards something that is particularly beautiful, useful or something that holds a significant meaning for the Japanese. Furthermore, the concept of mottainai as with other Japanese concepts has been touted as a possible model of sustainable resource management. However, similar to the criticisms presented in Knight’s article, is the concept of mottainai really a solution that tackles the fundamental issues of today’s environmental crises (Knight, 2010)? While mottainai may discourage consumerism and materialism, there will always be conflicts between economic development and preservation of the environment.


Masters, Coco. “The Japanese Way.” TIME. N.p., 17 Apr. 2008. Web. 9 Sept. 2016. <http://content.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1730759_1734222_1734215,00.html>.

Wallace, Mary. “Mottainai: How the Japanese Say ‘Waste Not, Want Not’.” We Hate to Waste. N.p., 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Sept. 2016. <http://www.wehatetowaste.com/mottainai/>.

Totman, Conrad. “Ecological Trends (The Period of Stasis (II)).” (1989): 260-61. Print. 11 Sept. 2016.

Moon, Okpyo. “Marketing Nature in Rural Japan.” Japanese Images of Nature(1997): 221-35. Print. 11 Sept. 2016.

Knight, Catherine. “The Discourse of “Encultured Nature” in Japan: The Concept of Satoyama and Its Role in 21st-Century Nature Conservation.”Asian Studies Review (2010): 421-41. Print. 11 Sept. 2016.

Smart Living, Green Living

fujisawa-sustainable-smart-town-global-3-thumb-640xauto-305356 gardenpass_img_01_01Article Link: Welcome to Fujisawa, the self-sufficient Japanese smart town

With sustainability as its focus, Panasonic has built an entire town, the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town (SST), which will be home to 3,000 people in 600 houses and 400 apartments at a cost of ¥60bn (roughly SGD$8bn). What sets this town apart from an ordinary town, so touted by Panasonic, is its reliance on smart technology, meaning solar panels in every house, a community solar power generation system, and self-distributing energy management systems. The result? A dent in energy consumption through the use of sustainable energy, which is said to be the key to the success of Fujisawa SST.

This article represents Japan not only as a frontrunner of smart technology but also as environmentally-conscious. In Fujisawa SST, both these representations come together where technological advancements do not come at the price of the environment but instead aim to sustain the environment. It seems as though the key to reducing the damage done to the environment is to be found in smart living, where human and nature are able to co-exist harmoniously with technology as its mediator.

Fujisawa SST runs on renewable energy, where solar panels are fitted into houses, placed along streets, and make up an entire solar farm. Residents are encouraged to be eco-conscious by accessing digital reports called “Portals” to view how much electricity is being used overall as a community or by individual appliances in their home (Channel Panasonic – Official). As such, not only does Fujisawa SST make use of green energy to power its town but it also aims to instil a way of thinking in its residents which would allow them to consume this energy consciously. Ultimately, Panasonic engineers anticipate a 70% reduction in CO2, a 30% drop in water consumption, and a predicted 30% of energy used to come from on-site renewable resources.

In this article, as well as elsewhere, Fujisawa SST is repeatedly described as “green” and “smart” interchangeably. The new green is smart technology, but the definitions of both terms are infinitely broad. Looking back at ideas discussed in class, being green is a concept tied up with nostalgia such as in Knight’s article on satoyama (436). It seems that being green is thus a looking back to the past, a longing for a harmonious relationship between human and nature now long gone. However, in this article, being green is a looking forward, where technological advancements seek to preserve what we have, precisely by making use of these very natural resources and labelling it as renewable, green technology. The relationship between human and nature is continuously being redefined as we figure out new ways to use nature to our benefit while maintaining it, but what remains is that being green is not simply about nature. Rather, in cases such as this, the term “green” has been appropriated by big corporations like Panasonic as a marketing tool to sell their products by promoting a way of life that allows consumers to conveniently envision themselves as green just by using these products.

Word count: 500


Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town. Dir. Channel Panasonic Official. 2014. Youtube.

Haslam, Chris. “Welcome to Fujisawa, the self-sufficient Japanese smart town.” Wired 1 May, 2015. Digital.

Knight, Catherine. “The Discourse of ‘‘Encultured Nature’’ in Japan: The Concept of Satoyama and its Role in 21st-Century Nature Conservation.” Asian Studies Review (2010): 421-441.

(Here’s a video link in case anyone interested in finding out more about Fujisawa SST: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtkONvhW6O4)

E-waste in Japan

Article link

Screenshot 2016-09-07 19.08.05

Panasonic Eco Technology Center, a recycling plant in the Hyogo Prefecture, is employing cutting-edge technology in the recycling of e-wastes. In the article, the advantages of this innovative method of waste recycling and the recycling culture of electronic waste in Japan were briefly discussed.

Japan is represented as an environmentally conscious country which makes use of legislation and technology to reduce the negative impacts on the environment caused by waste disposal. It is mandatory to recycle items such as cars, computers and other electronics in Japan, in an effort to meet the national requirement of cutting down carbon dioxide emissions and waste disposed.

Waste management has always been a major environmental concern, especially for e-waste, which can contain potentially hazardous components such as heavy metals, toxins and even radioactive material. While e-waste is the main source of toxic municipal waste, part of the discarded e-waste is still marketable for reuse or recycle through material recovery. Yet, most developed countries choose to export their e-waste to their developing counterparts. (Chea, 2007) While Japan pushes for recycling by imposing responsibilities on manufactures and consumers through legislation, a fifth of electronic waste is still being exported overseas and more than a quarter is still sent to landfills. (Kojima, 2008) According to OECD statistics, Japan does not score very well among the OECD countries with a recycling rate of 19%, and ranks 27 out of the 34 OECD countries. (OECD, 2013)

While the article seems to promote waste separation as a novel method in sorting e-waste, Japan has already been treating e-waste differently from other materials.since the 1970s. Trained workers were hired to disassemble and gather recyclable materials, however, the program was of little success as these specialised workers were too expensive to employ, and most e-waste were discarded in a landfill along with other waste. (Kojima, 2008) The technology described in the article is also limited to a single plant, while e-waste distributed to other plants in Japan may still be ‘crushed by machines ’. However, with greater reliance on technology, we can expect less emphasis on manual labour, and this lowered operational cost may encourage other plants to adopt similar technology.

Recycling in Japan is not just a result of environmental consciousness; the effort behind recycling is often propelled by profits. Research behind the technology in recycling is backed by economic motivations, the revenue it is expected to bring from exporting such technology overseas is expected to reach 1 trillion yen by 2020. Similarly, during Tokugawa period, recycling of waste was also motivated by profits. Night soil  had marketable value as fertilisers, providing an incentive for the recycling and utilisation of human waste. Rather being a hundred percent based on an active effort for environmental preservation, more often, recycling in Japan depends on the cost and profits behind the process.



Chea, Terence (18 November 2007). “America Ships Electronic Waste Overseas”. Associated Press.

Michikazu Kojima, ed. (2008). “A Comparative Study of E-waste Recycling Systems in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan from the EPR Perspective: Implications for Developing Countries”. Promoting 3Rs in developing countries – Lessons from the Japanese experience (PDF). IDE Sop Survey 30. Japan: Institute of Developing Economies, JETRO. ISBN 978-4-258-58030-9.

Environment at a Glance 2015. Retrieved August 22, 2016, from http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/environment/environment-at-a-glance-2015_9789264235199-en#page50nd reduces waste.

A see-through house with sunken rooms.



Japanese architecture studio, Suppose Design Office has unveiled its design for a rural house in Hiroshima, named Hiroshima Hut. Tasked with designing a home capable of cultivating a closer affinity between its occupants and nature, the studio created a house that one can see right through, to the trees beyond. Transparent acrylic form the external walls, see-through metal mesh divide its interior, and a concealed underground level affords privacy and additional storage space, keeping visual clutter over the rural landscape to a minimum. The only conspicuous, opaque element in the design is a large, thin roof- illusory suspended in space, with generous overhanging eaves intended to shelter and entice wildlife to its perimeter.

The article describes highly standardised forms of nature surrounding Hiroshima Hut— the animals, docile; the environment, a placid space. Echoing (Saito 1985)’s opinion that “it is the small, gentle and intimate aspects of nature that are chosen as objects and phenomena for praise…”. The narrative further epitomises fantasies whereby humans and wildlife willingly coexist and interact in a harmonious manner, conveniently ignoring the reality that nature has the capacity to cause merciless damage to property and humans.

Though not explicitly mentioned, the architects carefully incorporate various elements of the furusato, the idealised rural village into the narrative of Hiroshima Hut; effectively evoking images of a simple way of life in an unspoilt natural setting where humans engage in leisurely activities staged in the rural idyll (Kalland and Asquith 1997). The Hiroshima Hut can be then identified as a form of Furusato-zukuri, a carrier of the ideals conceived in the architects’ minds, preventing the erosion of national aesthetics against urbanisation and pollution. (Robertson 1988)

Suppose Design Office is portrayed as being reverential to nature. Hiroshima Hut features see-through elements that allows the building to visually blend in with its surrounding landscape. Moreover, the space is not exclusively for human use but allows for animal use too. This further reinforces the myth of the Japanese having a love for nature that is translated into their art and material culture (Kalland and Asquith 1997).

However, the irony lies in the fact that nature here, is still manipulated to create a seemingly untouched landscape for the viewing pleasure of humans. Moreover, the article does not challenge the rationale nor the effectiveness of the architects’ design in achieving its intent of “creating a home that would allow its occupants to be as close to nature as possible”. Replacing opaque walls with transparent ones does not necessarily result in greater nature-connectedness. It is also unclear if the benefits of preserving the visual landscape outweighs the resources required to excavate the land to create an underground level within Hiroshima Hut. Thus, this unquestioning acceptance supports the widely held view that Japan is ‘Green’ and that the Japanese know best when it comes to sustainable resource management. This can be problematic as Dezeen is the world’s most influential architecture and design magazine (Fairs 2016) and widely referenced by design students and professionals worldwide.



Word count: 501


Frearson, A. (2015) “Hiroshima Hut Is a See-through House with Sunken Rooms.” Hiroshima Hut Is a See-through House with Sunken Rooms. Accessed September 06, 2016. http://www.dezeen.com/2015/01/23/hiroshima-hut-suppose-design-office-see-through-house-transparent-walls-sunken-rooms-japan/.

Saito, Y. (1985). ‘The Japanese Appreciation of Nature’. The British Journal ofAesthetics 25(3): 239-251.

Kalland, A. and P. J. Asquith (1997). Japanese perceptions of nature: ideals and illusions. Japanese Images of Nature. P. J. Asquith and A. Kalland. Richmond, UK, Curzon.

Robertson, J. (1988). “Furusato Japan: The culture and politics of nostalgia.” Politics, Culture, and Society 1(4): 494-518.

Fairs, M. “About Dezeen.” Dezeen About. Accessed September 06, 2016. http://www.dezeen.com/about/.

Starting With Trash For Environmental Change

Seeking solutions is the route to take in this extremely abused and impaired environment. We have reached a stage where any further degradation to the environment can threaten mankind. Hence the documentary chosen is a good exemplar of rectification to the problem man has created.


Zero-waste[1] may seem like a far-fetched idea to many. How is it possible to live life without producing any waste? Well, let the townspeople of Kamikatsu enlighten you on this. This documentary specifically highlights a small-depopulated rural town in Japan of only 1,700 residences: Kamikatsu (Sakano 2015). 13 years ago in 2003, the government in Kamikatsu along with a few environmentalists pushed for a zero-waste program in the town. 13 years later with discipline and commitment from the townspeople, the zero-waste culture integrated with their everyday lives. Sorting, cleaning, and recycling of their waste is now a social norm in the town; something done so routinely it becomes a conscious-subconscious act. Even as kids, they are trained to take care of the environment by picking up waste in the river and around them, while treating it like a game. This instills a habit into residents to care about rubbish not only within their usage but also around their surroundings. Zero-waste is achieved with the combined efforts of everyone in the community and should be the first step to curing the environment.

How is Kamikatsu able to accomplish this feat? What motivates the townspeople? Will this zero-waste last? Is this exemplar inspirational enough for other towns and states to attempt?

As many have adopted the myth that Japan is really a green nation (Kalland 1997), Kamikatsu might be a good reflection of this statement with their spontaneous citizens ready to gear towards saving the environment. Through the model set by Kamikatsu, the impression is that Japan is a “green nation” with the potential that the rest of Japan will follow suit. However, we can’t jump to the conclusion that the rest of Japan will do so.


Going green brought about positive changes to Kamikatsu town. It has created job opportunities for its ageing population and provided alternative resources such as materials for manufacturing and fertilizers for agriculture. It has even brought about economical change for the once “hopeless town” through the Irodori Project (François, 2007), and Kurukuru shop coupling together with the 34 category recycling (Kiss, 2016). The 3 projects brought about ample economical and social changes to aid in Kamikatsu’s survival (J, 2013). It is quickly becoming a win-win situation for Japan and its environment.

Waste is inevitable. But recycling of materials allows waste to become something of value again, thus limiting the amount of new resources required to make a new product. Nature can be controlled by man’s act, yet man is unable to fully control how nature develops. Hence man can only hope to work towards salvaging nature, while letting nature take its natural course. Perhaps we also need political and ecological conditions that will motivate us to save the environment out of our will.



François, B. (2007). Rethinking Infrastructure for Development. Retrieved September 03, 2016, from https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=S0gIIfP4OGUC

G. (n.d.). What is Zero Waste? GAIA’s definition on Zero Waste World. Retrieved September 03, 2016, from http://zerowasteworld.org/zero-waste-faq/

J.(2013, January 12). Elderly-run ‘leaf business’ in Shikoku town drawing interest from abroad | The Japan Times. Retrieved September 01, 2016, from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/01/12/business/elderly-run-leaf-business-in-shikoku-town-drawing-interest-from-abroad/#.V8pwimPg1ew

Kalland, A. (1997). Japanese Perceptions of Nature – Ideals and Illusions

Kiss, D. (2016, May 4). Life in a Zero Waste City – Interview with Akira Sakano – A Better World is possible! Retrieved August 20, 2016, from http://www.betterworldinternational.org/influencers/life-in-a-zero-waste-city-interview-akira-sakano/

Sakano, A. (2015, April 19). Zero waste: A small town’s big challenge. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/04/zero-waste-a-small-towns-big-challenge/

Documentary from: http://video.toggle.sg/en/series/unique-towns/ep5/433345

[1] “Zero waste means setting a new goal for how we live in the world – one that aims to reduce what we trash in landfills and incinerators to zero – and to rebuild our local economies in support of community health, sustainability, and justice” (G, n.d.)