Mottainai: Don’t be Wasteful!

October 29, 2007 at 4:04 pm 2 comments

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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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Pirikara  |  October 30, 2007 at 11:52 am

    Hello Musings… Yes, I can’t agree more. Overconsumption has taken over the best of us. Health, environment… you can even see it in our soaring credit card debt. Sometimes it’s nice to take a short retreat outside that world, like going to the wilderness and living in a log cabin. Heheh. Easier said than done though, I know.

  • 2. musingsofabittergirl  |  October 30, 2007 at 4:30 am

    What a great philosophy. You’d think after similar issues with starvation during the Great Depression in the 1930s in the USA, more people would be feeling similarly in this culture. But it seems to me it’s only people in their 80s now who feel this way and they are looked down upon by the younger generation as ‘silly’ for feeling that way – because in the US, you were taught growing up that it was the ‘land of plenty’ and kids are brought up in a throw away culture, land is plentiful (or was) and big business was all too happy to take advantage of promoting ideas like having a new car every year, even if the old one still worked fine – it sold more for the companies. The US is run as a consumer wonderland, to the detriment of the environment and the health of all around them.


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