Japan: A sustainability shift example for the world

Japan: A sustainability shift example for the world
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

I love Japan, and I find that there is so much about it in its people’s culture, traditions and ways of thinking that the rest of the world should consider following, to solve problems and make progress in a world of uncertainty and in a world that needs some change.

The Japan I see to day is a great place that triumphs high fuel efficiency in vehicles, compactness and efficiency, and electrified rail lines as the primary, most affordable and most widely used form of transportation. I actually never knew, however, that it was on the verge of today’s China at one point in the past – encouraging middle-class citizens onto cars and creating wastelands of its natural environments, and creating pollution and illness in cities as a result. So, when I read this, it brought me great surprise to think that today’s Japan could not have been today’s Japan with the presence of leadership and a voice in the opposition parties, even as they never came to power.

From the International Herald Tribune Global Opinion’s Latitude:

Japan’s Pollution Diet

By ALEXANDRA HARNEY

TOKYO — Seeing Beijing wreathed in smog throughout the winter, it has been hard not to worry about the costs of China’s rapid economic growth. As Jon Stewart pointed out on The Daily Show: Can’t a country capable of lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty find a way to keep its own capital safe for habitation?

Japan rightly prides itself on blue skies, Prius taxis and mandatory recycling.

Five decades ago, people were asking similar questions about Japan. Even as the world marveled at the country’s 10 percent annual growth, alarm was growing over air pollution in several cities. Emissions of nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide tripled during the 1960s. Japan became known for pollution-related illnesses: Yokkaichi asthma, Minamata disease (mercury poisoning) — both named after the cities where they first appeared — and cadmium poisoning, known as itai-itai, or “ouch-ouch,” because of the excruciating bone pain it caused.

Today, Japanese cities are among the world’s least polluted, according to the World Health Organization. Japan’s environmental record is hardly spotless, but the country rightly prides itself on blue skies, Prius taxis and mandatory recycling. What’s more, it managed to clean up without sacrificing growth by investing in pollution-control technologies and giving local governments leeway to tighten standards beyond national requirements.

It wasn’t easy. The Liberal Democratic Party, which governed Japan almost continuously from 1955 to 2009 and returned to power in December, wasn’t proactive in cleaning up the country’s air and water. That’s partly because until the mid-1990s Japan’s electoral system incited politicians to pander to the interests of business. With candidates from the same party required to also run against one another, most politicians stood little chance of distinguishing themselves on policy and so tried to secure votes by courting business and industry associations.

It was only when citizens’ movements, which grew out of protests against the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and the Vietnam War, got the attention of opposition parties in the 1960s and early 1970s that the government was forced to confront pollution. “I saw the government and L.D.P. as responding just enough, just in time, when the pressure got strong enough that they could defuse the opposition and stay in power,” said Timothy George, a professor at the University of Rhode Island and the author of a book on Minamata disease.

The first result was a blizzard of laws — 14 passed at once — in what became known as the Pollution Diet of 1970. Air pollution fell dramatically in the years that followed.

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22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

TRAILER: "The Garden of Words" by Makoto Shinkai

TRAILER: "The Garden of Words" by Makoto Shinkai

This trailer is for an upcoming movie that is called 『言の葉の庭』 (Itonoha no ni wa) or “The Garden of Words” in English, by reknowned director and artist Makoto Shinkai and his studio, CoMix Wave films. As usual, as with his movies, it looks absolutely amazing – and, from my understanding of their speaking, looks like it will contain a very complicated and engaging story.

The movie is expected to come out in Japan later this year, and a North America release date is currently uncertain. The only thing I can do is sit back and wait for any North American release or the blu-ray/DVD release, while people I know in Japan may be able to already see it – and perhaps tell me about it.

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

Awesome hand drawn Japan rail map

Awesome hand drawn Japan rail map

I love Japan’s intricate rail system, and these hand-drawn maps of Japan’s entire rail system showcase incredible passion, and tell me that the guy who drew them really knows his way around rail transit in Japan and would probably be an awesome person to talk to. It’s also fun to look at the way he drew the maps with only pens and his own hands – no computer-aided tools.

Check out the pictures on Flickr! [LINK] the full map is so big that it’s only available for download if you ask.

Photos: CC-BY, some rights reserved by Wyton Chu

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22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.