lifestyle

Mottainai Campaign enjoying new relevance

23 Comments
By Karryn Miller

Most of us are familiar with the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. But did you know that in Japan they can be boiled down to just one succinct term? Over the last few years, the word "mottainai" has become a rallying cry for people concerned about doing their bit to protect the environment.

It hasn’t always been this way. The word, which refers to the feeling of regret at wasting the intrinsic value of a resource or object, had until recently suffered from neglect.

“When Japan experienced the bubble economy at the end of the ’80s, people tended to prioritize monetary achievement over spiritual gratification,” says Tatsuru Yamamoto, a spokesman for the Mottainai Campaign, a Tokyo-based NGO. “At that time, the word 'mottainai' tended to be considered old-fashioned and was forgotten.”

All that changed when Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan green activist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, visited the country in March 2005. “The desire for material possessions has caused a lot of tragedies,” she said in an interview with Mainichi Newspapers at the time. “We have to save and share materials for peace. The 'mottainai' spirit makes this idea tangible, and the mottainai campaign is my lifetime work.”

Maathai vowed to spread “mottainai” across the globe as a watchword for environmental conservation, and became the honorary chairperson of the Mottainai Campaign, which was started after her visit.

The organization currently works with the government, partner NGOs and businesses to spread the concept to the masses. Yamamoto says that they have attracted approximately 70 supporter companies over the last four years, all of which are now implementing measures to reduce, reuse and recycle at work.

The Mottainai Campaign also runs a number of ongoing campaigns to get people doing small things that can have a larger cumulative impact. “Our Doggy Bags Campaign aims for Japanese people to bring back their leftovers with a portable case when eating out,” explains Yamamoto. Eating the leftovers later helps cut down on waste and enables people to save money. The organization is also encouraging people to carry their own chopsticks — no mean feat in a land where the use of disposable chopsticks is so deeply ingrained.

On a larger scale, the Mottainai Campaign contributes to the Green Belt Movement, an NGO founded by Maathai that focuses on getting people to plant trees in Africa and around the world, as well as fostering greater environmental consciousness. To get things moving along in Japan, the soon-to-be-launched Mottainai Forest Project will arrange for a tree to be planted in Kenya for every dollar donated to Maathai or the Green Belt Movement here.

Looking forward, Yamamoto says that the Mottainai Campaign’s keyword for the year is “food.” Along with the Doggy Bags Campaign, the NGO is creating a distribution scheme for packaged foods nearing their expiration date. “The Japanese have an unusual business practice of prohibiting the sale of packaged foods — such as instant noodles, snacks or chocolates — after they have passed two-thirds of the period between production and their use-by date,” he explains. “This turns vast amounts of products into waste.”

The Mottainai Campaign is addressing the problem via one of its supporter companies, which has set up a business-to-business plan called “Eco-Mottainai.com.” This initiative puts foods back into the market by connecting manufacturers with Internet shopping sites where they can trade their products after the two-thirds cut-off date has passed. Although the plan is only in a trial phase, Yamamoto says that the response so far has been “terrific.”

As the world feels the pinch of recession, the "mottainai" spirit seems more relevant than ever. If you’re interested in getting involved, the easiest way is to donate money to one of the Mottainai Campaign’s projects or join their flea markets, held every weekend at various locations in Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures. A separate flea market for children aims to raise environmental awareness among members of the next generation.

For more information about the Mottainai Campaign, see www.mottainai.info/english or email eng@mottainai.info. This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

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23 Comments
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How a about some serious lobbying to end shakken? One of the top sources of waste. Such controls deliberately encourage the purchase of new automobiles as frequently as possible using massive amounts of resources and energy to sustain.

Next, how about some strong campaigning to educate consumers that each individual produce item does not need to be packaged in plastic? What's the point of using a cloth bag to carry your groceries home, when every single item in your bag is individually packaged?

Moderator: Readers, "shakken" is not relevant to this discussion.

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Bit of an oxymoron. There is probably less than 1% of the population concerned about cleaning the environment, but the 99% don't give a stuff and just throw their sht were ever they like. You've only got to get to the coast of Ibaraki to see the mounds of garbage on the beaches and realize they generally don't give a sht.

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Japan still has a LONG way to go, but it's getting better. I still have yet to see a kitchen sink with stopper so that you don't have to keep the water constantly running while washing the dishes -- and before putting them in the dish washer and then drier, for example.

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I still have yet to see a kitchen sink with stopper so that you don't have to keep the water constantly running while washing the dishes

Wow, smithinjapan. How old is your house/apartment? I bought my place a few years ago and the system kitchen that it came equipped with had a very good sink complete with disposal system, "stopper" as you would put it, and purification system for the water (there is a switch where you could choose pure or tap water). Even my bathroom sink has a "stopper" and thing to catch any "gomi" and hair that ends up going down the drain. If anything, some of the eco-options for houses are just way too high-tech for me, like the compost device.

The one area that I have seen the most improvement in is the eco shopping bag; they're everywhere. It's nice to get a card from the supermarket, where they issue a stamp everytime you refuse a bag. There are several places now that even if you don't know how to say "polybukuro iranai", you can just take a card (located near the cashier) and place it on your shopping basket. Yet, I felt funny one time when I was standing in line and I pulled out my plain Uniqlo one and the lady in front of me was holding one with a Chanel print on it. Wow!

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I still have yet to see a kitchen sink with stopper so that you don't have to keep the water constantly running while washing the dishes

My conclusion is you haven't been in Japan long and/or have seen very few kitchens. ALL the kitchen sinks I have seen - hundreds of them over the years - in the city, the suburbs and the country, had stoppers. On the topic of conserving water, Japan is probably the only developed country where water from the bath is used the next day for doing the laundry.

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Japan is probably the only developed country where water from the bath is used the next day for doing the laundry.

Which is probably why all spaces for the washing machine is located right near where the bath is.

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Perhaps I am wrong here but I don't think smithinjapan was referring to a disposal system but a plug to cover the drain so that one could fill up the sink to do the dishes rather than run the water for the entire duration of the washing process. That does use far less water.

It is great that Japanese use bathwater for laundry but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Australia has even more ideas and laws when it comes to water conservation.

It is so good to see that Japan has caught on to the doggie bag idea. It is about time! Makes me cringe sometimes to see what gets left behind. There are more and more "mottainai" ideas cropping up here all the time! Hope they catch on to the fact that each cookie in the plastic tray in the plastic bag doesn't need it's own individual plastic wrapper! Am looking forward to that day! lol

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On the 'plug in the sink' dilemma. If you have a little kitchen sink then a plug that lets you fill up the sink to wash the dishes is a good idea. A lot of system kitchens nowadays come with huge sinks though - I shudder to think what my water bill would be if I were filling it up several times a day. When you have a big sink, the idea is to put a washing-up bowl inside the sink, and fill that with water.

Having said that, lots of friends of mine have the huge kitchen sink with the required washing-up bowl in it - but they still let the water run they whole time they're washing dishes. While the dish-washer stands empty.

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On the topic of conserving water, Japan is probably the only developed country where water from the bath is used the next day for doing the laundry.

Which is probably why all spaces for the washing machine is located right near where the bath is.

Yeah, like my apt. The only thing is I have to move the water from the bath tub to the washing machine myself! Using a bucket, I tend to get the whole floor wet. I just wish there was some sort of tank to collect water from the bath tub after having a bath or shower. Not only can this water be used to wash clothes, but it can be used to flush the loo. Using potable water to flush the loos is an absolute waste of resources. In fact, throwing a bucket of bath water into the loo does a better job while using a smaller amount of water.

Japanese people also need to realize that the most important thing is to reduce waste in the first place. I feel guilty using those plastic trays for croquettes/tempura. I just grab one of those small thin plastic bags used for vegetables.

BTW, the kitchen sink in my apt doesn't have a good plug. The ones at my workplace (built just a few years ago) don't have any stoppers.

And it gets on my nerves when I see so many locals who can't be bothered to sort out their rubbish - I see PET bottles, newspapers, etc just thrown together with the burnable crap. Absolutely no excuse seeing that my place actually collects not only bottles, but plastic too (although whether they actually recycle the plastic or not is another question).

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What about a concerted effort to persuade the masses to complete a day's work within a seven-hour working day, instead of dragging it out over 14 hours in an exhibitionof how diligent and hard-working they are?

That way a) we'd save a lot of energy that's currently being wasted keeping offices open until 10pm every night, and b) there's a chance people might have enough energy/will-to-live left for a little nookie when they get home. Which is the only way we're going to avoid the demographic timebomb which is going to see 30% of this country dead in 20 years.

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What about the "waribashi" disposable chopsticks issue? Most of those things are made in China, a country which suffers from deforestation and drought. Meanwhile, Japan's domestic forests are sick, waiting to be thinned.

Ask people to BYO chopsticks and you'll find out what they really think of "mottainai".

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Cleo is so right. Regarding the washing-up bowl, sinks here are too big to plug. Now, in our house, we use just enough water to keep the sponge soapy and scrub the dishes with the water off, only turning it on to rinse afterward. I should get a bowl instead though, so they can soak in hot, hot water first.

And Pukey is right too, using the bucket instead of flushing all the time is actually really effective.

You both should be out there promoting this stuff! :)

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Pukey -

The only thing is I have to move the water from the bath tub to the washing machine myself! Using a bucket, I tend to get the whole floor wet.

Skid about on a wet floor no more! If your washing machine doesn't have a built-in bath pump, you can buy one for just one foldie and a bit of loose change. Or you can spend more if you want something posh.

For example

http://joshinweb.jp/kaden/2484.html

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Heck the Japanese have been doing 'chindogu' for years to help out the environment.

A perfect example of 'chindogu' when dealing with the water issue and saving a few yen in the process when you get home.

http://i.treehugger.com/images/2007/10/24/rainsavermsmall.jpg

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I know alot japanese get angry or are astounded abroad when they see how lazy other "developed" countries are about recycling after all those years they spent back in Japan caring and spending time separating their garbage out ( into many types) whilst alot in other countries find it too much to separate into anything other than just one bin. Read some blogs of japanese abroad if you dont believe me, for example ex judo man that's recently now in the UK now.

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888naff; Rubbsh, every British council has recycling facilities. It is actually recycled, most of Japans is put together and burnt, check it out.

Mottainai campaign is useless, Japanese are not green, and only recycle clothing to make money, not like other countries for charity. Japans green credentials are low. Check the Kyoto targets so far, the only country to reach the targets so far are Britain.

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Micky, what I said about japanese being annoyed is not rubbish check it out... I never mentioned anything about what is done with the recycling after handing it over. But to talk now about the UK, I know even now not everyone has to separate their rubbish and even if they do, its no where near the extent in Japan. Also what about the fly tipping dirty people.

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actually analysing the washing up habits I would imagine that most would be missing some details such as alot Japanese think (but are often too polite to say) that foreigners cant wash up properly.. again check it out especially abroad. So making suggestions about how to change washing habits for green ways you might be missing something in the understanding or analysis of the differences.

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when i say cant wash up properly their focus is on hygiene aspect.

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888naff you are simply wrong. seperating of trash is mostly so it can be burnt at different temperatures. Japan is one of the least "green" countries. You need to stop believing japanese TV.

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cleo:

For example

http://joshinweb.jp/kaden/2484.html

Thanks for the link. Seems like a good idea. To be honest, I don't take baths at home that often because I go to the gym a lot and use their facilities. I mainly take showers at home.

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All pre-plastic societies lived by parsimony. Not only is Japan's mottainai nothing new or culturally unique, it would be a gross understatement to say it's not followed in practice.

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A good movement, Japan has been behind most of the first world in protecting its resources and keeping the environment clean. Now let's start cleaning up the beaches shall we?

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