5 Reasons Why Japan is Clean and Green


What I learned from my trip to Hokkaido

Every winter, my family and I hit up the ski slopes in Niseko Village, Hokkaido, shop the streets of Sapporo and head back home to Hong Kong in time for Christmas. While it’s usually a fun-filled week of snowboarding, good food and late-night ōnsen (hot spring), routinely visiting the same place from a young age has largely prevented me from noticing all the many quirks of Japanese culture. However, this winter - having been in America prior to my visit - I found myself experiencing culture confusion in a country I’d visited countless times before. I suddenly became aware of the spotlessly clean Japanese streets despite an absence of trash cans, how children as young as six years old made their way to school on their own, and most importantly, how green and sustainable many aspects of the Japanese lifestyle were compared to those of other developed countries. While there are many reasons why Japan is a world leader in sustainability efforts, I’ve compiled a short list of my top five reasons that is in no way exhaustive.

Recycling (risaikuru) is taken very seriously

While we struggle to even separate our trash into ‘recyclables’ and ‘non-recyclables,’ not only does everyone (or at least it seems like everyone) in Japan recycle, but they do so despite more than 10 different recycling categories. In a national drive to reduce waste and save the planet, all households and businesses are required by law to sort out their recycling and combustibles into clear plastic bags. If the wrong thing is placed in the wrong bag, local authorities will put a red sticker of shame on your bag and everyone in the neighborhood will know that you hate the planet.

And I mean VERY seriously

When I say that everyone recycles, I mean everyone. Kids in Japanese elementary schools are taught to rinse, cut open and dry their used milk cartons after lunch every day. The school then bundles the cartons and sends them to be recycled into toilet paper. The absence of janitors also mean that kids are taught to clean up after themselves, which includes sorting their rubbish into the right recycling bins.

Bathwater is never used once

We’ve all been told to take showers instead of baths in order to conserve water – and the shorter the shower, the better, right? Well, this is advice you definitely won’t hear in Japan. The Japanese love bathing: everyone spends a good amount of time soaking in the tub every day. However, water is never wasted; in fact, in a four-member household, the same tub of water would be used approximately 5 times. Not only does a single family bathe in the same water (which is clean because each member rinses off before stepping into the tub), but a connected tube will also suck the used-water out of the tub to be used again for laundry. Now how neat is that?

People are encouraged to live in energy efficient homes  

In 2009, the government introduced an Eco-Point System by which the purchasing of environmentally friendly housing fixtures and home-appliances qualifies the customer for ‘eco-points’ that can be accumulated and used to buy other household items. This effective system, which is a market-based policy, not only promotes climate change countermeasures, but also increases the incentive for consumers and corporations alike to both purchase and manufacture eco-friendly technology.

And finally…

Nature is the cornerstone of Japanese culture

The original religion of Japan is Shinto, meaning the worshipping of the forces of nature or “kinship with nature.” Kami, spirits said to animate all nature, are associated with all elements of nature and therefore must be treated with respect and reverence. As a matter of fact, the Japanese language had no separate word for ‘nature’ until influenced by Western ideas in the 19th century. Thus, a huge reason why the Japanese are so efficient with their utilization of resources and minimization of waste is because in Japanese thinking, there is no natural or built environment – just nature.