Japan is known for its strict recycling policies and Japanese people are famous for their tidyness, as was reinforced in reports on the World Cup, but the state of environmental awareness in Japan has been somewhat disappointing in my own experience.
One of the first things I noticed after coming to Japan, was that everyone at Nara Women’s University switches the lights on, even on very sunny days. Not only Japanese students and professors tend to do that, exchange students from other Asian countries seem to share this habit as well. As a matter of principle, I never turn the light on as long as there is enough daylight. However, whenever someone enters the classroom after me, they immediately turn the light on, and the more this happens, the stranger they seem to think I am. Everytime they see me sitting in the “dark”, they gaze at me with a look that seems to say “That poor girl doesn’t know how to turn the light on!”. One time, someone actually asked me if I was alright, always sitting in the “dark”. I truthfully answered that I thought that it was bad for the environment, while the reaction was “It’s typical for the Europeans to think about climate change, isn’t it?”. Soon, word spread, and I became known as some kind of hero, risking my eyesight because of lack of light.
Not only lights are excessively used, airconditioning is always turned on as well. I completely understand that now the temperatures are as high as almost 40°C, but it doesn’t have to be hot for the airconditioning to be turned on. Many Japanese women dress very warmly, wearing several layers, and even gloves reaching their elbows – even when it rains heavily and there is no sun to be seen -, to prevent their skin from turning darker. As a result, they feel hot even though it is not and turn the airconditioning on.
In stores as well, fighting climate change doesn’t seem to be a priority either. Almost no one uses grocery bags, as plastic bags are usually given without a second thought, just like they were in Belgium for a very long time. I haven’t seen closed refrigerators either, and sometimes, even the freezers have no doors as well. It almost seems that stores are afraid that no one will buy their products if the clients have to go to the trouble to open the doors. In Belgium, there are still many plastic wrappings used, but here plastic is used even more, unfortunatly.
It goes without saying that the Japanese media do not report on the whaling issue as the rest of the world does. One time I asked my Japanese companions what they thought about the fact that Japanese whale hunters had killed more than a hundred pregnant whales and they just hadn’t heard of it. Those same people – apart from one – did not know much about plastic in the oceans either.
Right now, Japan (and I) suffer an (almost unbearable) heat wave, and in Kyoto the highest-ever temperature – 39,7°C – was recorded. Last month, an unusual amount of rain fell and killed hundreds. It is very ironical, that while Japan suffers from unusual rainfall, heat and other natural disasters, climate change often doesn’t come to mind.
Despite the fact that the streets are unusually clean although there are very few garbage bins to be found, that everyone seems to follow the rules regarding recycling, and despite the efficiency and popularity of public transport, environment isn’t really a big thing in Japan. To me it seems that Japanese in general, at least in Nara (and in Kobe, as I was told by Hänsel) are not very conscious of climate change. Comfort seems to prevail against ecology. While Belgium, our home country, has a lot of environmental issues to address as well, I do think that the government and media are doing a great job raising awareness, which is very important. No matter how many measures a government wants to take, as long as the people don’t understand the importance of those measures, nothing will change. Therefore, I really wish that not only people in Japan, but also in the rest of the world, including Belgium, were a bit more considerate of the planet we live on.