Archive for October 29, 2007

Mottainai: Don’t be Wasteful!

Soon after moving back to the U.S., I found myself sitting in one of those $8.99 all-you-can-eat salad bars. I ordered a cup of hot tea and the waitress handed me a fistful of lemons, creamers and sugar packets; three wedges and five sweeteners, to be exact. Most Americans wouldn’t think much of it, but after living in Japan, the land of “take only what you can eat,” my first thought was “What a waste!” After all, anything unused would inevitably be trashed.

In Japan, people express their disdain for wastefulness by saying, “Mottainai!” It stems from Buddhist philosophy, but grew into the psyche during the country’s wartime days when people literally starved to death. To this day, my father reminds me of how he sliced a single apple every day among his siblings in order to stay alive. “Mottainai!” he’d say when I started flinging my mashed potatoes at the wall.

Young Japanese kids these days are spoiled. That’s why one mother decided to write a children’s book called “Mottainai Grandma” to teach her son the importance of finishing his food. It sold over 400,000 copies.

But compared to the U.S., Japan is a country with conservation on the brain. Most public areas have separate trashcans for recyclables and non-recyclables. Eco-friendly grocery bags are the latest trend. And there’s little in the way of paper towels in restaurants and restrooms. Most people carry handkerchiefs. Though, I must admit, Japanese stores tend to go excessive on the gift-wrap, even when it’s not a gift. I brought that point up to a Japanese friend and she counteracted it with, “Well, why do Americans have a constant supply of paper towels at home?” Touché.

So if you’re thinking of doing business in Japan, think less, not more. It’s a tiny island country over there. The last thing it needs is an extra heap of waste. Well, so as long as they’re not planning to build anymore airports.* (^_<)

*Kansai International Airport was built on a man-made landfill island.


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October 29, 2007 at 4:04 pm 2 comments

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October 2007


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