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

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

Japan and the Environment

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

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

Green Subjects

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

Common Concepts

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Green’ fishery gear key to ocean plastic problem (Jia An & Laura)

The article introduced the persistent problem of marine plastic with fishing gear contributing to 40% of marine waste washed ashore, far exceeding plastic bottles that contribute just 8%. In an effort to reduce marine plastic waste, corporations attempt to utilise “green” materials for fishing equipment. Bringing up that their green material is biodegradable which reduces the impact of the fishing industry on the environment. Several Japanese companies are focusing on developing environmentally friendly materials for fishing tools and promoting their recycling to tackle this issue.

Sakamoto pointed out the reason why fishing tools represent a large proportion of marine plastic waste in Japan as many in the industry do illegal dumping as opposed to recycling or opting for proper waste management as it is a much cheaper option. Despite being able to sell used gear to recycling companies, few actually do so. While Japan constantly paints a rosy picture of the public’s environmentally sustainable efforts to recycle, as highlighted by Kirby concept of  Japan’s vision to achieve “zero-emissions” by directing waste to recycling companies (Kirby, 2011), certain corporations do not carry the same sentiments as the general public as they place their priorities in maximising profits. The exploitation of nature for economic gains reminds us of the Minamata disaster and we see similarities in how different stakeholders are affected by corporate actions. In the past, fishermen made use of fishing gears produced by the Chisso factory, who in turn released hazardous waste into their waters (Walker, 2010). Today, an even wider spectrum of stakeholders are unknowingly supporting corporations that are polluting their waters. This further highlights Walker’s point that Japan’s industrialisation is also “industrialising” themselves. It seems that plastic generation is seen as a driver of Japan’s development only at the expense of the ecosystem.

The “green” aspect of this article is embodied in highlighting recycling corporations’ efforts in tackling an issue of fishing equipment plastic which is represented as one of the main culprits of marine plastic pollution. In response to Japan’s shift towards more sustainable practices, there has been a rise in recycling corporations venturing into the fishing industry to tackle the issue of plastic pollution. These companies are producing fishing gears with biodegradable materials or offering the service of recycling them. This helps fishermen sustain their livelihoods without harming the environment. One of the companies mentioned, Refinverse, can be seen as an eco meister on a corporate scale as they are able to turn used fishing nets into nylon fibres for clothing and plastic resins as raw material, giving the unwanted items a new life.

This is an example of how “some consumer product makers have started taking action to meet U.N. Sustainable development Goals” as mentioned in the article, highlighting Japan’s underlying shift to adopting “sustainable” business practices due to “Gaiatsu” as discussed by Kirby (2011). Companies in Japan succumbing to foreign pressure also emphasises the workings of a larger, global power, thus reflecting the idea of political ecology as mentioned by Robbins (2007).

However, it is important to note that the “green” alternative to conventional fishing gear does not address the root issue of dumping excessive waste into the waters. This illustrates the concept of anthropocentrism, like how bugs in the Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind represent a kind of inconvenient truth in our discourse about nature. Humans tend to act in their self-interest and dictate what they feel is best for nature.

To conclude, we feel that Japan is undeniably taking steps towards becoming a more sustainable nation. However, it is important to ensure actions tackle the root cause of the problem (marine plastic pollution) and not seek to distract.

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Sakamoto, Kanoko (2020, 17 October). ‘Green’ fishery gear key to ocean plastic problems. Nikkei Asia. Retrieved from: https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Environment/Green-fishery-gear-key-to-ocean-plastic-problems

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

Robbins, Paul (2007). “The Hatchet and the Seed” Political ecology: a critical introduction. Malden MA: Blackwell Pub: 3-16.

Walker, Brett L (2011). Toxic archipelago: a history of industrial disease in Japan. University of Washington Press.

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 https://www.konbini.com/en/cinema/from-princess-mononoke-to-my-neighbor-totoro-hayao-miyazaki-environmental-activist/


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.

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Bishop, J. This Japanese Escape Is Pure Mountainous Bliss. Retrieved October 23, 2018 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/bishopjordan/2018/05/25/satoyama-jujo-hotel-japan/#1bafe02c5ed2

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.

Companies taking the lead towards renewable energy

Figure 1: News article in The Japan Times

Sustainability has slowly emerged and become a major topic of concern. At the 2015 Paris climate change accord, countries agreed to control and restricting the global temperature rise. Companies around the world have to adopt sustainable business policies to increase their value and stay part of the market (Sustainable Business Network, (n.d.)). On September 10th, The Japan Times* published an article on Sony’s renewable energy plans (Sony plans to power global operations with renewables by 2040, 2018).

Sony Corporation, one of Japan’s well-established multinational company, has decided to achieve 100% renewable energy consumption in all of its global operations by 2040. Though its European sites has already achieved using 100% green energy. However, the sites in Japan and Thailand are behind in such green initiatives, due to the high investment cost. Besides, Japan is the company’s main power consumption site and even hosts seven semiconductor plants. (The Japanese Times, 2018)

Sony has plans for installation of solar panels in both Japan and Thailand operation sites, intending to increase the renewable energy usage from 5% in 2017 to 30% in 2030. Despite their concerns towards the raising cost, they believe this is a good opportunity to add value to the company. In conjunction with this plan, they have also join RE100 and work on the solutions to lowering the cost of renewable energy with other partners. (The Japanese Times, 2018)

RE100 is a collaboration of influential businesses to move towards a low carbon economy by the usage of 100% green electricity. In total 144 companies have joined this movement (RE100, (n.d.)). Sony recently joined the RE100 (Hill, 2018). The advantage is that the companies share their practices knowledge and learn from each other. Additionally, this group of frontrunners has an inspiring purpose for other companies, which adds to their image as being a sustainable company. (RE100, (n.d.))

Sony already made some steps towards sustainability. The Sony operations in Europe rely for 100% on green energy (Sony plans to power global operations with renewables by 2040, 2018). They aim to have a global CO2 reduction of 300,00 tons in 2020 (see figure 2) (Sony, 2018).

Figure 2: Overview CO2 reductions Sony in the past years.

Besides, Sony plans to install solar panels at the factories in Japan and Thailand. However, installation of solar panels requires a great surface area to capture significant amounts of energy. Sony did not reveal any cost estimation and specific information on the timeframe for this plan. Thus the feasibility of this plan cannot be examined.

Renewable energy does contribute towards CO2 emission reduction. However, a company can not be totally dependent on this energy source. Natural factors (weathers,seasons etc) fluctuate, therefore the supply is not constant. As Japan is a seasonal country, with short daytime in winter, it is impossible to obtain enough energy from solar panels alone. Storage facilities are required to make this energy source more reliable and the company even more sustainable (LeBlanc, 2018).

Next to renewable energy Sony has made up its own challenge ‘road to zero’. The aim is to decrease the environmental impact of the company to zero. Sony has organized several environmental activities around the globe, including: promoting bike use, reducing waste, cleaning up beaches and supporting sustainable practices. (Sony, 2018)

Sony also puts effort in sustaining environment in other ways. While taking care for the environment, those campaigns also contribute to their familiarity and value on the market.

Among 144 companies that are part of RE100, 11 of them are from Japan (RE100, (n.d.)). This shows that the Japanese companies significantly contribute to sustainable businesses. They realize the importance of sustaining the environment and hence took the lead in making an effort to use more renewable energy sources.

However, for Japan as a country it is important to reduce the carbon footprint to ensure a pleasant world for the next generations. Additionally, it adds to being less dependent on other countries for energy production. (Agency for natural resources and energy, 2017)

Japan has a low energy self-sufficiency ratio, 7,4%, compared to other countries as it does not have many natural resources. Therefore it relies on other countries for its energy supply. Oil, coal and natural gas, are mainly imported from overseas and requires huge amounts of energy, which is not sustainable. Before 2011 nuclear energy had an important role in the energy generation of Japan. Currently Japan is doing research on the usage of alternative energy options, like solar, wind, methane hydrate and hydrogen. (Agency for natural resources and energy, 2017)

Overall, Sony has made serious efforts to reduce its CO2 emission. Besides, events, campaigns and promotion are organized to reduce the environmental footprint in other categories as well, they aim to involve the users in this process as well. As a company, Sony really wants to live together in harmony with the environment.

Sony recently joined the RE100 to cooperate and move towards an 100% renewable energy usage. The Japanese companies, of the RE100, should be an example for Japan to implement more renewable practices and improve the environmental impact of the country.

* The majority of the readers of The Japan Times are non-Japanese, who live in Japan. The newspaper is also globally spread and seen as quality reporting (World Eye Reports).

Agency for natural resources and energy. (2017). JAPAN’S ENERGY, 20 Questions to understand the current energy situation [Brochure]. Author. Retrieved from http://www.enecho.meti.go.jp/en/category/brochures/pdf/japan_energy_2017.pdf

Hill, J. S. (2018, September 10). Sony, McKinsey, & RBS Join RE100 In Commitment To 100% Renewable Energy. Retrieved from https://cleantechnica.com/2018/09/10/sony-mckinsey-rbs-join-re100-in-commitment-to-100-renewable-energy/

LeBlanc, R. (2018, April 9). The Importance of Battery Storage for Sustainable Energy. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancesmb.com/importance-of-battery-storage-for-sustainable-energy-4163010

RE100. (n.d.). Companies. Retrieved from http://there100.org/companies

RE100. (n.d.). RE100. Retrieved from http://there100.org/re100

Sony. (2018, July 30). Sony and the Environment | Initiatives. Retrieved from https://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/csr/SonyEnvironment/initiatives/index.html

Sony. (2018, August 29). Use of Renewable Energy. Retrieved from https://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/csr_report/environment/site/re_energy.html

Sony plans to power global operations with renewables by 2040. (2018, September 10). The Japan Times. Retrieved from https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/09/10/business/corporate-business/sony-plans-power-global-operations-renewables-2040/#.W5s1fUxuKUm

Sustainable Business Network. (n.d.). Why should my business become more sustainable? Retrieved from https://sustainable.org.nz/guide-to-sustainability/

World Eye Reports. (n.d.). The Japan Times. Retrieved from http://www.worldeyereports.com/media-the-japan-times/

Ecosystem preservation – rise of satoyama around Japanese factories

Satoyama (green spaces) are being established in the vicinities of Japanese firms, such as Mitsubishi Electric Corp.’s factory, and Canon Inc.’s headquarters in hopes of preserving the local ecosystem. Mitsubishi hopes to assimilate their factory with the local biodiversity by having the established satoyama with diverse plant species serve as a resting station to a variety of wild birds and insects (JIJI, 2018). They have also made efforts in relocating local plant species that were threatened by the housing developments nearby. In a similar light, Canon went the extra mile by heeding advice from the Wild Bird Society of Japan, then making improvements and conducting biological research (on birds) at their satoyama, Shimomaruko no Mori. Both Mitsubishi and Canon were successful, as they had both observed a wide variety of wildlife species visiting their satoyama (JIJI, 2018).


Land clearing for the building of factories is unavoidable for any industrialized nation. The resulting loss and fragmentation of natural habitat would disrupt the ecosystem, animal movement, and genetic flow (Xun, Yu & Liu, 2014). Additionally, it would threaten biodiversity, contributing to the extinction or decline of certain species (Xun, Yu & Liu, 2014). However, the establishment of satoyama in the vicinities of Mitsubishi’s and Canon’s factories could partially mitigate the impact of the factories on the ecosystem and biodiversity. These small satoyama could serve as stepping stones that enhance habitat connectivity and allow organisms to migrate from one habitat patch to the other. Migration between habitat patches is important for the survival of species (Hanski, 2011). When a population of species is unable to migrate and becomes isolated, inbreeding depression and gene mutations that could result in random loss of beneficial genes occurs (Hanski, 2011). Thus, unfit species’ populations could eventually go into extinction.



Canon’s focus on conserving bird species has been acknowledged where forest bird populations are a crucial part of the food web and ecosystem (Kang et al., 2015). Mitsubishi’s relocation of local plant species that were threatened by the housing developments nearby not only contributes to the conservation of the biodiversity of plants species, but also other organisms that rely on those plants for survival. 

While all these efforts are commendable and beneficial to the surrounding flora and fauna, we should also question whether these companies have environmental conservation as their primary objective for carrying out such measures. On the surface, there is no economic gain for comapnies to establish satoyama within their compounds. The setup and maintenance cost associated with these satoyama, coupled with opportunity cost of not building facitlities on precious land, makes it seem like the companies are truly concerned with the environment. However, there are intangible benefits of being “green”; these companies could be doing it for the sake of improving their public image or gaining acceptance among the residents in the neighbourhood (as mentioned by Junko Kimura, a representative of Canon).

Mitsubishi Electric Corp. factory in Shizuoka-ken

Canon Inc. headquaters in Tokyo

Based on observations made on Google Earth, it could be argued that the impact of these satoyama on the environment is negligible when we compare the land area occupied by the factory/building to the land area of the satoyama established. In the case of Mitsubishi Electric’s factory located in Shizuoka-ken, the tiny green spaces are dwarved by the scale of their factory. Canon however, has established a more impressive satoyama around their headquarters.

Perhaps, the resources that they spend on establishing and maintaining these satoyama could have been allocated to other initiatives, such as the development of cleaner machinery or building systems that would reduce overall carbon emissions, yielding a higher net benefit for the environment. Notwithstanding these considerations, there is too little evidence to suggest that these companies are motivated by non-environmental incentives to establish satoyama around their premises.

Ultimately, regardless of the underlying reason, the creation of these green spaces around factories or office buildings is something that should be encouraged among large corporations as they preserve the ecosystem and local biodiversity, allowing various endemic, as well as migratory species of wildlife to coexist with humans in our urbanised and industrialised landscape, while beautifying the locality with nature’s aesthetic.

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JIJI. (2018, August 22). Japanese firms creating green areas to boost biodiversity at factories. The Japan Times. Retrieved September 1, 2018, from https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/08/22/national/japanese-firms-creating-green-areas-boost-biodiversity-factories/#.W5PPpugzY2x

Hanski, I. (2011). Habitat Loss, the Dynamics of Biodiversity, and a Perspective on Conservation. Ambio, 40(3), 248-255. doi:10.1007/s13280-011-0147-3

Kang, W., Minor, E. S., Park, C., & Lee, D. (2015). Effects of habitat structure, human disturbance, and habitat connectivity on urban forest bird communities. Urban Ecosystems, 18(3), 857-870. doi:10.1007/s11252-014-0433-5

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, 34(4), 421-441. doi: 10.1080/10357823.2010.527920

Xun, B., Yu, D., & Liu, Y. (2014). Habitat connectivity analysis for conservation implications in an urban area. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 34(1), 44-52. doi:10.1016/j.chnaes.2013.11.006




Kitakyushu – The World Capital of Sustainability

Dokai Bay - Water Pollution

Kitakyushu, a city on Kyushu Island, came to be one of Japan’s biggest manufacturing sectors in the 1960s, during which Japan was experiencing sharp economic growth. The city met with problems of air and water pollution due to industrial activities in the area, causing the intense suffering of Dokai Bay, later termed the “Sea of Death”. However, this gave the people of Kitakyushu an opportunity to show the world their expertise in sustainability. The Environmental Pollution Control Bureau (EPCB) was established, along with The City of Kitakyushu Pollution Control Ordinance (CKPCO) later on, which enforced stringent and meticulous regulations on pollution. These were firsts of the many green initiatives which sprouted for Kitakyushu, and together with the people’s cooperation, their environment recovered remarkably and was awarded the title of “Gray City to a Green City”, to lead the globe by example.

World Capital of Sustainability

The environmental issues that the city faced illustrate the ambiguous relationship that Japan has always shared with nature. The control over nature, which resulted in its destruction, followed by the desire to repair and protect nature. Kitakyushu’s successful attempt to alter the consequences of its actions on the environment while promoting economic growth served as a good example to fellow developed countries, making Japan a modern leader in green initiatives. All this was achieved despite previously being one of the most industrial areas in Japan, showing the importance of its transformation in this climate change era.

The implementation of the “Kitakyushu Ecotown Plan” in light of pressing global waste issues, pushes for the recycling of various items such as plastic bottles, automobiles and electric appliances etcetera.  The city aims to recycle both resources and energy while promoting environmentally-conscious activities. With majority of the plan carried out in Hibikinada, Northwestern Kitakyushu, giving the city an edge in issues of sustainability. The prioritisation of recycling and reducing nearly all types of waste coupled with the goal of creating new environmental sectors reflects Kitakyushu’s determination towards a greener future. These further green efforts which developed from their initial pollution problems also supports Japan’s eco-friendly relationship with nature.

However, it is important to delve into any underlying motives Japan has in investing in sustainability efforts. Their destruction of the Dokai Basin parallels the wrecking of the Kinai Basin in the Nara-Heian period, when there was intense abuse of forest areas. (Totman, 2009) Similarly, Kitakyushu only commenced its green initiatives after realising that its environment could not take further pollution. Totman explained the cycle of Japan’s increasingly intensified abuse of its forests over the progression of the 4 periods, along with how Japan managed to fix what they broke each time, thereby depicting their control over nature. Kitakyushu did not suddenly go green because of their love for nature. Instead, it was the fact that nature was their habitat and thus they had to take action to save themselves; revealing their reliance on nature. Plausible economic reasons include the Dokai Basin as a source of fishing resources which is vital to their community. Therefore nature could very well just be an instrument for the Japanese to achieve what they want.

Their aim to attain the title of World Capital of Sustainable Development may be fuelled by the need to uphold their image of their love for nature (Kalland and Asquith, 1997) and the desire to be seen as a pioneer of sustainability by the international community. Their planning for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in which sustainability plays a key role, is another manifestation of this desire. With more green or sustainability related awards on Japan’s shelf, her resume for being a green nation becomes more substantiated which would pave the way for potential investors. This is how Japan might want to be thought of – being the only nation that has a special relationship with nature, rather than actually caring for the environment.

640 words


Clark, T. (2017, December 28). Kitakyushu – The World Capital of Sustainability. Retrieved from https://www.apfed.net/kitakyushu-the-world-capital-of-sustainability/

Totman, C. D. (2009). “Japan’s Forests: Good Days and Bad – Rhythms of Damage and Recovery.” from http://aboutjapan.japansociety.org/content.cfm/japans_forests_good_days_and_bad_–rhythms_of_damage_and_recovery_-.

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.



Oh! My (cash) cow’s green!


Article: Japanese firms find profits in going green (https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/11/13/national/japanese-firms-find-profits-in-going-green/#.W4ifT5P7SR)



The article explores the financial benefits of investing in “green” products and technologies, by citing examples of two companies.

Kirishima Shuzo Co. cut costs of outsourcing its disposal of industrial waste, by investing in a recycling facility that harnesses waste methane from a fermentation process of its shochu (distilled sake) to, firstly, power its production, and secondly, generate excess electricity to sell to Kyushu Electric Power Co. for profit.

New Tech Shinsei Inc. has expanded its scope of operations, and started utilizing waste wood from forest thinning (which is unsuitable for furniture production (Mokulock, n.d.)) to create wooden toy blocks (called Mokulock) as an alternative to plastic ones.


Choosing to Go Green

In both cases, the Japanese veer towards “greener” ways: generating renewable energy in the former; changing product inputs from un-renewable electronics to biodegradable waste (wood) while reducing waste from forest thinning in the latter. To the layman, this may incidentally appeal to the Japanese’ claim to love nature. Hence, Japan’s apparently quaint, and spurious love for green could be reinforced.


How is “going green” represented?

However, it’s evident that the key focus of the article is not the environmental benefits of “going green”, but the financial benefits.

For both examples, there is repeated emphasis on cost and profit; Kirishima Shuzo Co. reduced disposal costs from 10,000¥ per ton to below 1,500¥ per ton. Its representative cited the financial soundness of this strategy: investment costs would be recovered as prices of renewable energy stay fixed for 20 years under the FIT system – a governmental policy which encourages renewable electricity production in private firms in Japan, by obligating electric power companies to purchase the energy on a fixed price, fixed period contract (IEA – Japan, 2018). New Tech Shinsei created Mokulock to stay afloat when its original business was failing.


Honestly it wasn’t for the environment at first, but rather for [them] to survive…


There is little analysis of how the “green” practices would benefit the environment. For example, there is no mention of how much wood from forest thinning is saved due to the Mokulock project, or how the sustainable disposal of waste by Kirishima Shuzo Co. will reduce its carbon footprint, apart from a vague mention that it would “help combat global warming”.

Thus, Japanese firms are represented as having a pragmatic approach to conservation, implying that their “going green” is motivated solely by financial interest. The environmental impact is almost portrayed as a side bonus. Strikingly, New Tech Shinsei’s representative stated: “Honestly it wasn’t for the environment at first, but rather for [them] to survive.”

The Japan Times is owned by Nifco, an industrial manufacturer. Its lack of affiliation with environmental organisations could explain the limited emphasis on environmental benefit. Instead, emphasising profits may be a conscious decision to appeal to the elite Japanese’ (part of its audience) practical relationship with nature.



Japanese’ attitude toward nature has been unique. For example, they see bonsai, an unnatural form of a live plant, as ‘love for nature’. This ambivalent view on nature innate in japanese culture (Asquith & Kalland, 1997), could have romanticized the article’s content in the eyes of its Japanese writers – they are unaware of its pragmatic implications to outsiders, which could damage the carefully constructed idea of Japan’s ‘innate love of nature’.

The pragmatic attitude towards environmental conservation is reflective of Japan’s historical relationship with nature. Historically, there have been regulations on preserving vegetation, which were justified by how it is necessary for maintaining the people’s needs – an anthropocentric approach. One example is an ancient court order on protecting “vegetation on the mountains” in order to “[secure] water” (Totman, 1989). This suggests that the Japanese have been consistent in conserving the environment for their own needs. Today, apart from keeping resources plentiful, “going green” is also used  for reducing costs and increasing profits.

Also interestingly, what was described in this article could be a twist on ‘political ecology’ – political circumstances forcing environmental degradation (Stott and Sullivan, 2000), now that circumstances seem to promote conservation.


The bigger picture

In both cases, human intervention was imperative to “going green” – government policies in the former, and creative entrepreneurship for the latter. The ultimate driving force is, however, still economic. Therefore, if economics discourse could recognize nature as a finite source/sink of resources, conventional economic forces which used to exploit nature could instead drive conservation. The FIT system may be a sign of politics moving in this direction.

Caption: A proposed concept including ‘environment capital’ as a source/sink among the pre-established web of economic flows (Thampapillai & Sinden, 2013).


Like this, the environment would be better understood by the layman as part of a closed loop with finite resources, to be exploited only sustainably.



(774 words)


Asquith, P. J., & Kalland, A. (1997). Japan’s Perception of Nature. Japanese images of nature: Cultural perspectives. (pp 21) Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press.

IEA – Japan. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.iea.org/policiesandmeasures/pams/japan/name-30660-en.php

Mokulock (n.d.) How did Mokulock come to be? Retrieved from https://mokulock.biz/

Stott, P. A., & Sullivan, S. (2000). Political ecology: Science, myth and power. London: Arnold.

Thampapillai, D. J., & Sinden, J. A. (2013). Environmental economics: Concepts, methods, and policies (Second ed.). South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Totman, C.D. (1989) The Green Archipelago: Forestry in Preindustrial Japan. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press.

All uncited pictures taken from the creative commons.

‘Shin Godzilla’: The metaphorical monster returns


Film Review as featured in The Japan Times

Mark Schilling, an author with The Japan Times, writes a film review of the 2016 remake of Godzilla titled ‘Shin Godzilla’. He gives an overview of the plot and shares two ways in which Shin Godzilla serves as a metaphor to Japan’s interaction with the environment. This is through analysing the characteristics and actions of Godzilla itself, and the responses of the people to it. He states that this movie is not a continuation of the long line of Godzilla movies that started in 1954, but is set in modern day Japan suggesting that the ideas that are brought up are representative of our interactions with today’s environment. More than just an action movie, Godzilla has traditionally been portrayed symbolically as a destructive force of nature (Wikizilla) that serves as a ghost that haunts Japan of its past deeds.

Firstly, Schilling focuses on the meaning of Godzilla through its characteristics and actions. In the process of making landfall in Tokyo, Godzilla creates a wave of destruction as it pushes inland and leaves a radioactive trail in its wake. Schilling argues that this is a metaphor for the 3/11 triple disaster in the form of “an ambulatory tsunami, earthquake and nuclear reactor, leaving radioactive contamination in his wake” (Schilling, 2016). This metaphor closely links to Shun’ya’s point that “manmade disasters [are] linked to contemporary science and technology” (Shun’ya, 2012, p. 320) and how Japan has embarked on a path of building nuclear power plants as an “effective way to bring about “liberation” from memories of the atomic bombings” (Shun’ya, 2012, p. 325). Symbolically, Godzilla is the portrayal of how the pursuit of technological progress through the use of nuclear power backfires and in turn, causes widespread damage and more importantly a lingering radioactive environment that will render the area poisoned.

Secondly, as Schilling looks at the interactions of the people in the movie, he uncovers how there is self-sacrifice experienced by them. He notes various groups such as the government officials, Self-Defense Forces Officers, and the anti-Godzilla task force and talks about their self-sacrifice in the face of losing their lives in the immediate danger caused by Godzilla or the radioactive trail it leaves. Schilling establishes the link to the “Fukushima 50”, who had sacrificed themselves by exposing themselves to extreme levels of radiation whilst containing the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Plant. Walker echoes this idea of self-sacrifice through the relation of pain and the nation, and how it is experienced across Japanese history (Walker, 2010). We see how the movie sends the message on how the ones that suffer the direct consequences of the benefit are the innocent who did not have any direct involvement in the decision making process.

Schilling does well to shed light on its readers that Shin Godzilla is more than just an action movie but serves as a metaphor that encapsulates Japan’s modern interactions with nature and how it backfires in the form of Godzilla’s arrival into Tokyo.

(493 words excluding references)


  • Schilling, M. (2016, August 3). ‘Shin Godzilla’: The Metaphorical Monster Returns. Retrieved October 12, 2016 from The Japan Times: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2016/08/03/films/film-reviews/shin-godzilla-metaphorical-monster-returns/#.V_4Zk5N94UE
  • Shun’ya, Y. (2012, May). Radioactive Rain and the American Umbrella. The Journal of Asian Studies , 319-331.
  • Walker, B. (2010). Toxic Archipelega: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • (n.d.). Godzilla Misconceptions. Retrieved October 12, 2016 from Wikizilla: http://godzilla.wikia.com/wiki/Godzilla_Misconceptions

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.)