Waste management was never a topic I bothered to learn on my own out of personal interest. When I came to Japan in 2016 with my family, I never noticed their meticulous way of separating waste. At the hotels we stayed at, there was only one trash bin to dispose our waste in, and looking back, I don't recall ever separating my trash by incombustible and combustible. From then until now, waste management in regards to sustainable development has developed tremendously. These past few weeks, I have noticed the drastic difference in the disposal of municipal solid waste between the United States and Japan.
Known for its incineration facilities, Japan disposes their garbage by burning it using various furnace technologies. Each new development in furnace technology aims to increase power generation efficiency while reducing pollution. With Japan's extremely high population density, it is essential for them to make best use of their limited space. Although, a disadvantage of incinerating waste is that it emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which is detrimental to the environment. The United States, on the other hand, takes advantage of its spacious land by burying trash in landfills. While landfills do not produce greenhouse gas emissions, it is not necessarily beneficial to permanently dump waste wherever there is space.
In terms of waste disposal in day-to-day life, I can almost never find a trash can on the streets of Japan. It is troublesome to carry my ice cream wrapper or boba cup around all day until I return to the apartment, but the lack of trash cans has kept the streets extremely clean. You would think that people would be more inclined to litter, but with Japan's culture, they would not risk getting publicly shamed. In some areas, the vending machines do have their own disposal bin for the PET bottles. At Kobe University, it seems that there is always a set of four disposal bins stationed at every corner, with the distinct labels of: combustibles, cans, incombustibles, and PET bottles. At Georgia Tech, there are typically different bins for paper, plastic, cans, and more, yet these labels for recycling are still different from those in Japan. Trash cans are commonly found on the streets in America, but there is usually only one bin for disposing all kinds of trash. It is pretty rare to find a recycling bin unless you are at a university, public school, or perhaps a company building.
With Japan's sustainable efforts, recycling has greatly reduced the production of waste stream. With what seems like a million different bins to consider before throwing your trash away, Japan does come off as extremely nitpicky with their waste disposal, but this further encourages recycling so that many items can be repurposed. With less waste needing to be incinerated, there is then a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, waste control is not only necessary for tackling environmental issues such as land surface degradation and the depletion of natural resources, but it is, more importantly, necessary to build more sustainable communities.
Trash is an inevitability; every country produces tons of waste on a daily basis. Disposing of this waste has been an evolving and growing concern. Each country has its own method of dealing with this waste. Japan’s method of trash disposal is widely different than what I’ve seen in America.
Japan deals with their municipal solid waste mostly by incineration. Initially when I found this out, I was concerned with the toxic fumes emitted from burning garbage. According to the article “Solid Waste Management and Recycling Technology of Japan − Toward a Sustainable Society,” using new innovative technologies, the amount of dioxin released into the atmosphere is incredibly low. Japan has a few landfills scattered across the country, but they are rare. The landfills they do establish are semi-aerobic. Semi-aerobic landfills quickly stabilize after the land is completely filled, making them sanitary. Semi-aerobic landfills in Japan are converted into parks and fields. We had the privilege of visiting a landfill that was rehabilitated into solar fields. America incinerates some of the municipal waste, mainly food products. However, most of the U.S.’s garbage is stored in landfills. American landfills often turn into mountains, and cannot be reused as parks. America is able to do this due to the size of the country; there is a lot of open space in America where garbage can be dumped and left. This is not an option for Japan due to the limited land. As long as the toxic fumes are minimized, I would consider incinerating trash more sustainable since it prevents future generations from suffering. In many years, American citizens will have to deal with the mountains of trash.
In Japan, there are surprisingly few trash cans in public places. Usually, there are garbage cans around vending machines, bathrooms, and food shops, but not many other places. Despite this, there is very little litter around the cities. Japan is a shame culture, so littering would cause a perpetrator to lose face. In America, trash cans are much more available, but the amount of litter is also more frequent. Sometimes there is even trash on the ground when there is a garbage can nearby. Another difference between the waste disposal systems I have encountered is the separation of trash types. In Japan, there are usually three or four disposals next to each other: incinerated trash, P.E.T. bottles, cans, and other plastics. These bins are usually labeled in both Japanese and English. America usually only uses a general trash can for all waste. In more environmentally friendly places, a second garbage can is available for general recycling. On Georgia Tech’s campus, there are specific waste disposals for different types of trash, like cans, bottles, and newspapers. This is not the standard in America, unfortunately.
The separation of recyclables on the user end makes recycling much more efficient in Japan. Recycling is a higher priority for their population. Japan is also constantly improving their recycling processes by refining their recyclables and removing foreign contaminants. Americans usually recycle only when it is convenient. America recycled 67.8 million tons of waste in 2015 while the total generation of municipal waste in 2015 was 262.4 million tons. America recycled 25% of its waste, making it slightly ahead of Japan’s recycling rate of 20.8% in 2012. This is surprising given the amount of effort Japan puts into the separation of trash and recyclables.
Waste management is a global problem. To make a more sustainable world, trash solutions must continue to be developed. Japan’s answer of incineration is an immediate and attractive solution if the proper precautions and sanitary processes are used. America’s solution of landfills is less sustainable; they are not a long-term resolution. Japan’s lack of litter and separation of trash is also more impressive than the U.S. Despite this, America is more efficient at recycling municipal waste. If America could implement Japan’s separation of trash and adopt Japan’s priorities around trash disposal, recycling could become even more effective.
One of the first noticeable differences from the US that I saw after coming to Japan was the public waste disposal system. Trash cans are not as widely present as in America, but they are always kept tidy and neat. More importantly, almost every waste disposal system has at least 3 sections: one for bottles and cans, one for plastic products, and one for combustible products. Despite these waste disposal locations not being as prevalent as in the US, Japan’s culture of group harmony means that nobody litters but holds onto their garbage until they are able to dispose of it properly. While this is sometimes a hassle, it is an improvement to having streets littered with trash as can be seen in many places throughout the US. Also, all trash receptacles are clearly labeled in multiple languages about which trash goes in which receptacle, so it is generally straightforward as to what type of trash goes where.
The waste disposal system also differs after consumers throw away their garbage. Since Japan is a small island nation, there is little space for landfills and therefore waste products are generally treated before being disposed at landfill sites. These landfills also can be repurposed, as we saw at the solar power plant (pictured below). Prior to the 1970s, waste material in Japan was dumped into anaerobic landfills or burned, producing large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas. More recently, Japan has used semi-aerobic landfills, which supplies air to landfills underground, which reduces flammable gas production while stimulating the decomposition of organic matter, leading to a faster stabilization of the landfill.
An important aspect of the waste management system is to keep different types of waste material separate, as different waste products need to be treated differently before disposal or reuse. In the recycling process, plastic bottles are collected separately, initially from consumers or local municipalities. Afterwards, specific corporations receive recycled waste to create recycled products. At these recycling businesses, recycled products are cleaned, and bottle caps and labels are removed. After sorting, the plastics undergo many processes, being crushed into flakes, and transformed into one of many different forms, such as resins or fibers. The differing disposal methods of materials in Japan require that consumers, rather than companies, do all the sorting of the main types of waste material, which considerably decreases the stress on the waste management companies. The willingness of Japanese consumers to properly dispose of their waste materials is a major part of the functionality of the country’s waste disposal system, which is something that we do not see as extensively in the US. With certain cultural or institutional changes, perhaps US consumers would be more willing to sort and properly dispose of waste material.
Over the past few decades, the amount of trash our society has generated has grown significantly. In an effort to preserve the environment, both the United States and Japan, both highly developed countries, have placed a tremendous effort into promoting recycling and reducing the amount of waste that is generated. However, through my time spent in both countries, it is clear that there are differences that exist in their approach to trash disposal.
Having traveled throughout Japan, it is evident that there are few trashcans in public areas. However, the streets remain in pristine condition as people carry their trash and dispose of it at home. Wherever there are trashcans, there are multiple containers where people can put their recyclable material. The trashcans are clearly labeled with pictures and diagrams, indicating the type of trash they contain. Typically, the containers are divided into plastic containers, bottles or cans, and combustible trash.
Trash cans at Kobe University.
Japan places great effort into properly separating trash. When I was in Hiroshima, I attended a festival where there were crowds of people celebrating. As I was walking along the streets, I noticed large trash containers that were being monitored by workers who were making sure the trash was correctly disposed of. Even in our Kobe University dormitory, there are trashcans that categorize specific materials, and these various types of trash have specific collection days and times. However, despite these efforts, I have noticed that there are not specific containers to dispose of cardboard or paper. These items tend to fall under the category of “combustible trash” and are incinerated with other trash. In the United States, although there is a greater presence of trashcans in public places, often times, they are not accompanied by a recycling bin. All trash tends to be placed in a single container. In areas that do encourage recycling, there is typically just a trashcan and a recycling bin to put all recyclable material. The material is not separated as thoroughly as it is in Japan.
A trash disposal area by Kobe University dorms.
Japan also has to tackle waste disposal from an alternate approach as there is a limited amount of space for large landfill sites. Waste management companies have thus resorted to incinerating their trash. Although in the past this has created an overproduction of dioxin emissions and has severely polluted the environment, new technologies have emerged to eliminate the dioxin in smoke. Other efforts such as using the heat generated from burning trash to produce electricity have increased the sustainability of Japan’s disposal of municipal solid waste. In the landfill sites that do exist, the landfills tend to be semi-aerobic, meaning that they provide partial exposure to natural air and contain pipes that help treat polluted water. This decreases the amount of greenhouse gases produced and allows the waste to stabilize faster so the area can later be transformed into areas such as parks. This was specifically seen at Sakai Solar Energy Generation Plant, which was formerly landfill site, but now holds thousands of solar panels. On the contrary, the United States has far more available land to serve as landfill sites and has disposed of the majority of its trash in these areas.
Solar panels at Sokai, a former landfill area.
Recycling, in all cases, decreases the waste stream that is produced. This is of particular importance in Japan because again, there is simply no space to hold a magnitude of trash. Japan’s densely populated cities make it even more imperative to reduce the amount of trash as high levels of trash could contaminate an area quickly. This, in turn, has impacted its disposal practices as trash is burned to reduce the amount of space it takes up. This has also led to its emphasis on recycling so that every material that is used does not go to waste.
As countries become greater aware of the impact waste can have on the environment, they have been placing a greater emphasis on reducing the amount of trash produced and creating laws to encourage reducing, reusing, and recycling. Although improvements can always be made in these systems, the United States and Japan have placed substantial effort to find a system that works for its own country’s needs.
Since being in Japan, I have noticed many differences in the ways trash is handled as compared to the US. One of the first things I noticed was that there seem to be hardly any public trash cans. So, when someone eats a candy bar, for example, they must carry around the wrapper all day until they find a trash can, or more likely, until they get home and can dispose of it in their personal waste bin. There are few options for disposing of trash when in public. However, more frequently, there are places where plastic bottles can be recycled, such as next to vending machines.
In contrast, in the US, trash cans can typically be found on every street corner on city streets. It is much clearer how to dispose of trash when in public spaces in the US because at any point when in a city, there is probably a trash can located no more than a hundred feet away from you. However, due to cultural differences, Japan is still a much cleaner country than the US is, because people are more responsible with disposing of the waste they produce properly. When I see a plastic bottle recycling bin in Japan, I hardly ever see anything that isn’t a plastic bottle in that bin. People here take great care in disposing of their waste in the proper bin. However, in the US, I constantly see recycling bins filled with miscellaneous garbage, and often, the recycle just gets tossed in with the garbage in the end anyway.
From both the readings as well as talking to my classmates, I have learned a lot about how Japan deals with waste. Garbage bins are often labeled “combustibles”, which describes exactly what happens – Japan burns their garbage. While burning garbage sounds unsustainable and bad for the environment due to the toxic chemicals that burning things can produce, Japan has made great strides in reducing dioxin emissions since 1997. They have created a filtration system that removes toxic chemicals from smoke before it is released into the atmosphere, making their process of burning garbage more environmentally friendly. In the process of burning waste, Japan also creates electricity with the energy produced from the combustion reaction. This is a more sustainable model than just burning garbage because some of the energy that it takes to burn the goods can be recovered and reused.
Another difference between Japan and the US is the goods that are recycled. In Japan, many plastics are recycled, including thin food wrappers and plastic cups. However, in the US, I have only ever seen plastic bottles or sturdier plastic containers being recycled. On the flip side, in the US, it’s normal to recycle paper and cardboard, whereas here in Japan, they don’t try to recycle paper and instead burn it.
In any case where recycling occurs, the size of the waste stream is reduced. Japan seems to have an overall smaller waste stream than the US, because they get rid of garbage by burning it and diligently recycle plastics and cans. In the US, the waste stream is larger because we often just throw everything into a landfill and let it rot. The fact that the US is a larger country with more land area probably contributes to this, because Japan doesn’t have the space to create piles of garbage. So, this encourages Japan to be wiser about waste disposal. Although Japan’s waste disposal practices appear to be more sustainable than those in the US, from my perspective, neither are the optimal method. While Japan still harvests some energy from burning garbage, they still lose the raw materials that were burned with the goods. They could have recycled the burned paper and composted the burned food, which is especially something to consider in a country with limited natural resources. At the same time, the US could recycle far more packaging plastics and be more diligent about recycling the things we already try to recycle, such as paper, bottles, cans, and other goods, instead of lazily throwing it all in a landfill.
Many factors influence the waste disposal practices of Japan and the US. The size of the country as well as cultural norms both seem to have a large effect on waste management and recycling practices in both places. However, I also believe that since both nations are rich and highly developed, they can afford not to think about the most sustainable way to dispose of waste and can be more careless about wasting raw materials. However, this is not a sustainable approach to waste management, and I believe at some point, both countries will need to reform their waste management systems.
The US system of municipal solid waste disposal is much different than in Japan. We have a lot of space, so we can afford to throw everything in a landfill. Japan, on the other hand, burns a lot of their trash to save more space and produce energy. I’ve personally found it difficult to organize my trash correctly in public places. Especially in the first week when I didn’t know they burned their garbage. Organizing trash is much easier with pictures and I find that true at Georgia Tech too where we have pictures in some places. Sorting trash has been easier now that we are settled in Kobe. Our apartments have three bins and instructions for sorting trash (see below).
Japan takes recycling more seriously than in America. The recycling program in the US can be confusing with all the different plastic numbers and meanings. It also is very inefficient. Personally, I think recycling is not worth the effort and we should instead try to reduce the production of single-use items (Japan also). I visited a recycling sorting plant in Georgia in high school. People are bad at sorting cleaning out recycling containers and sorting things correctly, so a lot of the waste has to go to landfill instead. I’m not sure how effective the system is here, but it seems the people take it more seriously.
Since more plastic items are sorted in Japan, it’s harder to break away from using plastic. They already have a system in place that works (or seems to). Because America has landfill space, we don’t see the amount of trash we are throwing away as a concern. It’s harder to get people to organize their trash when the waste is not impacting their living space. In Tokyo, there was an ad on the train about reducing plastic waste. They said that Japan was the second highest plastic waste producer behind the US. There are similar movements in the states, but I think it will take longer for us to change.
Hopefully both countries and places around the world can create more sustainable waste practices. There are only so many resources on our planet, and it would be nice to not run out in the near future.
Solid waste management is a crucial element of a society’s framework because it is vital to the protection of public health as well as the maintenance of community aesthetics. Japan and the United States have implemented some similar policies for the management of municipal solid waste, but due to the divergent cultures of the two countries, disparities exist in how these policies are actually employed. During my time in Japan, I have witnessed ways in which solid waste management differs between Japan and the United States, primarily in realms such as the presence or absence of litter and recycling.
Japan and the United States have instated a number of comparable policies to ensure safe and sustainable measures for handling the disposal of municipal solid waste. Japan has instituted a “Sound Material-Cycle Society”, while the United States is focusing on integrated solid waste management; both of these procedures seek to decrease the utilization of natural resources, limit the amount of waste created, and minimize the effects on the environment. In both Japan and the United States, means for achieving these aims include recycling, recovering energy from waste products, and landfilling. However, the manner in which each of these nations is carrying out these practices is different, with Japan in the forefront. To begin, recycling is taken far more seriously in Japan than in the United States, which is exhibited by Japan’s Law for the Promotion of Sorted Collection and Recycling Containers and Packaging that was passed in 1995. In the case of recovering energy from waste products, although the usage of this process has grown in strength over the past five decades in the United States, it is far more sophisticated and diverse in Japan, with different processes being undertaken depending on the type of waste from which energy is being retrieved. Furthermore, the practice of landfilling in Japan surpasses the efforts of the United States because Japan seeks to stabilize landfill sites as quickly as possible so that the land can be used in other ways in the future. An example of this is the Sokai Solar Energy Generation Plant, which we had the privilege of visiting, that was established on a repurposed landfill site.
After being in Japan for only a short amount of time, it became clear rather quickly that Americans and Japanese have quite different notions of how trash should be disposed of in public areas. In the United States, if a public trash can is not easily accessible, garbage will often end up on the ground; this is sometimes the case even when trash cans exist within a reasonable vicinity. Conversely, in Japan, where public trash cans are few and far between, one will almost never see litter on the ground, which is due to the public shaming that will occur if an individual does not dispose of trash properly. Obviously, the Japanese people’s restraint from littering is the correct way to go about properly disposing of garbage in public, but because American people do not care as much about what others think of them, they are more inclined to litter. However, if Americans were to follow the example set by the Japanese, this could increase both the cleanliness and aesthetic appeal of American cities.
As stated previously, Japan places a much greater emphasis on recycling than the United States does, which can be inconvenient at times but is a necessary aspect of sustainable development. Since Japan focuses on recycling as many of its plastic and metal products as possible, this leads to a decrease in the volume of its waste stream because it seeks to find ways in which these products can be refurbished into novel items. The Japanese are meticulous about the disposal of waste products; for example, in our accommodations at Kobe University, each room has three different bins designated for three different types of garbage, and there are scheduled days for when each of these bins can be taken out for collection. Although this precise process of trash division and collection can be inconvenient, it is much more effective than recycling in the United States, where this practice is often ignored due to the extra effort that it requires.
Despite the valiant effort that the United States has made to establish sustainable solid waste management, there is still progress to be made in reaching the same caliber as Japan in this aspect. Japan’s ability to ensure success in this realm is due in part to the harmony of the Japanese people and their skill in uniting behind a mutual goal, whereas in the individualistic society of the United States, people are less inclined to work towards the common good. Fortunately, the United States has already implemented some beneficial policies in this sphere of society, so now it must motivate its people into maximizing the policies’ potential and progressing towards a more sustainable future.
After travelling through the Keihanshin and Greater Tokyo megaregions in Japan, it is easy to notice some differences between the two. Even though there are no formal boundaries to these two megaregions, you can still have an idea of which one you’re in by the differences in culture. While there isn’t one exact reason for these differences, it is likely that some of these are caused by varying locations and environments.
The Keihanshin and Greater Tokyo megaregions have multiple differences that I have either learned or noticed myself. The big one I learned about yesterday was the difference in language for the two regions. I probably wouldn’t have noticed this myself because I do not speak Japanese, but after being told, it is very obvious that completely different words are being used to mean the same thing. There are also some smaller differences I have learned about. For example, in the Keihanshin megaregion people stand on the right side of escalators while in the Greater Tokyo megaregion people use the left side. I’ve also experienced a difference in food in the two regions. For example, I ate Hiroshima’s famous style of okonomiyaki as well as okonomiyaki in Tokyo and they were very different from each other. An even smaller food difference that I learned about today has to do with bread in the two regions. Loaves of bred are sliced into six slices in Tokyo, but 5 slices in Keihanshin.
Similarly to Japan, the United States also has many different regional differences. They also can appear in things such as language and food. One iconic difference we talked about in class was accents such as the use of the word “y’all” in the south. In terms of food, I know there are many regional differences. For example, the northeast is notable for different seafoods and the south is known for their southern comfort food. Another regional difference I would say I’m familiar with is the idea of southern hospitality. This is the notion that southerners are usually nicer and more welcoming to other people.
Although Japan is known for having an extremely homogenous population with an ancient and relatively rigid culture, there are a few noticeable differences in the traditions and lifestyles practiced in its major megaregions. After growing accustomed to many of the social norms and etiquette in Tokyo, I have been surprised by some conflicting experiences so far in Kobe. As we learned in class, there is a certain rivalry and tension that exists between the Greater Tokyo (Kanto) region and the Keihanshin (Kansai) region. While definitely expressed, these discrepancies aren’t too drastic or divisive for the most part. When compared to regionalism in the United States, there are several parallels and a few minor differences.
Outer Kobe near Mega Don Quijote
One of the major differences I have observed between the Greater Tokyo and Keihanshin regions is expressed through person-to-person interaction. In Tokyo, many people were proficient English speakers and therefore were relatively open to assisting foreigners; waiters worked hard to help us as we ordered dinner, people stopped to help us navigate the subways, and storeowners were welcoming and excited as we browsed their shops. In the Keihanshin region, however, I have noticed a greater communication barrier and much colder reception of foreigners. In an Osaka restaurant yesterday, the waitresses didn’t understand anything we were trying to communicate but yet made no effort to do so, making us feel very uncomfortable and out of place. Despite this, the people of the Kansai region tend to give off a warmer and friendlier vibe amongst themselves than those in the Kanto region.
Norms on walkways and escalators by region, Source: CNN
Another marked cultural difference between Keihanshin and Greater Tokyo can be observed through social customs. As we learned in class, common greetings and dialects differ between the two areas. For example, to express gratitude in Tokyo, you’d say “arigato,” while in Keihanshin, the common expression is “ookini.” Moreover, people tend to stay to the left on sidewalks and escalators in the Kanto region, while often times people choose the right side in the Keihanshin region. While significant enough to be perceived by a foreigner, these disparities seem to be slight variations of an overall cohesive culture.
Train platform in Hyogo prefecture
Another difference between the two regions is infrastructure and demographics of their major cities. The greater Tokyo region depends upon the clean, efficient rail system of JR East, while Keihanshin is supported by JR West, which is a little less accessible and relies more heavily upon buses. From my experiences so far, it seems Keihanshin is generally more habitable than the Greater Tokyo region. Tokyo’s population is significantly bolstered by workers commuting in and out of the city each day and its surrounding areas are inhabited by wealthier families. Keihanshin, on the other hand, is more spread out and has smaller outlying suburbs that more people are able to afford. In Tokyo, I only ever saw one homeless person on the streets, while in Keihanshin I have already seen several within a week of being here. Additionally, there appears to be many more foreigners in Keihanshin than in the Greater Tokyo region.
When compared to regionalism in the United States, there are many similarities and a handful of key differences. Two example US megaregions to compare are the Northwest Cascadia megaregion and the Southeastern Charlanta megaregion. These two parts of the country differ in political beliefs, sports followings, popular food, and degree of “hospitality.” Many of these regional discrepancies are similar to the nuances between the culture of the two Japanese megaregions. However, the US megaregions share several comprehensive traits. Both have advanced technology, high GDP, and are home to prominent company headquarters. In the Japanese megaregions, however, it seems that Tokyo attracts a disproportionate amount of business, giving it a higher household income and better transportation infrastructure. Ultimately, the similarities in US and Japanese regionalism seem to share the common origin of millions of people condensed into smaller areas and developing a cohesive culture. It is more difficult to identify the cause of the differences between US and Japanese regionalism, but perhaps Japanese culture plays a large role.
I felt a sort of similarity when we rode our first train in Kyoto last week; it was like going from the relative flatness of Atlanta to the rolling mountains of Appalachia. Except this was the transition from Tokyo and Fukushima to Kyoto—a new beautiful country with monkeys and native bamboo forests at the tops of those mountains. Keihanshin, our new megaregion.
The mountains in Keihanshin have been the most blatant regional observation that I've observed the past few weeks from the Kanto region. In the cities I've been in so far in Keihanshin (Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka), the mountains make for longer rail rides. Here in Kobe, I find myself riding on Rapid express lines more than anything. To get to school, it takes a 50 minute train and bus commute to get from our dorm up where the main campus is. But trains are also quieter and simpler to navigate—I haven't had to cram myself into a rail car yet and our local station in Kobe (Fukae) only has one rail line going through it.
Apart from differences in transit, our classes have discussed regionalism in language. Some words change from Tokyo to Kobe such as "baka" becoming "aho" for "fool", or "arigatō" becoming "ōkini" to mean "thanks." Our Kobe classmates said that these words are often used interchangeably, which suggests that the regional vocabulary isn't strict. There is also a difference in dialect apparently from these two regions, but I don't have the ear to notice a distinction yet.
Another shift in the Keihanshin region is that I'm back to my American roots while walking; people walk on the right side here. Or at least, that's where the arrows are in stations, but I think there are so many tourists and commuters here that it gets confusing. I was trying to find the etiquette for this region online and found out it's more complicated than I thought:
"Interestingly, people in Kyoto behave differently on the escalators on different train or subway lines in Kyoto. For JR lines and subway lines, which mainly run in Kyoto city, most of the people stand on the left side when taking the escalator. While for Hankyu lines, Keihan line and Kintetsu lines, which connect Kyoto to its neighborhood such as Osaka and Nara, more people stand on the right side." (https://www.getaroundjapan.jp/archives/4730)
It's definitely confusing for me now because I just became used to walking on the left.
I've only really been settled in this new region for a week, so there are likely more evidence of regionalism that I have yet to experience. But so far, it's been my favorite part of the country as I feel really connected to nature. Almost too connected; I went on a run last week to try to scale one of the hilly areas near me and was deterred by a sign for wild boars. I'm hoping to get over my fear and climb Mount Rokko (Kobe's signature peak) in the next week or so.