First, I will start this post by quickly listing all of the things I will miss most about Japan:

  • The food – Japanese food is awesome, no further explanation is needed
  • The heated toilet seats and kotatsu tables (heated table with blankets) – they are awesome when it is cold
  • The architecture - efficient houses, beautiful temples, sky-high pagodas, who wouldn’t miss it!?
  • The Japanese gardens – they are so breathtaking, I cannot begin to explain how peaceful it is to relax inside of a Japanese garden
  • The cleanliness – almost everywhere I go in Japan, the streets look very well kept and the streets are virtually trash free
  • Japanese TV – I love anime, so that is obvious, but the game shows are so awesome! (even though it is still difficult for me to understand everything)
  • The sense of safety – wherever I go in Japan, I always feel pretty safe, no matter what time of day or what area
  • The public transportation – it is nice having practically ubiquitous trains, buses, subways that are almost always on time
  • The people – everyone that I have met here has been so incredibly friendly and helpful; I can spout so many stories of how generous and helpful everyone here has been!
  • The mindset – perhaps the thing I will miss most about Japan is the mindset of everyone. Being in Japan has exposed me to a new way of thinking that I really like. I think Japanese people have more of a general respect for everything including other people, the cities they live in, the environment, animals, etc
A Few of the Most Important Lessons Being in Japan Has Taught Me
In the context of sustainability, I have learned numerous lessons from Japan. Of course, I have learned about a few different methods of organic farming. Besides the most standard organic farming methods which merely abstain from pesticides and fertilizers, I am also familiar with the “Natural Farming Method” and “Kyusei Nature Farming” (used in conjunction with Effective Microorganisms) (see previous posts for further explanation). I have discovered the “Chisan Chishou”, “grow locally, consume locally” movement that encourages citizens to buy from local growers and pay more attention to the environmental impact of their food choices. I have seen firsthand how the Japanese mindset promotes efficient use of resources while also minimizing waste. I have realized the convenience and environmental impact of an efficient and widely available public transportation system, as well as the importance of walking and biking for errands instead of using the car.  I have found that the cars in Japan get much better mileage than the average American car, though that is a little bittersweet. It is fantastic that there is technology that allows us to get such great gas mileage and reduce greenhouse emissions, but it is very disappointing that is is not more widely available. I am sad to say that I have become more aware of the impact of money and politics on the environment and I hope the world makes a shift more towards selfless concern for the environment and away from profit.
Moreover, after being away from my family, friends, and comfortable routine, I realize how important it is to not take things for granted. People tend to get used to their friends and family and get bored with their seemingly monotonous daily schedule, but when they leave, they may realize how special it all is. Even those things once thought of as boring become precious. I have realized that I must actively try to remember how lucky I am. I am so fortunate to have met such amazing people in my life, to be at a university that I love, and to get the opportunity to have such amazing experience like traveling abroad so young. I will try to show my love and gratitude to all those around me, so they can always know that I am grateful for everything.
Even more, I have realized how similar we all are. People always talk about “culture shock” and getting used to adapting to a new way of life. Yes, the Japanese way is very different from the American way, and maybe it takes getting used to for some people, but I think that more than anything, traveling to Japan has shown me how similar we all are. There are many differences in the way Americans and Japanese people think, but I have noticed even more things that we have in common. It is difficult to explain, but I think that going abroad shows us there are many commonalities in the way all people act, and we are not really as different as we sometimes think.

Super cool looking dragon bus

Having been in Japan for a while, I have used quite a bit of public transportation. Trains, buses, shinkansen (bullet trains) and subways exist virtually ubiquitously throughout Japan. Even small towns often have train stations that can take you wherever you would like to go. With the super-efficient and highly available public transportation system, it is quite easy to get from any given point in Japan to another. And, even though the system is huge and my Japanese is not the best, I still find it pretty easy to get around Japan. Public transportation in Japan is privately owned, but used by almost every citizen, even for daily activities. Unlike in the United States, where almost everybody goes to work, the store, or anywhere else by car, Japanese citizens often use public transit. It is not uncommon for a person in Japan to commute to work an hour away by train daily. This is especially feasible because Japanese public transportation is very punctual and is considered late if it does not arrive by the specified minute.

Passenger train

But, the benefits of Japan’s massive public transportation system goes far beyond convenience: it also is much better for the environment. The widespread use of public transit in Japan causes the country to have much less carbon emissions than if cars were the dominant means of getting around. To compare the impact of different means of transportation, scientists usually calculate the amount of energy per passenger mile (100 p-km) to standardize for comparison. In Japan in 1999, the measured efficiencies were 68 kWh per 100 p-km for cars, 19 kWh per 100 p-km for buses, 6 kWh per 100 p-km for railways, 51 kWh per 100 p-km for air, and 57 kWh per 100 p-km for sea. According to this data in 1999, railways, which are some of the most popular ways to get around in Japan, were over 11 times more efficient than using a car! More recent data puts car and air travel in Japan at 2.0 MJ/pkm, buses at 0.7 MJ/pkm and railways at 0.4 MJ/pkm (when caclulated from primary energy) or 0.2 MJ/pkm (when calculated from electricity kwh). Still, one can see that the efficiency of cars is much less than that of public transportation. The widespread use of public transportation in Japan reduces carbon emission by using less energy, and thus is a better way for eco-friendly travel. One study even estimates that if the U.S. had used public transit as its main means of transportation in 2005, it would have reduced CO2 emissions by 6.9 million metric tons: 3.9 directly saved from cars, and 3.0 saved from reducing traffic congestion.

I am not sure if you are familiar with anime or manga, so I will take the liberty of briefly explaining it. Simply put, anime is Japanese animation and manga is Japanese comic books (it would do me well to note here that this is the American definition; in Japan, anime means any type of animation and manga means any type of comic). You probably know some of the most famous animes, like Pokemon, Dragon Ball, and Sailor Moon. However, these specific anime are more aimed at children, and are not really representative of the average Japanese anime. Other popular anime you may know include Bleach, Inuyasha, One Peice, or Naruto. However, I would not say these are especially representative of all anime either, as there is such a broad scope of topics that anime covers.

Anime and manga covers a wide array of topics and often times are very mentally stimulating. It is my personal opinion that the content of many anime and manga delves deeper into human psyche and world issues than do most American television shows. Though, I think that is something you should see for yourself. ;)

Because of the wide array of topics that anime covers, anime and manga is read and watched by all age groups in Japan, including adults. Unlike in America, where cartoons are usually aimed at children, there are anime and manga in Japan for everyone. You can find ones aimed at toddlers, elementary schoolers, teenagers, young adults, and adults. Anime and manga cover almost any genre you can think of, including adventure, action, romance, drama, comedy, horror, mystery, fantasy, thriller, etc. But, they also have genres that are found almost exclusively in Japanese anime and manga. One such genre is bishounen (pretty boy) and bishoujou (pretty girl), which usually features sparkly (sometimes literally) and idealistic characters.

Anime and manga differ from Western cartoons and comics in the style of drawing. For example, anime and manga artists tend to pay more attention to proportionality than do American animators. It is not uncommon for American cartoons to feature characters with very strange proportions (think anything on Cartoon Network); however, that is uncommon in Japan. Nonetheless, Japanese styles of drawing do have overly large eyes. Another large part of anime and manga are facial expressions. Japanese animators make use of many more facial expressions than do their American counterparts, and they often have specific iconography to represent certain emotions.

Haruhi Suzumiya

Anime is omnipresent throughout Japan. You can see anime-related products ranging from action figures to everyday around-the-house products such as cooking ware. Anime and manga characters are even used in advertisements! Here are some pictures of anime-related things you will see in Japan. (By the way, One Piece is the top manga in Japan right now, so you will see a lot of pictures of it.)

One Piece manga

Pokemon sandwiches

One Piece, Pokemon and Hello Kitty bento boxes (lunch boxes)

Elementary schooler books

One Piece lunch recipesPokemon lunch recipes

Some anime videos

Manga section of a store

Closer picture of some manga

Okay, as random as this may be, green tea flavored foods are really popular in Japan. So, while I was walking around the store, I took pictures of some of the many green tea flavored foods for you to see!

A challenge for you! The kanji (Chinese character) for tea is 茶 (in Japanese hiragana, it is ちゃ, pronounced “cha”). See if you can find the character for tea in all of these pictures! :)

Green Tea Kit Kats

Green tea bread with green tea chocolate filling. I kid you not!

Green Tea Oreo Sticks

Green Tea Chocolate Covered Pretzels

Green tea flavored corn puffs (green tea cheetos!)

Green tea carmels

Green tea pastry

Green tea soymilk

Green tea candy perhaps?

Green tea donuts

Green tea mochi with chocolate filling

Green tea tart cookie

Green tea roll cake

Green tea chiffon cake with green tea filling

Green tea ice cream

Tea (instead of water) dispenser

Green tea bread

Green tea warabi mochi with green tea powder for dipping

Kyusei Nature Farming, which was started by Mokichi Okada, is another method of organic farming, though it differs a bit from the previously discussed Natural Farming Method. Kyusei Nature Farming, unlike the Natural Farming Method, does not prohibit tilling or weeding, however it does also try to encourage a more natural approach to agriculture.  Mostly, the Kyusei Nature Farming is very similar to any ordinary organic farming method except for one thing: it is often used in conjunction with Effective Microorganisms (EM).

The concept of beneficial Effective Microorganisms was first developed by Teruo Higa from the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan around the 1980s. From his research, he reports that there are certain microorganisms that when used in farming, can positively affect numerous parameters. He found this group of beneficial organisms to contain lactic acid bacteria, photosynthetic bacteria, ray fungi, yeasts and mycorrhizal fungi. In his research, Higa claims that these organisms, in mixed cultures through fermentation reactions, produce organic acids, plant hormones, vitamins and antibiotics. They also did many things that were beneficial to the growing crops. For example, they dissolved nutrients that are often difficult to dissolve (such as rock phosphate), bound heavy metals to prevent the uptake by plants, provided organic molecules for plant consumption, protected crops from pathogens, insects and diseases, stimulated plant growth, and improved the properties of the soil.

For the EM to work optimally, the soil pH must be adjusted to around 6 or 6.5, the soil must be kept moist, a humus content of about 3% must be maintained, and EM must be diluted to about 1:1000.

There has been some debate as to the validity of the claims, and even Higa himself admitted the main issue is the lack of reproducibility and inconsistent results. He went on to say the most difficult aspects of using EM is one must understand the nutritional and environmental requirements of the microorganism as well as its interactions with the environment and other microorganisms very well, which is still being investigated.

Nonetheless, EM is now being researched further, as it could be a promising new addition to organic agriculture. It could allow us to increase productivity while not having to use fertilizers or pesticides. In a paper by Myint Lwini and S. L. Ranamukhaarachchi that talks about controlling wilt disease, it was shown that the most effective bio-control for the disease was EM. Even more, other experiments have been done by numerous individuals that tested the effect of EM use on yield of crops. These studies usually found that there is an increase in crop yield when EM is used.

It seems EM may be a great new way to boost organic agriculture. For the past few years, EM has even used for composting residential waste in Christchurch, New Zealand. The local city council backs EM and is beginning to conduct local research for use as an organic fertilizer.

For anyone who does not know, I will preface this by saying that I am a vegan. Vegans do not eat any animal products including meat, fish, eggs, milk, butter, cheese, etc. Before I left to Japan, I was told by many people that it would be difficult to be a vegan here.  That is because in Japan, fish is put into numerous foods. However, from my experience, with a basic knowledge of Japanese language and characters, it is not very difficult at all. In fact, I find more places in Japan to be vegan friendly than in America. Here are just a few pictures of some of the things I found in restaurants and grocery stores that are vegan. Everything is labeled from left to right:

Veggie tempura and cold soba (buckwheat) noodles, hot soba with konbu dashi (seaweed instead of fish soup stock), fried rice, and green tea

Inari zushi (fried tofu stuffed with rice), eggplant and onion tempura, kitsune udon (fried tofu with udon noodles in konbu dashi), and of course green tea

Strawberry soymilk

Banana soymilk

Green tea warabi mochi

Green pea puffs

Freshly made fried tofu and raw tofu from a vendor on the side of a street

Black okara (similar to tofu) donuts filled with sweet bean paste (no eggs or milk used!)

Soymilk wafers (these were right next to the non-vegan cow's milk ones)

Soymilk ice cream! This was at a sushi place, which I find crazy since it is practically impossible to find vegan ice cream at ANY restaurant in America)

And of course, if you make homemade Japanese food, there is not reason at all for it to be difficult. Check out some of these homemade meals:

Okonomiyaki made without eggs

Japanese hot Pot (I forgot to take a picture before I ate it!)

Seaweed, ume (plum), blanched spiced spinach, miso soup, veggie tempura, kinpira (sauteed carrots and gobo root), and bamboo

Battered and fried tofu topped with green onions

Peas and rice, kitsune (fried tofu), seaweed, and soba (buckwheat) noodles

Goma (sesame) tofu, fried mochi, tempura with green tea dipping powder, rice balls, inari zushi (fried tofu stuffed with rice)

Rice, miso soup, miso glazed sauteed egglant, sauteed mushrooms, pineapple. miso tofu, blanched spiced spinach

Edamame (boiled soybeans) and yakisoba (stir fried soba noodles with veggies)

Sometimes, I am truly surprised at the vegan products I find in Japan. It was a complete accident that I found most of the products like the vegan soymilk ice cream and okara donuts. I think there might be a wider vegan selection here because tofu and soymilk are much more popular, therefore it is not as strange to make soy treats.

Overall, I do not find it at all difficult to be vegan in Japan.  I would not say it is easier or more difficult than being a vegan in the United States. There are more vegan specialty foods for sale in America, but there are more vegan restaurant options in Japan, so I think it is about the same.

So, Garrett and I went on a trip to Nara. It is a beautiful city with many traditional looking buildings and many sights to see.

Entrance to Todaiji Temple

Statue in Todaiji Entrance

Todaiji Temple

Daibutsu (big buddha)

View of Nara

In Nara, there is Nara Park, which is famous for it’s amazingly docile (and cute!) deer. These deer are just as tame as everyone says. You can buy crackers to feed them, but I would not recommend it because when you do they get crazy. If you have food, it is likely you will be surrounded, and they will probably bite at your clothes. Even if you do not have a treat, you can still walk right up to them and pet them. Sometimes they even follow you around!

Deer and some Japanese schoolgirls

Super friendly deer

They get aggressive when fed

A deer warning sign

Sento-kun, Nara's creepy mascot


By the way, this is just a side story, but while Garrett and I were in Nara, some strange thing happened to us (actually mostly to Garrett). Anyway, we were just walking around minding our own business when this cute little Japanese elementary school boy and his friends stopped and said to Garrett, “Excuse me.” So Garrett said, “Yes?” and the boy asked “Where do you come from?” Garrett said “America.” and boy asked in return, “Do you like Japan?” Garrett answered, “Yes.  はい。”  (はい means yes in Japanese). And the kids looked a bit surprised that he answered in Japanese, so Garrett said “少し日本語がわかります。(I understand a little bit of Japanese)”. Then, the kids all smiled and said “ありがとうございます。ありがとうござくぃます。(Thank you, thank you.)” and walked off. Then, a little bit later, another group of elementary schoolers stopped Garrett again and asked pretty much the same questions and asked if they could take a picture with us. I think it is because Garrett has pretty light hair compared to most Japanese people. But the whole incident was very funny. I wish I had a picture to show you, but I did not think to take one until after!
So anyway, that was our trip to Nara!

Japan is a leading manufacturer (and consumer) of solar energy. 45% of all solar photovoltaic cells are produced in Japan and a great amount of what is produced is used by Japanese consumers. In fact, Japan has the 3rd largest solar capacity in the world (behind Germany and Spain).

Since I have been here in Japan, I have noticed the widespread use of solar panels. As I look around at buildings and even residential houses, I notice solar panels everywhere! Although the cost of solar panels in Japan is expensive, just like in the United States, they are somehow much more popular. It seems it is not at all uncommon for families to have solar panels on their homes!

Solar panels on a Japanese house

Solar energy was already on the rise in Japan the past few years, but following the recent nuclear energy crisis that occurred in 2011 after the earthquake and tsunami, solar panels are apparently becoming even more popular. I spoke with some Japanese people, and many say they are not especially fond of nuclear power, but due to the high consumption of energy in Japan, there is not much of a choice. Because of this as well as the high prices of oil and coal derived energy, many Japanese families appear to be turning to solar power.

The government also plays a role in solar energy. They aim to meet 10% of total primary domestic energy needs with solar photovoltaic power by 2050 and are considering a making all new houses built after 2030 to come with pre-installed solar panels. The government also offers incentives to use solar power. In 2009, a feed-in tariff was enacted that required electric companies to purchase the excess power from homes and businesses for twice the standard rate.

Japan is a country with comparatively little natural resources, so it is not surprising that most Japanese people do not like to waste. However, it seems that conserving resources and not wasting is embedded in the foundations of Japanese culture. In Japan, it is polite to finish all the food on one’s plate, down to the very last grain of rice. But, there are even federal laws that require people to make the best use of their resources. First of all, every citizen is required to follow specific sorting rules for their waste (burnable, non-burnable, recyclable) which is collected by the city and stored for processing. Then, each year, recycling companies are required to collect the waste and transport it to the recycling facilities. To make sure the companies do their job, they are only paid once they show a delivery report signed by the receiving facility. Even more, businesses and manufacturers must pay a recycling fee that varies depending on the amount sold or produced. With all these regulations, it is not surprising Japan ranks very well compared to many other developed countries in terms of recycling.

Comparison of recycling in various countries ; a lower number is more favorable (Kim, 2004)


For burnable things which are not paper, aluminum, glass, or steel, Japan uses incinerators. There are huge pros and cons to both landfills and incinerators, as both still contribute to pollution, but Japan attempts to make the best of incineration by recycle even the ash byproduct. Incinerators do not completely destroy waste. Instead, they reduce the mass by 80–85% and the volume by 95-96 %. So, Japan uses the remains from incineration to produce cement. Still, with all the negative effects of both landfills and incinerators, of course the best way to protect the environment is to minimize the amount of waste produced overall. In this category, Japan still ranks well. In a survey done by the OECD Environmental Data Compendium, the municipal waste of 17 different developed countries was measured, and Japan had the least waste per capita with nearly half the amount of the United States.

Comparing municipal waste in 17 developed nations (OECD Environmental Data Compendium, 2002)


Japan is a great example for other countries to follow as in terms of waste and conservation of resources. If other places could learn to minimize waste and process it as well as Japan does, the world would be well on the way to becoming a little more environmentally friendly!

As a follow up to my Japanese house post, I am now going to post about Japanese grocery stores. You will notice some things are similar, and some are very different. Take a look:

Giant tofu section

Pre-made onigiri (rice balls) section

Cute pokemon and other anime characters on sandwichesBottled soft drinks section

"Daily foods" section

Iced desserts

Eggs (not just chicken eggs)

Huge noodle section


Soymilk section (with awesome flavors, like strawberry, banana, green tea)

Decadent desserts

Juice section

Soybean section

Natto (fermented soybean) section

Meat section

Fish and sea food section (it is actually bigger than it looks in this picture)

Ume (plums) I believe these are pickled

Seaweed section

Miso section

Tea section (I could not capture it all because it was too big!)

Ramen and cup of noodles (it is a huge section)

Candy section (all the processed foods sections are pretty much the same as in the U.S., so I only this picture)

Fruit section (pretty much the same)

Vegetable section (also pretty much the same)

Konyaku (yam noodles) section

Pre-made bento (pre-made lunch)

Other pre-made foods

Pre-made sushi section

Pre-made tempura

Bakery (normal except they have strange things like pre-made hotdogs and green tea bread)

Pre-made pizzas with strange toppings

I left out pictures of the packaged food aisles, because they were very similar. The only difference is they offer some strange products like freeze-dried fish chips and other Japanese “goodies”. So, that pretty much concludes a Japanese grocery store! In some ways they are the same, but in many ways, Japanese grocery stores are very different.

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