Sunset from the Train

– Sunset from the Train: Water, Mountains, and Urban Living Merged

So I recently got back from a school trip to Japan. I was taking classes there for a week as part of an international exchange program. This was an amazing trip in so many way, but there are definitely some sustainability aspects that I feel are noteworthy.

This was probably a low point in my own personal sustainability. I took six flights to get there and back and throughout the trip had to eat mostly prepackaged food, whether on the airplanes or when I got there. I flew mainly Air Canada this time and noticed that their food offering didn’t seem to include as many recyclable and reusable parts as Air France had. Also, the flight from Tokyo to Osaka was definitely not full which is a bit of a waste of capacity (I found out later on that there are constant flights between Tokyo and Osaka and some people actually use it as a way to commute to work if they don’t have to go to work every day, the flight is about an hour long).

Some differences between India and Japan:

  • Street trash: Most all aspects of Japan seemed very clean. Their was very little garbage anywhere that I could see, and lots of sorted garbage bins around, unlike India where there seemed to be little organized trash collection and lots of trash in the streets.
  • Electricity use: One of the things I found surprising was that my hotel in Japan didn’t have the light switch card reader feature (where you put your room key into a slot in the hallway and it turns on the power to your room) which my room in India had. I found it was actually fairly difficult to remember to turn off all the lights before I left because our room, especially when I was in a hurry and I wonder how much more electricity is lost without using one of these kinds of systems. I also wonder if it’s because of India’s inconsistent and limited electricity that they would have more safe guards set up around it than in Japan where I imagine electricity access is not an issue.
  • Food: Obviously there were more places like groceries stores and convenience stores to get food from in Japan than in India where I saw mostly open stalls or small specialty stores. I found though even when I was buying food at the grocery store in Japan, and especially in the convenience store, that there seemed to be a lot of packaging in Japanese food. There were a lot smaller portion sizes and snack packs and just various other products that had layers of packaging. Indian food did not seem as prepacked, though that isn’t necessarily a good thing either food-safety wise.

While there were cars in Japan, the public transportation seemed very good and most people don’t seem to own cars. We were able to use public transportation or walk where we needed to go most all of the time we were there but did use private buses for airport transportation and class field trips. I know it must get old pretty quick, but I really liked the 10-15 minute walk to school in the mornings, it was really refreshing, especially since the weather felt like a crisp fall day most of the time. The air quality felt clean too, as opposed to India where it could be a lot more dusty and smokey.

One of the things that struck me the most, and this might just have been my lack of experience in more metropolitan type areas, but there seemed to be so. much. shopping. I had honestly never seen shopping malls so big, and such large department stores (we went to an 8 story department store called Loft in Umeda which seemed to have anything you could possibly want that would fit in your house except clothing and food). It seemed like everything was for sale (Star Wars light saber chop sticks anyone?). I got a really distinctive impression that at least the area I was in was very consumption focused.

The things I did while I was there to help limit my impact were things like walking to school instead of taking the bus, buying groceries at the grocery store instead of eating out or getting food at the convenience stores and trying to limit my gift purchases and buy locally made products.

The whole trip was pretty amazing though and the people I got to get to know while I was there were great. I am very glad I got to go.

But now I’m back in one place again for the next couple months so that should help with improving my sustainability efforts.



2 thoughts on “Japan!

  1. Very interesting comments. I wonder if the electrical system in India is used that way because of the cost and not the convenience. Not too many places can afford electricity on demand.

    • Quite possibly, electricity in general seemed much more rare in India than in Japan. Many of the schools we visited in India were without electricity in the classrooms and worked off only daylight and there were many more open concept areas such as open air restaurants. I also haven’t seen that type of electricity safe guard in any North American hotels I’ve stayed at either. However, there were also energy saving aspects of Japan, such as the university I was at had all of its rooms individually heated so it did not heat any rooms that were not directly in use, and the hallways were never heated. Definitely a reminder to me about the differences in access, use, and affordability of things like electricity in different parts of the world.

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