Indoor Dry Garden in Japanese Garden

Sherry Nothingam’s article in Decoist, an online architecture and interior design magazine, describes how a family incorporated “nature” into their small, urban house in Osaka, which is infamously known as the Melt House. SAI Architectural Design Office built an indoor dry garden inside a house on a small and narrow lot (Nothingam, 2019). This incredible architectural feat has been featured in multiple online magazines and newspapers. The garden separates the kitchen and dining from the living space because it is situated in the middle of the house, and it is covered with a double-height roof (Nothingam, 2019). Nothingam specifically mentions how the windows were constructed to allow the perfect amount of natural light into the house and garden (2019). The garden is beautiful, yet it does not place unreasonable financial demands on the homeowners or require constant maintenance (Nothingam, 2019). 

The Melt House itself is extremely modern and minimalistic, and the garden also embodies these characteristics. There are no flowers, weeds, or insects in the garden. At first glance, this article seems to portray Japanese families, houses, and nature as “picture-perfect”. After further consideration, the article may insinuate that Japanese “nature” is sterile, cold, and ironically not natural. This theme can be seen in many other Japanese expressions of “nature”, such as the art of Ikebana and Bonsai trees. This article describes the garden as something that should be revered but not utilized, contributing to the garden’s sterile impression. The homeowners are able to experience a very clean and well maintained version of nature, which might suggest that Japanese people are not entirely comfortable outside or even may fear untamed nature. 

The garden inside the Melt House can be considered “green”, yet this small piece of nature is incredibly well maintained and contained. Compared to the Bijinbayashi forest, the three trees that make up the Melt House’s garden are hardly spectacular. Nonetheless, Nothingam praised SAI Architectural Design Office for welcoming “greenery indoors” (2019). She explains how the garden accentuates the “green brilliance” of the Melt House (Nothingam, 2019). Most architects use floor-to-ceiling glass doors and walls to showcase the natural environment surrounding a house, but by bringing a garden inside the house, the owners of the Melt House appear to be closer to nature. However, they may be just as removed from greenery as other homeowners because the version of “nature” that they are viewing is not the same as the real world. 

Kalland and Asquith (1997) propose that the Japanese see nature on a continuum, nature as tame and nature as wild. We can clearly see in this article that nature has been domesticated. It has been trimmed and made to grow in a certain way. Thus, nature is valued in an idealised way whereby offensive elements have been removed and the inoffensive elements being well maintained. 

Unlike the lower class, that works in nature itself or use nature as a means to survive, like plantation farmers, the nature depicted in this article is different (Kirby, 2011). Nature incorporated here acts as a passage between rooms and a space for daily congregation. In the images, there is a sofa in front of the garden, suggesting that it is a place of respite and for viewing nature. The use of nature in this place is therefore for recreation and not necessity.

The design boasts minimalism and the aesthetic of nature in the house. This caters to the sensibilities of the rich, who see that nature is beautiful in its well maintained state and calmness. They neither fear nature nor experience nature’s strength, and find beauty and revere in it, unlike fishermen who hold festivals and pray to the gods for a safe seafaring. Furthermore, the design of the house is based on the client’s budget and consultations with the architect, this suggests that money is not a huge problem for the client. Clearly, the intended audience is the upper class instead of the lower class or rural population. 

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Kalland, A., & Asquith, P. J. (1997). Japanese perceptions of nature: ideals and illusions. Japanese images of nature: Cultural perspectives. Richmond, UK: Curzon.


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

Nothingam, S. (2019). Japanese Home on Narrow Lot Embraces Greenery with an Indoor Dry Garden. Retrieved from:

Japan’s Global Environment Strategy (sonia & clara)

The article by Silverberg and Smith (2019) writes about how Japan is at the forefront of the movement towards leading climate change, and elaborates on the efforts that the country has put in in order to promote environmentalism and sustainability amongst its people, and this effort to protect our Earth has been in motion since the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997. The article links their commitment to sustainability to the Japanese respect for nature, minimalism and aesthetics – addressing roles that Shintoism and Zen Buddhism play in everyday life. The article then elaborates on the commitments from major Japanese cities to cut out and possibly eliminate carbon emissions by 2050. A long term strategy was recently implemented that emphasized that the goals of environmentalism and economic growth were no longer conflicting with each other, but rather, sustainable development could lead to potential for more long termed economic growth. The article then gives many examples of how extensively Japan has invested funding into projects that promote overall sustainability, climate change and disaster risk mitigation, stating that it has helped the country foster bilateral relations with countries that are like-minded, such as members of ASEAN, India and the EU, and how Japan has helped its sustainable allies with development in their own countries.


Of course, Japan isn’t without its flaws, and many of their policies fail to single out climate change as a primary concern, with a greater emphasis being placed on protecting public goods, with climate change via a clean and safe environment conveniently falling into parameters of their framework, instead of being the main focus of their policies. The article does represent Japan in a mostly positive light in regards to their efforts towards the environment, but also points out its motives for doing so. An example of this can be seen through their National Security Strategy, where sustainable development is simply an answer to global issues, and is not the main focus of their strategies, despite their efforts to promote sustainability. Hence, the article criticizes Japan’s stance on this, stating that its efforts of sustainability and going green are only because it benefits the country on an economic front, enabling them to be a hub for investment opportunities on a global scale. Despite this, Japan has paved its way as a leader in terms of sustainability and environmentalism and will continue to do so.


The article puts focus on how Japan is pivoting its focus onto lowering carbon emissions, development in the renewable energy sector, and water conservation. By reducing the country’s carbon footprint, Japan reduces the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere, which traps heat in the atmosphere and leads to global warming. Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions also improves air quality and reduces air pollution, thus helping the country to be green. The improvement in air quality reduces the chances for acid rainfall, which is detrimental to ecosystems and can cause the loss of habitats for animals, and water pollution. Given how important the ocean is for sustaining human life, the movement of working on climate change is said to be ‘green’.


The article follows the general argument of Kalland (1997) in which they both criticize Japan for loving nature, but only because it provides benefits to society in other forms such as aesthetic purposes and economic growth, as stated in the article. Is it not out of respect for the environment that they continue to fuel efforts to protect it, but more so because by dominating and controlling it, they can use it to their advantage and give them opportunities elsewhere, and it is simply out of convenience that they follow the path of sustainability. Silverberg and Smith (2019) briefly touch on the Japanese people’s respect for nature and minimalism, but also state that Japan has made use of this perspective or ‘cultural mythos’ in order to fulfil their own goals which are more economically focused, which is supported by the Kalland argument in which it is stated that the Japanese only love nature in a certain way, and if they cannot control and own it and if it conflicts with their own personal goals, then it is not something that should be focused on – a sentiment that is shared by Shinzo Abe as stated in the article. Kirby’s (2011) article emphasizes how stubborn Japan has been in regards to sustainability, and this is again reflected in the tempered stance that Japan has taken in which they are only promoting sustainability because it is conveniently in line with their goals. 


While Japan does indeed invest in efforts that promote environmentalism and sustainability, it may not be for the reasons of simply respecting and loving the environment, but instead, might be conveniently objectivized to be aligned with economic pursuits.


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Kalland, A., & Asquith, P. J. (1997). Japanese perceptions of nature: ideals and illusions. Japanese images of nature: Cultural perspectives. Richmond, UK: Curzon.


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


Silverberg, E. & Smith, E. (2019). Does Japan Have A Gloval Environmental Strategy? Retrieved from:


Happiness in leftovers! “Fuku Gohan Project” reduces local food loss

Article assessible at:


The article introduces us to an open-air market event in central Tokyo and the unique efforts that go into reducing food waste. While vendors of the event, ‘Hama-cho Marche’, are encouraged to ‘bring plenty of food’ (Shizume, 2019) to satisfy customers’ needs, they face the problem of food wastage from leftover products. With the help of organisers at Tokyo Good Manners Project Association and the local community, they came up with the idea of ‘Fuku Gohan Project’ to cut down on the wastage by 1) reselling leftover food at nearby companies, 2) selling meals made from leftover products in local restaurants and 3) using unsold fruits to create fruit spas in a public bath. Such efforts are considered ‘green’ as it is environmentally friendly and promotes sustainability.

Right at the start, the concept of mottainai was mentioned. The popular Japanese term can be roughly translated to ‘wasteful’ or ‘don’t waste unnecessarily’ (Iwatsuki, 2008). The author also mentioned ‘respect’, casting the Japanese and their awareness of (as well as their actions against) such problems in a positive light. However, as this project is an individualised case, it is unlikely to be replicated throughout Japan and the effectiveness is limited.

It ends on an optimistic note hoping consumers will become more aware through proper education and thus will be more proactive in reducing personal waste. However, an article from The Japan Times sheds light to the contradictory behaviour of Japanese (Kalland & Asquith, 1997) when it comes to food wastage. According to a recent survey by the Consumer Affairs Agency, 70% of respondents claimed that they were aware of food wastage and made efforts to reduce waste (The Japan Times, 2019). But interestingly, they also displayed evidence that they were not taking concrete steps to deal with the problem (The Japan Times, 2019).

This is consistent with Kalland and Asquith’s argument (1997), where throughout the article, they discussed the contradictory discourse on Japanese and their love for nature and environment. For example, their pursue of love and harmony for nature versus their over exploitation and pollution of the land (Kalland & Asquith, 1997). And similarly, we see such contradictions in this article where they believe and advocate for a certain idea when the reality is much different. It serve to show that even Japanese themselves are sometimes deluded with the optimistic belief on how environmentally friendly they are. However, this is not an attempt to undermine Japan’s efforts in reducing waste, but a reminder to judge the actual effectiveness of their efforts with a pinch of salt.



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Iwatsuki, K. (2008). Harmonious co-existence between nature and mankind: An ideal lifestyle for sustainability carried out in the traditional Japanese spirit. Humans And Nature19, 6-7. Retrieved from

Kalland, A., & Asquith, P. (1997). Japanese Perceptions of Nature: Ideals and Illusions. In A. Kalland & P. Asquith, Japanese Images of Nature. Richmond, UK: Curzon.

Shizume, C. (2019). Happiness in leftovers! “Fuku Gohan Project” reduces local food loss | Sustainability from Japan – Zenbird. Retrieved 16 February 2020, from

The Japan Times. (2019). Addressing the nation’s food waste problem. Retrieved from

Japan Resumes Commercial Whaling. But Is There an Appetite for It?

Japan Resumes Commercial Whaling. But Is There an Appetite for It?

Article summary:

This article writes about how Japan has resumed commercial whaling after 30 years after its exit from the International Whaling Commission. While most of the rest of the world finds this act controversial, Japan has defended whaling as part of its culture and that this activity holds cultural significance to them. Individuals are said to have “mixed feelings” towards it due to the conflict between seeing whales as ‘wildlife’, and consuming whale meat as part of their culture. Whale meat is commonly remembered by Japanese as a childhood food, a “cheaper option” in the post-war era when it was served in school lunches. 

While the Japanese government has been providing the whaling industry with subsidies to keep it alive, the year-on-year whaling limit has been reduced. In addition to the dwindling demand and only approximately 300 people employed in the industry, anti-whaling groups believe that the industry will not survive. However, those in the industry believe that they have a chance of survival as producers scramble to find more sources of profits for the industry. 

Representation of Japan and the environment:

Through this article one is able to clearly see that Japan prioritises the preservation of their culture over the preservation of the environment since the main argument put forth by the Japanese government against IWC’s restrictions was that whaling is a huge part of the Japanese culture. In fact, the importance of culture to Japanese has kept the whaling industry alive as it encourages the government to provide the industry with annual subsidies, and also prevents those who see whales as wildlife from rejecting whaling.

However, the article also notes that anti-whaling organisations believe that if economically, whaling becomes more implausible, the whaling industry will die down as the government will ultimately reduce the subsidies provided to it. This hence, shows that if the environmentally-friendly agenda aligns with the priorities of the economy, Japan could potentially work towards it, regardless of the existence of culture. This might be too simplistic as the authors more realistically noted in the beginning of the article that “whaling has long been about more than economics” (Dooley & Ueno, 2019). 

How anti-whaling is ‘green’

Anti-whaling is seen as green as it is about preserving the biodiversity of the ocean and keeping it clean while maintaining a balance in its ecosystem as oceans are a huge part of our environment. ‘Green’ is beyond greenery that we see and also encompasses non-green parts of nature and wildlife. As whales are huge mammals in the oceans, excessive whaling can lead to potential extinction of whale species and cause disruption to the ecosystem. Whaling also leads to pollution in the ocean due to the large fishing ships used and these ships also degrade the habitats of the whales (IWC, n.d.). Hence, the agenda to push for a stop of whaling in Japan has established itself to be a ‘green’ one.

Satoumi and the sustainability of whales

Whaling had been conducted along the coastal areas of Japan before Japan joined the IWC and could only whale near Antarctica. These areas then become satoumi, coastal areas where their populations sought to whale sustainably as the whale population were the means of their livelihood – a form of human intervention in the nearby seas where they got what they needed for sustenance (Knight, 2010). Hence, with the lifting of the ban on whaling, whalers can legally continue their 400-year tradition of catching the animal of great cultural significance. While Kalland and Asquith mentioned that Japan’s love for nature is restricted to certain aesthetics or cultural appeal, we believe that Japan’s love does not akin to preservation and instead, leads to exactly such prevasion in their desire to exploit and consume it.

In addition, the reading on sustainable development by Kirby further emphasises that Japan makes choices when it comes to sustainability (Kirby, 2011). Despite Japan caving in to international pressures, gaiatsu, for many environmental issues, whaling was not one of them. While Kirby’s chapter did not address the reason behind Japan’s peculiar stubbornness over whaling, by explaining the cultural role of whale meat and whaling in the Japanese society, this article has provided insights on what made whaling so special that Japan has actively challenged the gaiatsu.

Whaling is not the only activity which shows the significance of culture on the fate of animals in Japan. The culture of fear of bears have made bear culling acceptable for decades and only in recent times when bears are accepted to be cute and harmless that they have been established as the victim (Knight, 2000). However, there is still an urban-rural divide on how bears are perceived, and this divide also exists for whaling since those in urban areas see whales as wildlife while those who catch whales see them as a village culture. Therefore, since the issue of whaling in Japan is multi-faceted, it is no wonder government policies have not taken huge leaps.

794 words

Dooley, B., & Ueno, H. (2019, July 1). Japan Resumes Commercial Whaling. But Is There an Appetite for It? Retrieved February 9, 2020, from

IWC. (n.d.). Environmental effects. Retrieved February 9, 2020, from

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

Knight, C. (2010). The Discourse of “Encultured Nature”in Japan: The Concept ofSatoyamaand its Role in 21st-Century Nature Conservation. Asian Studies Review, 34(4), 421–441. doi: 10.1080/10357823.2010.527920

Knight, J. (2000). Natural enemies: people-wildlife conflicts in anthropological perspective. London: Routledge.

From ‘Princess Mononoke’ To ‘My Neighbor Totoro’: Hayao Miyazaki, Environmental Activist (Joe and Megan)

In light of the worsening conflict between humans and the environment, films directed by Hayao Miyazaki are once again becoming increasingly popular, due to his successful addressing of themes regarding nature that resonate throughout his films. This article unravels the ways in which Miyazaki portrays his idealized form of nature through his films and how they relate to society today.

Most of the films discussed in the article were released in the 1990s into the 2000s. Taking into consideration that during that time frame it was the height of the Japanese economic miracle; which allowed the recovery and blooming success of the economic growth in Japan post World War II and the end of the cold war. The shift towards a more consumer society may have neglected some of the environmental ethics that were once part of the pre-industrial era. This unintended consequence has made the film director, Miyazaki, to resent this notion and reflect upon it in his films. 

Miyazaki’s depiction of nature is that it is a vibrant, magnificent, and supreme place that has not been affected by industrialization and human inventions. Nature in Miyazaki’s films features a utopian environment which is “…in accordance with the nostalgic, bucolic associations of the furusato metaphor”, representing his (and Japanese’s) desire for a more peaceful, untainted natural setting, reminiscent of the bygone days (Kirby 2011, pg 80). 

Furthermore, Miyazaki’s rejection of technology in his films also resonates with the idea of satoyama, where he portrays a more “…idyllic agrarian past when Japan was less urbanized and industrialized and the countryside was a more scenic and peaceful place.” (Knight 2010, pg 436). The portrait of nature in Miyazaki’s films as a “surreal”, “exuberant, sublime illustration of the natural world” implicates that the nature Miyazaki has imagined is not nature in its original state but in its idealized state (Pougin 2019, pg 1).  

Moreover, this idealized representation of nature gives insight into what could be lost and ruined if the lack of respect between humankind and nature is continued. In his film, Nausicäa of the Valley of the Wind, nature becomes this scary place in order to protect itself from the pollution and ravage by human innovations. The environment is personified in order to highlight that it is a powerful force rather than something that can be disrespected and neglected. In order to resolve the conflicts between the two relationships, Miyazaki makes it clear that in order to so “…we must learn to live with mutual respect” (Pougin 2019, pg 1). Any conflict starts with a misunderstanding and disrespect from both sides and as such in order to resolve it, mutual respect and understanding are the first steps.  

The themes of nature in his films also deal with the idea of ‘kami’, divine spirits that take a random physical form, true to the notion that “…nature in Japan is understood holistically and spiritually” (Kalland and Asquith, 1997, pg 19). Miyazaki not only includes the natural world “as a whole…its landscape, weather, light, plants, water, wind…” but also fills it with symbols and spiritual meaning in his films — like the animal gods in Princess Mononoke and the spirit Totoro in My Neighbour Totoro, whose roles are to protect the natural environment they live in (Pougin 2019, pg 1). With these ideas, Miyazaki promotes the idea of the forest as a sacred place, encouraging viewers, young and old, to appreciate and protect nature. 

Miyazaki’s advocacy of the environment through his films creates an image of how Japan lives up to the reputation of their love for nature and the environment. However, despite the article identifying Miyazaki as an “environmental activist”, with these ideals of nature recurring throughout his movies; Miyazaki’s view of nature is reflective of his position as one of the more “elite” classes of people whose livelihood does not depend on nature itself. The nature Miyazaki is prizing is one that is highly romanticized and is not an accurate portrayal of what nature actually is. Unfortunately, it is the products and aesthetic of the elite and popular culture that reaches audiences globally and locally, creating the imagined idea to foreigners and to Japanese themselves that Japan is a “green” nation (Kalland and Asquith, 1997). From portraying nature as an almost utopian environment and incorporating the Japanese culture and religion into his films, Miyazaki has surfaced pressing concerns about nature and also critics of his work. Nevertheless, through the popular and accessible medium of animation, he ultimately exposes the world, including the younger generation, to such concerns leading to a better understanding of the environmental crisis facing the world today.

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Asquith, P. J., & Kalland, A. (1997). Japanese images of nature: cultural perspectives. London: Curzon Press.

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

Knight, C. (2010). The Discourse of “Encultured Nature” in Japan: The Concept of Satoyama and its Role in 21st- Century Nature Conservation. Asian Studies Review, 43, 421–441.

Pougin, E. (2019, June 25). From ‘Princess Mononoke’ To ‘My Neighbor Totoro’: Hayao Miyazaki, Environmental Activist. Retrieved from


Redefining Japan’s energy needs (Shermaine and Darren)

Climate crisis: Renewables

This article by Alex Martin discusses Japan’s green shift towards renewable energy sources following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Drawing attention to the Fukushima Prefecture, the article looks at the environmental, cultural and future concerns that may arise from this shift. The nuclear disaster which happened on March 11, 2011, was one of the most devastating nuclear disasters the world has seen. With aftereffects still being felt today, many communities and municipal governments in Japan are looking rampantly towards reducing their dependence on nuclear power and switching to alternative renewable sources of energy. The article highlights how one community, Ōtama, located just 60 kilometres west of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Ōkuma, saw the rapid construction of solar farms by developers as a result of the feed-in tariff system issued by the government. Under this system, electricity is bought by power suppliers from the producers at a fixed rate, which may bring higher profits for the producers.

With Fukushima at the forefront of alternative energy research and initiatives, “the prefecture has set an ambitious goal of powering 100 percent of the region with renewable energy by 2040, compared to around 40 percent today” (Martin, 2019), which is a huge step for Japan in terms of renewable energy sources. A publication written by the Government of Japan, dedicates an entire section on creating “A world fuelled by clean energy” (JapanGov, n.d.) and discusses the government’s initiative on finding more suitable and stable sources of renewable energy. It examines the usage of solar as a renewable source of energy, and other alternatives such as lithium powered batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. Japan’s endeavour on finding alternative sources of energy is also discussed by Holroyd (2017), where she studies the use of hydrogen as an alternative source of energy for all households and states that “Japan is promoting hydrogen in the belief that it will be better for the environment, help solve Japan’s energy security problem, and improve its industrial competitiveness” (p. 158). These efforts reflect Japan’s move to become more environmentally conscious as it turns to renewable sources of energy, as discussed in the article.

Japan’s move towards renewable energy, however, is not without controversy as seen in the case of Ōtama. The rapid installation of the solar panels in Ōtama raised concerns among villagers over the possible damage to the environment. Masao Takeda, the Deputy Mayor of Ōtama highlights that “these solar farms can be eyesores and increase landslide risks due to logging of mountain forests. It’s our duty to protect the majestic scenery of our village for our children” (Martin, 2019). However, they are not totally against solar energy and Takeda adds “we’re just asking developers to be responsible for what they build and work with residents to ensure it won’t be a burden for the village in the long run” (Martin, 2019). The case of Ōtama reflects the ambivalent attitude of the Japanese towards nature brought up by Kalland and Asquith (1997), whereby the love towards nature exists in only one-dimension. This is demonstrated by the developers who are seemingly in line with the government’s view to go green and expand on renewable energy sources but are in fact drawn to the economic benefits of the feed-in tariff system by the government. In their pursuit for economic benefits, they are not “understanding and preserving nature as a healthy ecosystem” (Kalland & Asquith, 1997, p. 29) by ignoring the consequences of logging the mountain forests, and this demonstrates their superficial concern for the environment. The villagers show more concern for the long-term impacts on the environment but also stresses the importance of aesthetic appreciation and cultural preservation. The love the villagers have for nature could be more towards an “aesthetic nature which is identical with culture” (Kalland & Asquith, 1997, p. 30) rather than nature as a whole. If the solar farms were constructed further away, would they have the same environmental concerns? Nonetheless, the case of Ōtama demonstrates some emerging issues that Japan faces on its new initiative with local communities and it should be taken into consideration when planning for future projects.

Japan’s increasing use of renewable energy sources brings it one step closer towards reducing its reliance on nuclear energy, but caution has to be taken in its implementation. The solar farms in this case provide a good source of renewable energy, but its indiscriminate construction can lead to opposition by local communities. With concerns regarding damage to the environment, there needs to be a regulation on the development of these farms to ensure limited damage to the environment in the process. A balance between a sustainable renewable source of energy and the protection of nature is certainly achievable and we believe it is something that can be done in the near future.

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Holroyd, C. (2018). Green japan: Environmental technologies, innovation policy, and the pursuit of green growth. University of Toronto Press.

JapanGov. (n.d.). How Japan is advancing the virtuous circle of environmental protection and economic growth. Retrieved February 1, 2020, from

Kalland, A., & Asquith, P. J. (1997). Japanese perceptions of nature: ideals and illusions. Japanese images of nature: Cultural perspectives. Richmond, UK: Curzon.

Martin, A. (2020, January 19). Balance of power: Redefining Japan’s energy needs. Retrieved February 1, 2020, from