I was thinking about this recently during a holiday in Japan, specifically in relation to three observable behaviours: toilet use, packaging and cycling.
Okay, toilets first because they’re the most fascinating, especially for 10 year old children who want to see what happens if you press all the buttons at once. If you’ve never seen a Japanese toilet before, it more resembles the Starship Enterprise than your standard Australian version. There are buttons for washing (front and back), buttons for drying and buttons to control the temperature of the seat.
They’re hugely popular in Japan to the point it is rare to find a toilet without all the bells and whistles (so to speak). So, why haven’t they gone out and conquered the world? There has been concern expressed about the environmental impacts if these were widely exported, as they consume high amounts of energy, but they’ve never spread much beyond Japan itself. Could it be more to do with an attachment to toilet paper everywhere else?
The amount of packaging surrounding every product in Japan can be confronting, even to people who may not baulk at taking a plastic bag at the supermarket. It’s not uncommon to find a biscuit in a packet ensconced within its own individual plastic wrapper, and all of this is presented in a small plastic bag, which is then put into a larger supermarket plastic bag. The reasons for this excessive packaging seem to be a mix of cultural and inertia on the part of both business and consumers.
All of this takes place against the stat that Japan has one of the highest recycling rates in the world and hardly any litter (side observation and question – do countries like Japan with few public bins have less litter than those, like Australia, with more readily available bins? Have we been going about this all wrong?).
Finally, cycling in Japan is most closely aligned with the Netherlands. In Tokyo, 16 per cent of the population rides and this includes every age group. The bikes are usually sit up and beg and there’s no helmets and “cycling culture” as we would recognise it. Cyclists aren’t allowed to use the pavements but ignore the rules.
As Japan is home to the largest car manufacturers in the world, it seems a stretch to assume that people cycle for environmental reasons. Like the Dutch, they seem to do it because it’s ingrained in their culture that for short trips, you walk or get on your bike.
In each instance, it appeared that certain cultures of practice have grown up around these three behaviours, each of which has environmental impacts, either positive or negative.
The question is how do we learn from these to build or change our own cultures?