How Living in Japan Made Me More Eco-conscious

Parker Blair

Studying abroad doesn't just change you—it can change your habits.

Though I’m embarrassed to admit it, I spent a large portion of my life not caring about my own or humanity’s effects on the environment.

Growing up, recycling was something my family did, but it wasn’t emphasized. The extent of recycling in my life was knowing what to recycle or throw away according to my hometown’s guidelines. Beyond that, I had no care of the general discourse surrounding environmentalism.

The moment things began to change was when I interned abroad in Spain and lived with a host family. Every time I had to go into the office, my host mom graciously made me a bocadillo (a Spanish-style sandwich) and would put it in a plastic bag. As was my habit since I was a kid, I would throw away the plastic bag I used after eating my lunch. One day I came home from my internship, and my host mom asked me why I kept throwing the plastic bags away, saying it was a waste because she would reuse them. From that point on, I was careful to always save the plastic bags if they could be reused.

What shocked me was that I brought this habit back home to the US with me. While my family still had the habits I used to have, I found that I was often saving paper and plastic bags because they could be reused. At this point, I was satisfied with how I was being more economical, but the environment was still nowhere on my mind.

I had another turning point when I studied abroad in the Tokyo area. I was living in a dorm at the time and during our orientation, it was explained to us that we had to follow Japanese recycling rules and observe limits on electricity, gas, and water use. As a fan of air-conditioning and hot showers, I noted to myself how certain habits of mine would have to change.

While not having the strictest recycling rules in the world, recycling in Japan did require more thought than recycling in my hometown. In my hometown, paper and plastics were put into a single recycling bin. In Japan, I had to separate all my trash according to the categories of plastics, plastic bottles, non-burnable trash, burnable trash, bottles and cans, and cardboard. While it took some time, I gradually became used to separating my trash according to these categories.

When returning to the US from studying abroad in Tokyo, I remember feeling weird returning to my hometown’s way of recycling after five months of recycling in Japan. I couldn’t help but feel like I was doing something wrong. This was when I began to think about how our general recycling habits affect the world around us. I found I couldn’t abandon the recycling habits I had formed while abroad.

Now having returned to live in Japan for four months, I would say the recycling habits of Japan have largely become my own. Much more than when I lived in the US, I think about how to properly dispose of trash and the consequences of doing so.

In addition, since the Fukushima Disaster in March 2011, the Japanese people have significantly cut down on their energy consumption. Knowing this before returning to Japan for my current stay, I prepared myself to ration my water and electricity. Though summer was difficult due to Japan being a more humid climate than what I’m used to—especially Kyoto—I learned to adopt some habits to lower my energy consumption.

This got me thinking about how we can all positively affect our environment on the macro scale by adopting certain habits on the micro-scale. For example, as the response to the Fukushima Disaster showed, the energy consumption of an entire nation can be significantly reduced if every citizen changes habits in their own home to reduce their energy consumption.

In a world where it seems like forces like climate change are beyond our control, maybe the key to winning the war is to fight and win tiny battles.

After all, as the King of Pop said, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.”

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Parker Blair

Parker Blair is an American currently studying Japanese in Kyoto, Japan. He is passionate about all things tea and getting to see how other cultures experience life. His current stay in Japan is the third of his international adventures.


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