This Japanese Escape Is Pure Mountainous Bliss


This article is a review of Satoyama Jujo, a hotel in Minami-uonuma, Niigata Prefecture owned by Toru Iwasa. It is written by Jordan Bishop for Forbes, and highlights the luxurious, all-organic experience of staying in the hotel.

Satoyama Jujo is situated in the picturesque Osawa mountains, relatively isolated from the rest of civilization. In order to reach the hotel, you would have to either drive for at least 3 hours from Tokyo or take the Shinkansen for almost 1 and a half hours, then drive for about 12 kilometres from Echigoyuzawa Station. Named for the Tale of Genji, Satoyama Jujo literally means “10 stories of the mountain village”. Those ten literal stories, which the hotel lists as “food, architecture, textile, agriculture, environment, art, outdoors, relaxation, health, and gathering,” are well integrated into everyday life in the hotel. The article pays mentions Satoyama Jujo’s food as one star attraction, which the hotel’s head chef, Yutaka Kitazaki states is made primarily with totally organic ingredients, locally-foraged where possible. The construction of the hotel follows similar principles, mentioning that the reception hall by itself is built exclusively from 150-year-old zelkova trees found in the region.

A typical meal in Satoyama Jujo, shown here are nigirizushi made with seafood from the Sea of Japan and prized koshihikari rice grown in the surrounding region. ©Jordan Bishop


The article also explains the history of the hotel – its owner, Toru Iwasa, was an art school graduate born and raised in Tokyo who originally worked as the editor of the well-known lifestyle magazine, Jiyujin. However, growing weary of the haste and tedium of city life he decided to move to Minami-Uonuma, a move mirrored by many other Japanese people in recent times as they search for the concept of furusato outside of the bustling city. Shortly after this, he was contacted by a friend who offered him the deed to the land which would come to house Satoyama Jujo, then only populated by a dying inn. Utilizing his keen design senses and no small measure of targeted marketing, Iwasa managed to make the Satoyama Jujo project known as a premier luxury hotel. He proclaims that Satoyama Jujo seeks to “redefine luxury”, while also expressing that he “wanted to expose people to the benefits of an organic lifestyle in a more authentic way.”

This is problematic on a few fronts. Firstly, the metric of “authenticity” Iwasa seems to use is not reflective of an actual satoyama lifestyle. Secondly, it perpetuates a certain fetishization of an “eco-friendly” lifestyle particularly by the bourgeoisie, which in reality does little in the way of advancing the cause of environmentalism. It is definitely important to consider the benefits of portraying such a lifestyle in a way which is appealing to the masses. However, to claim that the Satoyama Jujo experience is authentic would be erasing the hard work agricultural workers put into allowing the upper-class to enjoy their stay at the hotel, and also ignores pertinent problems of the carbon footprint of tourists and other guests in the simple act of staying at the hotel. It highlights a certain insincerity in the message of environmentalism as  characteristic of the Japanese (Kalland and Asquith, 1997), for on one hand it is claimed that an eco-friendly lifestyle is being promoted while on the other, the actual ramifications of actions undertaken to achieve that image go swept under the carpet. The upper-class is highlighted here because to stay at Satoyama Jujo is rather prohibitively expensive – one night at the hotel without accounting for meals other than breakfast costs at least 20 000 yen (approximately SGD247).

What the Satoyama Jujo experience is, is a highly idealized version of the actual satoyama lifestyle where visitors need not work to maintain the highly manicured environment around them and instead simply benefit off the hard work of others, while allowing themselves to feel gratified by their supposed eco-friendliness by staying at a place which advertises itself to be eco-friendly. When Iwasa states that “You can’t have this experience anywhere else on the planet”, he feeds into the exceptionalism of Japan in offering so-called “eco-luxury”, ultimately doing little to genuinely advance the cause of environmentalism in Japan.

(686) words


Bishop, J. This Japanese Escape Is Pure Mountainous Bliss. Retrieved October 23, 2018 from

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.

Moon, O. (1997). “Marketing Nature in Rural Japan.” Japanese Images of Nature. P. J. Asquith and A. Kalland. Richmond, UK, Curzon.

Sun-colored Hyuganatsu Citrus from the Town of Organic Farming

Screenshot of the original article

This article is on the Hyuganatsu Citrus, a fruit that originated in the Miyazaki Prefecture in Kyushu, and is currently being grown exclusively in Japan. The author, Asako Inoue, presents an overview of one of the towns growing this fruit, Aya’s, farming practices, as well as information on how Hyuganatsu are cultivated.

Aya Town has devoted itself to organic farming for over 30 years and takes pride in maintaining a traditional recycling-oriented agricultural system that “respects natural ecosystems” (Guide to Aya Town’s Agriculture 4), and limits the use of insecticides and chemical fertilizers. In accordance with Aya’s regulations, Kenji Hanada, the farmer featured in the article, and owner of an Hyuganatsu orchard, uses only manure from livestock farming to maintain his soil. The indigenous variety of Hyuganatsu grown outdoors, the “best Hyuganatsu citrus”, thus require lots of upkeep; they must be bagged to prevent scarring, and weeded regularly. Additionally, Hanada shares with Inoue how to eat and “savour” Hyuganatsu. Since the “yellow flesh is very sour” and the white pith is sweet, the best way to enjoy Hyuganatsu, Hanada says, is to have it with the pith. Ever since Aya Town adopted natural and ecological farming practices, it has become the pioneer of organic farming in Japan, growing products that are highly rated and branded as “Aya products”, and attracting visitors from all across Japan.

Image of Aya


The idyllic, picturesque satoyama comes to mind when reading this article. Inoue suggests that Aya has a very pristine environment — without any air, water, or light pollution — when she writes that Aya is “80%… covered in forest”, has “one of the best 100 waters”, and has “one of the 100 best starry skies of Japan”. Aya is also bountiful, being “blessed” with “fertile lands” and a “richly natural environment” (Inoue). Though Aya uses no herbicides and chemical fertilizers, it nevertheless is able to resourcefully prepare enough healthy soils to sustain both a prosperous agricultural economy, and a dynamic and engaged citizenship.

As Inoue emphasizes the region’s picturesqueness and abundance, she is not only describing what Aya is like, but drawing special attention to these qualities in order to appeal to the aesthetic tastes of Japanese locals, and further promote the ideology of Nihonjinron to foreigners. The magazine which this article was written for, Shun-Gate’s, mission is to introduce “the rich culinary culture of Japan” to readers through an examination of the “perfect seasons of Japan” ( The magazine presents a nature that has been “idealized as an object of aesthetics” rather than nature in the wild (Moon 229). Although Hanada’s Hyuganatsu orchard is sensitive to the regional climate, typhoons, and he must constantly weed it and protect it from pests, Inoue downplays the difficult conditions Aya’s farmers must face, writing that Hanada never thought of everything he did to maintain his orchards as “hard work” but rather an activity he seems to really enjoy — he “works on the fruit every day, telling them to become tasty”. To promote Aya’s organic farms and sustain their customers’ trust in the produce, Shun-Gate ‘wrapped’ Aya in the notion of seasonality and images of furusato, thereby further reinforcing the ideology of Nihonjinron, but perhaps not focusing enough the environmental benefits of organic farming, and trivializing the potential negative consequences that it has had on Aya and its people.

Laurel forest of Aya

Hanada’s Hyuganatsu orchard


Another idea from class that this article relates to is the parallel between Aya’s development of organic farming, and the general trend in improving the quality of life of the Japanese. As discussed by John Knight in “Timber to Tourism”, one of the goals of the post-war Japanese society was to realize more balanced lifestyles as the Japanese believed that this was a hallmark of a “fully modern” society (Knight 354). This change in mentality along with the Japanese government’s role in it, in the 1980s and 1990s, is also reflected in Aya Town’s planning. Aya Town had started farming organically since 1973, but it was not until 1985 that the town began conducting PR activities for their products, possibly in reaction to the Muraokoshi ūndo movement. Hyuganatsu and other regional products, bountiful natural resources, along with Aya’s local culture and its rich history as “a hub for materials and human activities” (Guide to Aya Town’s Agriculture 2) fulfill all three categories of items, proposed by Moon, developed into tourism commodities (222). Additionally, all of Aya’s awards for best water, air, sky were received between 1985 and 1996. This is further evidence of the Japanese government’s efforts to encourage urbanites to increase leisure hours to counterbalance their hectic urban lifestyles, and promote sustainable living. Consequently, urbanites started becoming more environmentally conscious and preoccupied with leading balanced, healthier lifestyles. Organic farming is neither a concept unique to Japan, nor is it novel; however, the way that it has been promoted and written about in Japan attempts to reinforce the notion that the Japanese have a special relationship and love for nature, an effort that is evidently part of their larger endeavour to characterize Japanese society as one that lives in harmony with nature.

Word count: 821


Guide to Aya Town’s Agriculture. (n.d.) Retrieved October 16, 2018, from

Inoue, A. (2017). Sun-colored Hyuganatsu Citrus from the Town of Organic Farming. Retrieved October 16, 2018, from

Knight, J. (2000). “From Timber to Tourism: Recommoditizing the Japanese Forest.” Development and Change Vol. 31 (2000), 341-359.

Moon, O. (1997). “Marketing Nature in Rural Japan.” Japanese Images of Nature. P. J. Asquith and A. Kalland. Richmond, UK, Curzon.

SHUN GATE ( • Instagram photos and videos. (n.d.). Retrieved October 16, 2018, from



The article is written for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Article link:

It starts off by highlighting to Australian readers how a village of 1500 locals in Japan has to sort their waste into 45 categories, in accordance with the village’s goal of producing zero waste by 2020.


This article leads the Australian public (and us) to believe that the Japanese people are very environmentally conscious. Their commitment is seen in their meticulous disposal of items like batteries, printer cartridges and toothbrushes and this is likely to be good food-for-thought for Australians.

Several features of this article relate to ideas from class.

First, the article is reminiscent of Kirby’s idea of the profit of recycling. Kirby notes that people are rarely willing to operate at financial loss. He provides the example of Mrs Ishimoto, who experienced a dramatic leap in business after supplementing Tokyo’s environmental efforts. Kirby claims that the environment was a “plain and simple” money-making opportunity for her.

In this article, it has been suggested that Kamikatsu’s town leaders actively avoid incineration as it is 6 times costlier than recycling. They also openly admit that their motivation for recycling is town revenue. This is in line with Kirby’s argument that Japan must provide financial incentives if it wants to enlist the effort of this “unsentimental sector”.

Second, the article reminds us of Kirby’s idea of form over content in the town of Horiuchi. Kirby notes that observance of waste protocols was an important responsibility for every resident of Horiuchi. Community shame can stem from visible infractions, with the end result that residents focus overwhelmingly on things such as having the bags out in time and on making sure that everything is neat and tidy.

While this article does not note such instances, we observe an overt emphasis on form in Kamikatsu. For instance, great care is taken in the Town Waste Station of Kamikatsu, where a station manager oversees (and proudly introduces) 45 different waste disposal categories. It is implicit that how well he does his job will affect how the other villagers perceive him.

Besides, the article makes no mention of the fact that improvements in incineration have become prevalent. We have seen in Kirby’s article that the Shinjuku Ward Waste Office has suggested that Tokyo can now tap on “unburnable” waste collections to turn landfills into artificial, yet useable land.

In light of these revelations, it is uncertain if Kamikatsu residents will still be keen to continue their meticulous recycling practices, especially if they were told that their waste could now be sold for revenue.

Moving on, the article is reminiscent of Kirby’s idea of self-defeating practices. Kirby notes that Japanese teens are thrifty due to their upbringing and not just “self-supporting circumstances”. However, they still engage in intensive practices such as purchasing layered wrapping in the form of store purchases or gifts. Despite being an inherently wasteful practice, this is deemed to be an essential element of courtesy and good breeding.

Likewise, the ABC article is forthcoming in admitting similar anecdotes from Kamikatsu’s locals, who claim that Japan’s love of its “wrapping, decoration and gifting culture” is problematic. The article even claims that worldwide experts fly in to witness Kamikatsu’s recycling methods but it fails to mention the carbon footprints of them doing so. Similar eco-villages in Japan (which participate in international eco-events) justify their footprints by claiming they spread awareness and do so on behalf of people with near-negligible footprints, but this is somewhat debatable.

Finally, the article is reminiscent of Knight’s view that some Japanese people place emphasis on the satoyama for cultural rather than ecological reasons. Although Kamikatsu is not a satoyama, it does try to create the kind of self-sustaining cycle of growth where “nature can co-exist with judicious use of land”.

For instance, Kamikatsu has a Satoyama Club where villagers engage in reforestation programs with the “Forest Masters”. One of the members was formerly a salaried worker who wanted to escape Osaka and experience rural life. We quote her saying she would “simply have left” Kamikatsu if the Satoyama Club had not accepted her, which begs the question of whether eco-sustainability has turned from a lifestyle into a hobby. This is indeed in line with Knight’s view that some people have a nostalgic affinity for the idyllic agrarian past (“satoyama”) rather than the wild nature (“yama”) in Japan.

All in all, we conclude that the sheer inconvenience of the impressive waste disposal process in Kamikatsu can (i) act as an effective deterrent against consumption and (ii) inspire Australians to do the same. However, there are risks of creating the interconnected problems of prioritizing form over content, engaging in self-defeating practices and romanticizing the ecologically sustainable way of life.

(799 Words)


Jake Sturmer. (2018, May 20). “Kamikatsu: The Japanese town working towards a zero-waste goal by 2020”.

Retrieved October 10, 2018, from


Kirby, P. W. (2011). Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan. Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press: 160-192.


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


Brian Williams. (2010). The Worlds of Satoyama: Satoyama, The Ideal and the Real. Kyoto Journal Issue 75 (Biodiversity): 24-29.


Kamikatsu’s Satoyama Club.

Retrieved October 13, 2018, from


Irodori Kabushiki Kaisha (KK), Kamikatsu-cho. (2009, 9 September).

Retrieved October 13, 2018, from


Mark Notoras & Megumi Nishikura. (2010, 13 August). Mt. Fuji Eco-village Connects to a Greener World.

Retrieved October 15, 2018, from

The Controversy of Japan’s Solar Farms (Royvin & Vanesse)

News Article:

Figure 1: A Floating Solar Power Facility in Japan

The article discusses about the viability of solar farms in the Chiba prefecture to meet the government’s aim of increasing renewables. Amidst Japan’s vow, as the world’s fifth largest carbon emitter, to cut carbon emissions by 26% by 2030 from 2013 levels during the Paris climate agreement, it has been developing solar farms to reach its aim. To dramatically increase their renewables’ share of the energy mix, the government is courting private investment in renewables and raising the number of large scale solar farms. This is seen as critical, as after the Fukushima disaster, Japan identified the need to diversify its energy supply to include solar, wind and micro-hydroelectric, while stimulating the local economy.

However, the mass construction of solar plants raised concerns over its potential to unleash environmental catastrophes such as floods and landslides, even as they lower carbon dioxide emissions. These solar plants translate to the destruction of large hectares of pristine forests. This presents an irony of chopping down trees, that help in absorbing carbon dioxide in the air as they grow, to be replaced with solar plants. Inevitably, the natural environment of wildlife would also be threatened with the disruption of the ecosystem.

As such, this article raises the question of whether Japan should go ahead with building solar plants to meet its aim of reducing carbon emissions and increasing renewables’ share in energy mix at the expense of its environment and the ecosystem of wildlife.

Before dwelling into the discussion, we need to first understand Japan’s relationship with its environment. On one hand, Japan’s efforts to reduce its carbon emissions and to position renewables as a main energy source serves to represent Japan as a green nation. This is because building more floating solar farms will generate clean, green electricity that is able to power local households. According to the article, “over the next two decades, its (Japan’s) 51,000 solar panels will generate an estimated 16,170 megawatt hours annually – enough to power thousands of local households”.

However, Japan’s carbon-less movement seems to highlight an attempt to protect its image from being regarded as one of the world’s largest carbon emitters. In fact, the method of reaching such a goal actually leads to adverse impacts on the environment such as their disruption to wildlife and habitat, as well as the biodiversity of the affected forests. This may put Japan in a negative light given its supposedly good reputation as a green nation.

From Kirby’s evaluation on the importance of Gaitsu in shaping Japanese policymaking, he claimed that “the phenomenon of gaiatsu, is important with regard to the complex of forces that nudged the state along a more “sustainable” path”. As such, Japan occasionally depended on international opinions to institute controversial policies during the postwar period. From this viewpoint, we see a resemblance to the article as Japan is pressured to drastically cut its carbon emissions due to the vow it made in an international agreement – Paris Climate agreement. This begs the question of whether Japan is building solar farms due to Gaitsu or because it is truly seeking sustainability, stemming from its love for nature.

This brings our attention to Kalland and Aquith’s argument that Japan has an ambivalent relationship with nature. On the surface, Japan proudly claims to be a green nation with all its eco-friendly efforts, including its latest attempt to produce renewable energy through the construction of solar farms. However, Japan is in fact clearing forests using various means such as deforestation to make way for these solar farms. This clearly contradicts its claim to be a green nation due to the irreversible damages deforestation can have on forests. Drawing a parallel to the situation of the bears from Knight’s preposition on the impacts of human transformation of the mountains, the destruction of forests to clear land for the construction of solar farms would similarly lead to the displacement of deers and wild boars, thereby threatening the wildlife environment.

This brings forth the contradictory nature of this relationship as Japan is willing to sacrifice its forests for another environmental cause. This makes us ponder if such actions could actually be justifiable for a country that has such a strong love for nature and if this was just a means to an end, knowing that the solar farms would bring about more environmental and economic benefits.

Ultimately, while the actions taken to construct solar farms may result in repercussions to the overall biodiversity of the affected forests, it is irrefutable that such efforts will improve Japan’s carbon footprint and pave the way for a more eco-friendly method to source for energy supplies. A balance between its efforts to increase its renewables while not neglecting its impact on forests will thus be essential in determining whether Japan is indeed a green nation.

(799 words)


McCurry, Justin. “Japan’s Renewable Energy Puzzle: Solar Push Threatens Environment.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 Apr. 2018,

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. 

Knight, J. (2000). “Culling demons: the problem of bears in Japan.” Natural enemies: people-wildlife conflicts in anthropological perspective. J. Knight, ed.London, Routledge: 145-169. 

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

Global Energy Network Institute (n.d.). Solar Energy in Japan – Summary. Retrieved October 7, 2018, from

Smith, R. (2018, April 03). Japan’s biggest floating solar plant sparks into life. Retrieved October 7, 2018, from

U.S Energy Information Administration (n.d.). Solar Energy and the Environment. Retrieved October 7, 2018, from

Nikkei (2018, July 03). Japan’s solar panel makers suffer as power plant demand fades. Retrieved October 7, 2018, from

Turney, D., & Fthenakis, V. (2011). Environmental impacts from the installation and operation of large-scale solar power plants. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews,15(6), 3261-3270. doi:10.1016/j.rser.2011.04.023

Wasteland: Tokyo grows on its own trash

Wasteland: Tokyo grows on its own trash

By Tim Hornyak

Tokyo’s waste management authorities have found increasingly creative ways to try to better manage waste. Now, they even have artificially made an island of waste. The plan is to cover half of the island with real soil to build parks and forest on top. As the author writes: ‘Future generations of Tokyoites will sun themselves here by the sea while relaxing on garbage’ (Hornyak, 2017).

This island is a result of waste processing regulations issued by the Tokyo government that declared a ‘war on garbage’. Waste processing happens in three stages. First, trash needs to be separated and collected. Secondly, the trash needs to be processed, which often means burnt in incinerators. Waste burning is heavily regulated by the government to prevent deadly toxins, such as dioxins to disperse. Another goal is to reuse everything coming from the incinerators. Heat, for example, that is produced as a by-product of burning waste is partly captured and converted into useful energy. The third stage is storing the unusable by-products, in the case of the island: ash. This last phase is very problematic as an ever increasing amount of space is needed. The island was precisely created for this purpose. The problem is that the landfills too will be full, in this case after 50 years and cannot be expanded as they will interfere with the course of ships. Thus, Tokyo’s officials need to continually search for new uses of waste.

Everything that the waste management authorities do, revolves around this sentence from the article: ‘We have to protect the environment for people living nearby’ (Hornyak, 2017). Firstly, this sentence shows that the scale is not Japan as a whole, but the population of Tokyo. Only the people in the vicinity matter. Secondly, it shows that nature is not something valuable in and of itself, but only in relation to people. It is something we should protect purely because it might otherwise hurt the health of the people of Tokyo. Thirdly, it shows that people have control over nature and ought to actively intervene. The article states that the production of waste has negative consequences and is not sustainable. It further explains that whatever waste is produced should be put to the best use possible and that we should limit the production of waste completely. Thus, the waste management authorities seem to be adopting a very anthropocentric viewpoint with regards to the environment.

The article points to the way in which Japan, but Tokyo specifically, manages the harmful effects of its waste processing which we can take to be green initiatives. With the burning of its rubbish, 3 main by-products are being produced, namely exhaust gas, ash and heat energy. Japan has national laws that govern the level of pollution of the exhaust gas produced from the incinerators. When it exceeds the limit, the plant building is stopped to “protect the environment for people living nearby” as said by the plant manager. Tokyo is trying to find new ways of putting ash to good use. Some sidewalks in Tokyo, for instance, are built with bricks made from ash. Lastly, the heat energy obtained from burning is being used to supply electricity and power to the plant facility. It is also being sold and provided to Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings and nearby communities. The article shows Japan to have consciously reviewed their disposal facilities, invest in incinerators with better technology and having successfully reduced pollution levels over the past decade.  

This article is an example of what Kirby in his reading on Sustainable Japan called “the government taking a bolder stand on sustainability and health through waste policy” (Kirby, 2011, p. 180). Similarly, we can draw the linkage that the government is especially sensitive to the local people. In Kirby’s reading, he mentions that “The Tokyo government agreed to pay the medical bills of residents who suffered from the the toxic gas” and “dealt with the chemical seepage” (Kirby, 2011, p. 185). Waste incineration should absolutely not affect the health of the residents living nearby. It is also interesting to note how at the beginning of the article it reflects on the island being made from garbage, coming across as a way to present Japan as green. However, from what we learn in class, it can be seen as part of an economic agenda and Japan’s way of appropriating “the notion of sustainability as a rallying cry” (Kirby, 2011, p. 162) to facilitate their economic nationalism through the ideas of conservation and responsibility. Hence, throughout the article, we should be conscious of the possible agenda behind such green sustainability. Yet, we also credit Japan for making an active effort to come up with new ways to deal with their waste and admitting to the risks that faces up to them in future.

Words: 783


Kirby, P. W. (2011). Troubled natures: waste, environment, Japan. Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press: 160-192.

Hornyak, T. (2017). Wasteland: Tokyo grows on its own trash. The Japan Times. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Feb. 2017].

Food Waste in Japan (Jyoti & Caryl)

What makes food waste a “green” issue?

Finish your food.
Your grandma spent a lot of effort making this.
You don’t realise how lucky you are – Other children in Africa are starving right now.


Growing up, food waste was a problem of bad manners and poverty stemming from imbalances in the global food supply system.

When viewed from an environmental perspective, food waste is a problem because it perpetuates global warming, threatens biodiversity and squanders away finite natural resources (FAO 2013). When food matter ends up in landfills, the lack of oxygen in the environment causes it to decompose anaerobically, which generates large amounts of the greenhouse gas, methane. 

Mottainai! What a Waste! Japan staves off the worst of ‘food waste culture’

We examined a news article published on the official website of the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), which details efforts by various parties in mitigating the problem of food waste in Japan. We learn that while Japan consumes an average of 6.2 million tonnes of food each year, its businesses and households waste around 3.4 and 2.8 million tonnes of edible food, respectively.

The article mainly argues that there is widespread understanding about the problems, and moral and economic implications of wasting food in Japan – exemplified in the concept of “mottainai!” or “what a waste!”, which is employed in various institutions in Japan, including schools, with reference to the issue of food waste.

We learn that the FAO has been running a programme in Japan to sensitise youth, the general public, and the private sector on reducing food waste, and this has been done mostly in conjunction with local and national government administrations. The head of the Liason Office, Boliko, is interviewed in this article. He talks about how although the Japanese awareness of food waste helps their mission, people still tend to overbuy food at restaurants. He also mentions how people are unwilling to eat food past the “best before” date, even though it is safe for consumption.

The large amount of food waste produced by Japan is still low compared to other developed countries. According to the article, this is indicative of how food culture (along with how food industries are structured) in Japan has “a respect for natural resources, the environment and the food it yields.” Another interviewed FAO staff, Okabe, argues that this is because of the food insecurity faced immediately after WWII and that these attitudes have been passed on to the following generations.

The article also briefly mentions Japanese municipal efforts to change the narrative surrounding food waste and campaigns to mitigate waste production and reduce the negative economic cost of disposing it.


Portrayals of Japan

This article views Japanese attitudes towards wastage and the environment in general in a very positive light.

The article glorifies the meaning of the Japanese expression “itadakimasu”, defining it as “I receive” (which is technically true) then labels it a “sharp contrast” to the expression “bon appetit” (lit. “good appetite”). We find this is indicative of how the writers perceive attitudes towards the environment as being influenced by culture – culture that is not dynamic but unchanging through the times. The problem is that readers may take for granted that the meanings imbued within the fixed expression of “itadakimasu” can either increase or decrease in saliency for Japanese people, in response to the social and economic conditions of the times. It smooths over the (in)famous period of Japan’s economic miracle where high-speed economic growth was coupled with high levels of (conspicuous) consumption. Kirby (2011, 172) alludes to this period where he mentions that frugality became unpopular.

The article also glorifies the concept of “mottainai”; it is described as “an expression of the displeasure of having food and other resources thrown out”. Such an interpretation reminded us of Nihonjinron as this need not necessarily be a purely Japanese school of thought. According to MOTTAINAI, a foundation started by the Asahi Shimbun and Itochu, the term was adopted by Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai as a slogan for protection of the environment; apparently it encompassed the 3Rs of reduce, reuse, and recycle, along with the idea of “respect” for the earth’s resources.


What’s missing from the discussion?

The article also mentions how present-day attitudes towards food waste are linked to Japan’s history of food insecurity in the aftermath of WWII. Kirby (2011, 169) reinforces this by showing how the state played a key role in framing frugality as economic nationalism. We note that contemporary struggles with food security frames Japan’s efforts in fighting food loss and waste today, as Japan is heavily dependent on overseas resources for satisfying domestic food demand (Marra 2013).  

The article acknowledges individual (mis)perceptions contribute to food wasting behaviours but does not discuss systemic issues within the food chain. Retailers like supermarkets tend to order more food than is required from wholesalers and suppliers, to ensure that they will not run out of stock (METI Mobile). Retailers also adopt strict aesthetic standards for products, causing a trickle-down effect where farmers discard or leave ‘ugly’ produce unharvested because they will fetch a lower price (Japan Times, 2013). That is not to say that no initiatives are being adopted – you can take a look at how the Japanese government’s Food Industry Affairs Bureau plans to tackle industry-level food waste here:

(867 words)


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

Marra, Federica (2013). Fighting Food Loss and Food Waste in Japan Unpublished Master’s Thesis, Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands. Retrieved from (accessed 8 October 2018).


Food Wastage Footprint Impacts on Natural Resources – Summary Report (2013). Retrieved from Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Website: (accessed 8 October 2018).

Reducing Food Loss and Waste & Promoting Recycling: “MOTTAINAI” for Foods Once Again (2017). Retrieved from Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishieries (MAFF) Website: (accessed 8 October 2018).

News Articles

An appalling waste of food (2013). Japan Times, 21 January. (accessed 4 October 2018).

Mottainai! What a Waste! Japan staves off the worst of ‘food waste culture’ (2017). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 11 September. (accessed 4 October 2018).

The Environmental Impact of Food Waste (2015). Move For Hunger, 11 May. (accessed 8 October 2018).


6.42 million tons per year! – food loss and waste in Japan. Retrieved from METI Mobile Website: (accessed 8 October 2018)

MOTTAINAIについて. Retrieved from MOTTAINAI Website: (accessed 8 October 2018).

“mottainai”. (2009). Retrieved from!topic/honyaku/YEdy1-u7iVY

Japan Proposes Sustainable Whaling

Figure 1. News Article on BBC

Article: Japan says it’s time to allow sustainable whaling – BBC

This article discusses the issue of whaling, specifically Japan’s recent proposal to end the ban on commercial whaling. Japan is one of the few nations, along with Iceland and Norway, who have historically hunted whales and dolphins for centuries. In 1986, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) declared a moratorium on whaling to allow whale stocks to recover. Most international bodies agreed upon this, including Japan, but the temporary ban was prolonged and normalised into a permanent ban. Japan has since opposed the IWC’s moratorium and continued whaling under the clause of “research”. While it claims to be monitoring stock levels and the conservation status of whales, critics argue that these whales end up as food. Whale meat does indeed get sold in Japan, labelled as bycatch from research expeditions.

According to the article, Japan’s representative to the IWC proposed repealing the ban on commercial whaling and allowing sustainable whaling instead. Measures suggested to support this included formation of a Sustainable Whaling Committee and setting catch limits on abundant whale stocks. However, this proposal is opposed by anti-whaling nations such as Australia, who have continuously criticised Japanese whaling practices.

Whaling and hunting dolphins are often defended with appeals to Japanese tradition and culture. According to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, “The dolphin hunting that takes place in Taiji town is an ancient practice rooted in their culture,”(Jackson, 2014). However, Japanese motivations for whaling are perceived to be largely economic, as whales caught are sold for their meat. As a result, Japan appears to be unconcerned about the conserving these whale stocks, a perception which is compounded by their claims of scientific research as a disguise to catch whales for meat.

There are few pro-whaling countries, and opposition countries such as Australia are pledging to oppose the Japanese proposal and maintain the ban on commercial whaling. Such activists make a moral argument against whaling, arguing that whales “face so many threats in our degraded oceans” and deserve to be protected. They also claim that whales are intelligent animals and methods of killing them with harpoons lead to slow and agonising deaths. Anti-whaling activists are thus portrayed to be more concerned about the conservation of whales from an ecological perspective, to protect the whales for its own sake, rather than the Japanese who seek sustainable resource of whales.

Figure 2. Photo of Japanese Whaling Ships from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

On the other hand, the article also presents Japan’s arguments against opposition to their proposal. According to them, “opposition to sustainable whaling of non-endangered stocks is deeply hypocritical,” with a comparison to industrial meat production where farmed animals are raised for meat and kept in poor conditions. They also claim that hunting wild animals is more ethical than raising animals for slaughter. The Japanese whalers do not consider their practice to be more immoral or harmful than commercial animal farming.

Japan’s proposal in this article can be thought to be “green” to some extent. The Japanese proposals would allow for sustainable whale hunting and also make the establishment of new whale sanctuaries easier. It is worth knowing that the species of whales hunted by Japanese fishermen, the common minke whale, is not considered to be endangered unlike other species of whales (IWC, n.d.). Commercial whaling under these potential catch limits would likely limit Japan to a similar number of whales as are currently being caught under the proclaimed “scientific program”.

Figure 3. Whale Meat being sold on a popular online shopping platform, Rakuten

Despite these ideas of sustainability, it can still be seen that Japan’s priorities in its proposal lie in its goal of repealing the ban and being allowed to resume commercial whaling without facing opposition from other countries. Japanese claims of concern about the conservation and protection of whales are undermined by their continued hunting and killing of the same. Japanese whalers are reported to have killed 122 pregnant whales earlier this year, further evidence for their lack of concern for the preservation of whale stocks (BBC, 2018). This apparent disregard for the natural environment can perhaps be understood through Kalland and Asquith’s idea that the Japanese have a selective appreciation of nature, cherishing an idealized version rather than an original one. Rather than creatures to be appreciated and protected, their perception of these whales is that of a resource to be controlled and manipulated.

The article also reveals the conflicting views and perspectives of different communities within Japan by suggesting that the declining demand for whale meat in Japan may eventually lead to the dissolution of commercial whaling in the country. Most Japanese people do not consume whale meat and many are opposed to its whaling practices, despite the government’s continued efforts to promote whale consumption such as introducing it in school lunches. It can be seen that the perception of these animals and response to this issue is not homogenous throughout Japan, and this is, in fact, a polarizing issue.

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International Whaling Commission. (1946). History and Purpose. Retrieved September 30, 2018 from

Jackson, P. (2014, January 26) Japan’s Abe Defends Dolphin Hunt. Retrieved September 30, 2018 from

Japanese whale hunters kill 122 pregnant minke. (2018, May 20). BBC News. Retrieved September 30, 2018 from

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.

Paterson, S. (2016, March 25) Japanese whaling: why the hunts go on. Retrieved September 27, 2018 from

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Whale meat back on school lunch menus. (2010, September 05). The Japan Times. Retrieved September 30, 2018 from
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Japan’s Plastic Conundrum

Article: Is Japan eco-friendly or eco-hostile? (

With Japan’s notable way of recycling waste, where waste is sorted systematically and diligently, Japan gives off an impression of an eco-friendly nation. This article serves to debunk this myth by highlighting the overt use of plastic in this consumption-driven society. Retailers’ excessive use of plastic to package items in Japan, for instance, demonstrates this negligence towards the environment.  

As such, in an attempt to address the issue of excessive plastic usage, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has aimed to have retailers across the prefecture impose a fee on plastic shopping bags by 2020. Not all retailers, however, are supportive of this movement. Nevertheless, despite the mixed reactions from retailers, this movement is still strongly supported by governor Yuriko Koike. Mottainai Furoshiki, for instance, is a project by Koike that seeks to reduce the amount of waste generated.

The recycling of plastic waste is no easy task and plastic waste could pose a danger to marine creatures. Moreover, producing of plastic is becoming increasingly expensive and the use of plastic bags would give Japan an image of a wasteful nation. Hence, given these reasons, it is of utmost importance for Japan to reduce its plastic usage.

As mentioned, Japan is a nation that is both friendly and hostile towards the environment, in the ways they deal with plastic. The article refers to Japan’s dedication and strong efforts to recycle waste as “green”, which reinforces the protective stance Japan has towards the environment. More than 90% of PET bottles, for instance, were recycled in 2014 and they were so clean that they were used to make soccer uniforms (Nikkei Asian Review, 2017). The efficient waste system portrays a clean and sustainable green Japan. Yet, on the flipped side, Japan’s rapport with the environment is concurrently under threat as they assume the role of the destructor, producing and using too much plastic.

Implicit in this article is the scrutiny of the relationship between the Japanese and nature. Relating back to Kalland’s and Asquith’s (1997) proposition, he argued that the Japanese society has an ambivalent relationship with nature. On one hand, the Japanese society claims to love and appreciate nature through their eco-friendly front, by adhering to traditional value of mottainai that discourages waste and thereby lessen their environmental footprint. On the other hand, the contradictory nature of this relationship is called into question, as their excessive plastic usage imposes long-term damage on the environment. The looming problem of plastic pollution is especially pertinent as China recently announced that it will stop accepting plastic waste imports (The Japan Times, 2018). This implies that Japan will have to seek disposable for 72% of its plastic waste elsewhere, possibly in landfills or worse, the accumulated surplus will end up in natural landscapes like the ocean. Evidently, it is difficult to consider the threat of environmental degradation as Japan’s love for nature. Rather than the claims of pure, unadulterated love, they are in love with the idea that they love nature.

In addition, the element of “gaiatsu” (Kirby, 2011, p. 164) is also particularly relevant here. According to Kirby (2011), the pressure from the Western societies in the past few decades, particularly with regards to environmental concerns, has prompted Japan to take a more active role in environmental conservation. With stricter standards put forth by the European Union and China’s rejection for plastic waste imports (The Japan Times, 2018), it is highly likely that Japan was nudged into imposing a fee on plastic bags. It is also interesting to note that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government plans to fulfill the imposition by 2020 (the year of the Olympics), arguably due to pressure to live up to international expectations of Tokyo as an eco-conscious metropolitan.

Lastly, traditional values and symbolic meanings invested by the Japanese can help to account for Japan’s plastic conundrum. As discussed briefly in class, symbolism and social meanings are prevalent in Japan’s perception of nature. The importance of traditional values like the abovementioned mottainai, or omotenashi explains the multi-faceted relationship between Japan and its environment. Omotenashi refers to Japanese hospitality, which may be embodied in a piece of plastic. For instance, wrapping paper bags with a clear film of plastic on a rainy day conveys deep consideration and the thorough attention to details. This accounts for the prevalent plastic waste in Japan, despite conscious efforts to avoid unnecessary waste.

In sum, while Japan has done a great job in managing its plastic waste thus far, the current system is clearly not sustainable given the changing global political landscapes and the rise of eco-centric attitudes. Rather than simply maximising landfill or recycling more waste, perhaps it is time Japan got down to the root of the problem – cutting down on the unnecessary use of plastic.  

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Brasor, P. (2018, June 2). Market forces in Japan failing to tackle growing plastics problem. The Japan Times. Retrieved from

Hornyak, T. (2017, February 18). Wasteland: Tokyo grows on its own trash. The Japan Times. Retrieved from

Kalland, A., & Asquith, P. J. (1997). Japanese Perception of Nature: Ideas and Illusions. In Kalland, A. & Asquith, P. J (Ed.), Japanese Images of Nature (pp. 1 – 35). Richmond, UK: Curzon.

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

Nikkei Asian Review (2017, August 29). Is Japan eco-friendly or eco-hostile? Retrieved from