Our group observed many differences between living conditions inside the Tokyo megaregion and in Fukushima, an area outside of the Tokyo megaregion that was damaged by the March 2011 earthquake. One of the most obvious differences between the two regions is their population densities. This results in the use of different sustainability methods to improve the living conditions of each region. In the Tokyo megaregion, the high population density means that it is difficult for power to be directly generated inside of the city. Instead, power is outsourced from other regions. For instance, the Fukushima Daiichi power plant was used to power the Tokyo megaregion before the March 2011 disaster. Areas such as Fukushima are instead used for power generation, since this generally require a large amount of open space. I saw many solar farms set up along the countryside, often right next to rice paddies to be used for food supply.
The Tokyo megaregion's population density makes cutting-edge, sustainable technologies a requirement to sustain so many people in such a small location.
In general, the Tokyo megaregion imports the raw materials from the external regions, such as Fukushima, to supply the region with resources that would otherwise be impossible to produce in such densely-population locations. On the other hand, the Tokyo megaregion is also a hub of technological activity, as we saw on the first week of our trip. Districts such as Akihabara sell all sorts of electronics and advanced materials. In many ways, Tokyo feeds on the supplies of the external, non-megaregion areas and is also the location in which the most advanced technologies are used. Likewise, the Tokyo transit system is also the most advanced, with the most easily accessible information system and most efficient vehicles to transport citizens to locations all around the city.
The Tokyo megaregion relies on the energy and material production from other areas inside and outside of Japan to function and produce goods at such an advanced level.
In Fukushima, we saw wide, empty regions and relatively few cars on the roads, a direct contrast to the Tokyo megaregion. The larger amount of area available means that Fukushima does not necessarily need to be on the cutting edge of sustainable transportation technologies; the larger area available allows for personal vehicles to be used without a tremendous amount of traffic congestion. The Shinkansen was the most advanced system of transit available in this region, and was particularly-suited for this area since important areas are farther apart, allowing the train to reach higher speeds.
Outside of the Tokyo megaregion, there is open land available for agricultural and energy use.
At Fukushima, we saw many workers in the exclusion zone cleaning and processing the contaminated soil, showing that the local government is committed to restoring Fukushima’s status. While the Fukushima disaster could have been handled better or even avoided together if not for the overconfidence and negligence of Tepco and the Japanese government, the local and national governments have made many changes since the disaster to make the society more resilient. Creating a separate government committee on safety, focusing more on renewable resources, and making new towns around the exclusion zone are all policy measures that the Japanese have taken to make Fukushima more resilient. Ultimately, Fukushima, a disaster-stricken area, represents a stark contrast to Tokyo and illustrates what can happen if a government is overconfident in its resilience. The March 2011 earthquake served as an example to the Japanese government that their current system of sustainability outside of the Tokyo megaregion would need to be improved to secure the livelihood of their citizens.
Japan’s most famous form of transportation is the shinkansen or the “bullet train.” The country first opened the shinkansen for commercial use in 1964 and has since continued to improve the technology, sustainability, and ergonomics of the transportation system.
Unfortunately, I haven’t experienced much intercity travel beyond the United States. While traveling in America, I’ve only ever flown from city to city or driven in a personal car. As such, I’ve never ridden on a train, let alone a bullet train. After traveling around Japan for a week, I now have incredibly high expectations for train systems in other countries. I was expecting the trains to be like that of movies: personal booths along a hallway. However, the shinkansen is more like the layout of a plane. There is a central aisle with rows of seats on either side and room for baggage above the seats. The shinkansen is much more comfortable than a plane. The seats are spacious with generous leg room. There are outlets in each row of seats to recharge devices. There are bathrooms, smoking rooms, air conditioning, and a food and drink trolley that consistently runs us and down the aisle. However, shinkansen vary slightly in size and amenities. The first shinkansen we rode had slightly less leg room but more outlets than the shinkansen I rode from Tokyo to Kyoto. This comfort is important, as the shinkansen have an annual passenger count of roughly 143,015,000 people. The shinkansen also serve the same purpose as domestic American flights; traversing the country to take passengers from major city to major city. In America, flights have roughly 741.6 million annual domestic passengers, but most planes only carry around 175 people. The shinkansen can carry up to 1,300 people, making it more sustainable. Airplanes are more convenient in America, as they can travel up to 907 km/h while shinkansen travel around 320 km/h. America is also larger, and less streamlined than Japan. The shinkansen is more sustainable and comfortable, but American flights are more direct, faster, and convenient. I would be pleased if America began using shinkansen or other large scale, sustainable transportation, but that would require a large infrastructure investment.
Aboard the shinkansen, the train is usually silent. Most patrons sleep, read, eat, and listen to music with headphones. It is very peaceful. The punctuality of the shinkansen is beyond peer. The layout of the shinkansen may be similar to a domestic American flight but not the reliability. Flights plan extra time for terminal and runway delays, and even then, sometimes they cannot arrive on time. Shinkansen leave the minute they are scheduled to depart. A shinkansen once made national news when it departed 20 seconds before it was planned. The exactness of the schedule is appreciated until you miss a shinkansen from a delay from a connecting train. Due to “dangerous conditions on the tracks,” our train taking us to our shinkansen was late by over an hour, making us miss our reserved shinkansen. However, shinkansen traverse the country frequently enough, we only had to wait an hour or so to board a different one.
JR makes it extremely easy to get to the shinkansen. They have a separate area for shinkansen than other JR and subway lines. It is clearly marked, and any station personnel could help direct you to shinkansen. Once in the station, the train number, the time of departure, the destination city, and the track number is displayed on screens when trains are scheduled to depart. This information is in both Japanese and English, making it incredibly easy to understand. Navigating the shinkansen lines is straightforward because there are so few lines, unlike the Tokyo subway system. There’s only a one line going from place to place as opposed to several going to the same station. So instead of having to decide between the Yamanote or Chuo like in Tokyo, you are given a ticket that says Tokyo to Kyoto. If you know what city you’d like to go to, you can easily get there.
All of this makes the shinkansen incredibly easy to use, especially with a JR pass. For a system to be sustainable, not only must it be environmentally friendly, but easy to use. A system could be the greenest system in the country, but if it is difficult to use, people will avoid it, negating the sustainable efforts. Shinkansen combine comfort, convenience, and sustainability making it an optimal transit system.
During the trip from Tokyo to Fukushima and back, there were noticeable differences between the development environments varying from urban to rural. There were, of course, no skyscrapers, and the buildings were definitely more spread out. They were, however, not as spacious as they would be back in a typical suburban neighborhood in the United States because of how dense Japan's land is. A lot of rice patties and flourishing vegetation could also be seen from the train window, and the houses outside the Tokyo megaregion take on a more traditional appearance with its curved roofs and rounded tiles. Inside the megaregion, I could easily find many people walking on the streets, but as the train headed towards Fukushima, there were noticeably more people commuting by bike or car that could be seen from afar.
After arriving in Fukushima, we immediately boarded a bus and began our tour to learn more about the incident that struck Eastern Japan on March 11, 2011. Prior to this trip, I thought that most of Fukushima was abandoned with little to no inhabitants and that the only people there are the ones helping with the decommission process, but I was completely wrong. Since the incident, the evacuation order has been slowly lifted from surrounding areas, and several elderlies have returned to live out the rest of their days in their hometown. I was not there to witness the aftermath of the triple threat, but after seeing how far Fukushima has come, it felt like the people had no trouble picking themselves back up after being forced to evacuate their homes eight years ago. Unlike the slow progress in rebuilding areas struck by Hurricane Maria and the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Fukushima has already done a lot of work in rebuilding the disaster-stricken areas and decommissioning the Daiichi nuclear power plant. I realized that the people here in Japan, especially in Fukushima, are extremely resilient, due to their cultural values in community and collectiveness. Whereas individualism is highly valued in the United States, the Japanese find the role of the individual as a member of a larger community to be much more important. With community resilience, Fukushima has really made tremendous progress on rebuilding the disaster-stricken areas and decommissioning the Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Considering how our group has only been in Japan for about a week and a half, we have already traveled relatively extensively throughout the country, from Tokyo to Fukushima and now to Kyoto. Despite existing within the same nation, sustainable living conditions can be addressed differently inside and outside of a megaregion, such as in the case of Tokyo versus Fukushima. Sustainable living conditions are even handled in different manners from megaregion to megaregion, which is exemplified by Tokyo of the Greater Tokyo Area compared with Kyoto of Keihanshin. The caliber of Japanese sustainable practices is further exhibited by the resilience demonstrated in the region of Fukushima, which was devastated by an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster in March 2011.
The most notable difference in sustainable living conditions inside and outside of a megaregion is the extent of public transportation. In cities such as Tokyo, the train stations are constantly bustling with activity; it seems as if everyone is in a hurry, and finding oneself lost in a sea of people is far from an uncommon experience. In contrast, the train stations in less-urbanized areas like Fukushima are not nearly as animated as those of Tokyo. This past week, as we traveled from Fukushima through Tokyo to Kyoto, the initial train we boarded was at the very end of the rail line, and we were welcomed by an almost empty train car, which has been a rare privilege for us thus far. Although it’s pleasant to be able to sit in a train car that isn’t packed with people, the fact that less-urbanized areas do not possess Tokyo’s extensive transit system means that people who live in these locations rely more heavily on personal cars than do the residents of larger cities. Therefore, providing more accessible public transportation to people living all throughout Japan may help the nation further itself along the path of sustainability.
Differences in transportation also exist from megaregion to megaregion; in my experience, the transit system of Tokyo was better than that of Kyoto. For starters, I felt that in Kyoto, it was a battle between pedestrians, cyclists, and four-wheeled vehicles over who had the right-of-way on the streets. The narrow streets were not incredibly pedestrian-friendly because the only place where people could walk without being in the middle of the street was in the bike lanes, which were obviously designated for bikes. Even though the streets in Tokyo were narrow as well, I didn’t experience this same issue there because fewer people utilized personal cars. Furthermore, I was not terribly satisfied with the bus system in Kyoto. I didn’t get to experience the bus system in Tokyo, so I can’t attest to its quality in comparison, but I did not find the bus system in Kyoto to be ideal because it took a while for the buses to reach each station. Because the buses did not have their own designated lanes to operate, they got caught in general traffic, which made it more difficult for them to reach each stop in a timely manner. However, if the transit system of Kyoto were to be improved to the level of that of Tokyo, this could lead to more sustainable living conditions in the city by increasing the number of individuals utilizing public transportation.
Aside from Japan’s methods for addressing public transportation, a true testament to the magnitude of Japanese sustainable living conditions is the revitalization that has occurred in the region of Fukushima. After the devastation that happened here in March 2011, the area has taken major strides to ensure that sustainability is its utmost focus, primarily in the realms of renewable energy and education. Because a large amount of the damage experienced by Fukushima was due to a nuclear disaster, the region has switched to developing alternative energy facilities for solar, wind, and hydrogen energy. Land in Japan is precious, with only 14% of it available for both living space and agriculture, and the people of Fukushima have been sure to maximize the amount of land that is available for their use. Extensive solar parks have been constructed to generate energy for use primarily in Tokyo, which is a major source of income for people living in the town of Okuma. In addition to solar parks, Fukushima is also developing facilities to generate energy harnessed from the wind and from hydrogen, which sets a precedent for other regions and countries wishing to pursue sustainable energy production. The most inspiring aspect of Fukushima’s resilience was exhibited by the students of Futaba Mirai High School, who have been working on projects to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals within their own community. Because the notion of sustainability is being ingrained within them at such a young age, this will ensure the creation of a generation who is devoted to the protection of the use of resources for all people, both present and future.
Despite only having a few days to spend in Kyoto, I look forward to coming back to explore more of the city later in the summer, and I am excited that I’ll be able to experience the other two portions of the Keihanshin megaregion, Kobe and Osaka, as well. I’m curious to learn more about how the sustainable living conditions of Keihanshin compare to those of the Greater Tokyo Area, and I hope to find ways in which some practices in one megaregion could be implemented in another. In addition to learning from one another, megaregions can also adopt lessons from Fukushima, who has been able to make tremendous progress in the realm of sustainable development through recovery from a disaster.
After traveling for the first time on a Shinkansen train this week, I have now experienced intercity travel in 3 parts of the world. I have traveled by train in Japan and Europe and I have taken buses or flown in the US. While traveling, I noticed a few similarities and differences in intercity travel among the three places.
First, I noticed that everyone on the train was extremely quiet. This lines up with what I experienced going from city to city on the euro rail or flying in planes across the US. It seems that on most long-distance public transportation, people tend to remain quiet out of respect for other travelers.
Another similarity I noticed was the speed with which we were moving. The Shinkansen moves incredibly fast, about 200 mph. This lines up with what I experienced in Europe moving between cities on the rail lines, as well as when I travel by plane in the US. However, this definitely does not line up with my experience travelling from Atlanta to New Orleans by bus. The buses move very slowly and often get stuck in traffic, so 200 mph is just impossible to achieve by intercity bus travel in the US.
A third similarity between European trains, Japanese trains, and American planes is timeliness of the service. All three of these modes of transportation rely on punctuality to function properly due to passengers needing to transfer and other trains or planes that need to use the gates. However, American buses differ in this aspect because they often can’t be quite so timely due to uncertainties of traffic conditions.
When we first rode the Shinkansen from Tokyo, I noticed how convenient it was that we could just go to Tokyo station and go to the Shinkansen tracks and find our train. There was no necessity to go to a separate station to get on the Shinkansen – we could do it in the same train station where we might take the Yamanote line. In Europe, the train system is also quite convenient in this way, but in the US, the different modes of travel – between inter- and intra-city travel – are very separated. If I want to take an intra-city bus, I can just find my nearest bus stop. But, if I want to take an inter-city bus, I need to find a bus station, which is usually pretty out of the way. If I want to take a plane, I need to drive to the airport. The US doesn’t have much of a train system, so that’s usually not even an option. The US lacks this convenience that the Japan rail system provides to customers by providing different services in one easily-accessible place.
One thing I did notice about the Shinkansen that I didn’t like as much as local trains was the system for communicating stops. On the Shinkansen we rode, the announcer only spoke in Japanese and did not provide an English translation. Also, the Shinkansen does not have screens on the walls detailing when and where the next stop will be, which the local train did. So, I personally felt more lost as to where we were while riding it. In contrast, in the US and Europe, it’s much easier for me to navigate details of my trip. However, this is only because in these places, information is almost always displayed in English, even if that’s not the local language. So, it is easier to understand the US and European system for me personally in this way.
Overall, I was extremely impressed by the Shinkansen. It moved incredibly fast and allowed us to have a smooth ride across half of Japan. The seats were very comfortable and gave plenty of leg room, so I was able to eat, relax, and nap while on the train comfortably. One thing that is nice about the Shinkansen is that it provides a very smooth and comfortable ride, whereas on buses or in planes in the US, the ride can often be uncomfortable and very bumpy. The Shinkansen ranks very high in my personal list of intercity travel that I have taken, and I have a feeling that no matter where I go in the world and what transportation I experience, it will always be at the top of my list.
After spending a week in Tokyo, it is easy to see the sustainability this mega city has to offer. Tokyo is centered around convenience and efficiency. The transit system is competent, reliable, and accessible. As a primarily English speaker, I could get to and from my destination with ease and comfort. The city itself was neat and orderly. However, as we left Tokyo, the living conditions changed significantly.
While in central Tokyo, the buildings were tall and new. The streets were clean, and the inhabitants always set about with purpose. Even late into the night, I only saw two homeless locals. However, once we left central Tokyo and ventured out of the megaregion, I saw many more impoverished areas. In most countries, the cities are wealthier than the less densely populated regions; Japan was no exception to this. An interesting aspect to this was the only homeless I saw outside of the mega-region were men.
The starkest difference in sustainability inside and outside of the megaregion was the usage of public transit. While in Tokyo, I only traveled by walking and subway. To arrive in Fukushima, we took several trains that quickly moved across the Japanese countryside. This seems to be a common form of transportation; however, residents outside of Tokyo mainly travel by personal motorized vehicles. I saw a significant increase in the number of cars as we traversed from Tokyo to Fukushima. Even in Fukushima, the amount of cars was surprisingly high. With more cars comes more roadways and less railways.
Another common difference in any country when moving from cities to rural areas is the usage of space. In Tokyo, everything was built up or built underground. Space was conserved in any way possible. I don’t recall see any single-story buildings in the city. As we left the city, I began to see buildings with only one floor, although it was still rare. Without the population of the city, people could build more outward than upward. Another benefit of rural space is the option of using renewable energy. Solar fields and wind turbines require large amounts of space to operate. Before the Fukushima disaster, a large amount of Tokyo’s energy was produced by the nuclear power plants. However, after the disaster, the city mainly uses imported gas and coal. With the decommissioning of the nuclear plants, an opportunity has opened in the more rural areas to install renewable energy plants. Fukushima now has solar parks which produce locally harvested electricity in a more sustainable way.
The introduction of solar parks and wind turbines to the Fukushima area speaks to the resilience of the community and the country. To me, resilience is the ability of a community to withstand hardship and rebuild even stronger. Fukushima has acknowledged the disaster that was caused by nuclear energy, and rather than wallowing in the catastrophe, they promote a safer, cleaner form of energy and implement it within a few years. I am hopeful that the number of solar parks will continue to grow in the future. Much of the rural are used to be and somewhat still is used as rice fields. Due to the disaster, the rice produced in Fukushima is 20% below market value in Japan because of the reputation the nuclear meltdown. Perhaps some of those uneconomical rice patties could be converted into solar farms.
Unfortunately, not all of Fukushima’s new infrastructure is an improvement to the community. The radioactivity has caused a large amount of topsoil to be deemed unsafe. Contaminated soil has been gathered into large bags and must be stored for 30+ years. There is no precedent to nuclear meltdown cleanup that Japan is currently facing. They have no model to follow as they try to deal with the consequences. Large buildings and landfills will house the soil for years to come. This is hardly a sustainable solution; yet Japan currently has no better solution.
Traveling from Tokyo to Fukushima has been an edifying experience. The differences between life inside of the megaregion and beyond is very prominent, including the sustainability of the regions. Despite this, the more rural regions of Japan are slowly making efforts to become more sustainable. The cities that were abandoned or destroyed in the disaster now have an opportunity to rebuild in a more positive, sustainable fashion.
Outside the Tokyo megaregion, the towns we pass on the trains are more spread out and less crowded. All the land is still used, but the houses are bigger, and they have land space to have solar farms. The use of renewable energy outside the megaregion is more common. Although I noticed some houses in the cities have solar panel roofs, but it’s less common. The use of renewable energy is more sustainable, but I bet it’s more difficult to implement in the cities where there’s less space.
The towns we pass/visit all have rice paddies. It’s an important economic resource and brings the community together. Okuma, for example, seemed like a close-knit town despite being evacuated from the disaster. I think the social community is stronger in rural Japan, as well as anywhere rural compared to a city. This strength helps the community be more sustainable; however, the towns are more homogenous, and this lack of diversity could be a setback in their communities. Their towns have existed for hundreds of years so far, so even though the lack of diversity doesn’t seem to affect their longevity it might be a hindrance in the globalizing world.
It is easier to get around in Tokyo, because of the complex metro system, but not really difficult in rural areas. We traveled around bus in Fukushima, which was nice because it was easy to stop and get out and look around. I noticed that at the Futaba high school the kids were walking or biking to school. I don’t think metros are needed in their towns because they are so small. The more personal transportation system helps sustain the community longer. Also biking and walking is physically healthier, which people do inside and outside cities.
I thought it was amazing how the community came together in Fukushima. Even though some people can’t or are afraid to come back, there are still people who returned. Our tour guide’s family has been there for 27 generations. Their family roots are so strong that he can’t leave it behind. Not only is each family resilient, the community is as a whole. People are still working to fix the land and the Futaba school is using student projects to revitalize the community. The closeness of the community and their willingness to persevere helps the Fukushima region sustain itself despite tragedy. The disaster could have been mitigated if better precautions were taken, but now that it has happened, I think they are handling the situation much better than if it had happened in the certain places in the US.
The journey from Tokyo to Fukushima, and then from Fukushima to Kyoto thru Tokyo was a long one but thanks to the JR company trains it was a comfortable one. Starting our trip in Tokyo, the center of one of the biggest mega-regions, gave me a false sense of Japan is like. It was very easy to get around, order food, and direct questions in English so it was an easy adjustment. I soon realized that most of the rest of Japan is not like that.
We started our journey to Fukushima at 6:30 am on June 3rd and got there around 10:15 am. The journey was easy to follow, as most Japanese transit journeys are, and took us up the Eastern coast of Japan. There was a noticeable change in the areas around the track as we went outside the Tokyo mega-region. We stopped seeing a lot of buildings and started seeing smaller houses and rice fields, it was a beautiful view. You could tell from looking out the train that most of the economy revolved around farming.
In Fukushima, seeing the effects that the 3.11 incident had on people and how it is still affecting them to this day was a humbling experience. I saw the resiliency of the Japanese people after seeing how much of the evacuated area they have already restored and how most people want to come back to their homes. One of the biggest things that I observed was that even though we were in small towns away from big cities, people still followed the trash separation seriously and everything was clean. Another nice thing I saw was that the high school students of the area learned about the sustainable development goals and were interested in turning them into a reality. The push towards renewable energy in the Fukushima also interested me. Currently, over 30% of Fukushima's energy comes from renewable sources and they plan to go 100% renewable energy by 2040.
From Fukushima we left to go to Kyoto around 11:30 am on June 4th. Our first line from Fukushima to Tokyo was delayed due to some error in the track. This delay was the first delay of any kind that I have experienced in Japan so far (and will most likely be the only). The line we took from Tokyo to Kyoto was a Shinkansen and rode extremely smoothly.
Looking at fields of rice through the window of the train while leaving Tokyo.
A poster of the Sustainable Development Goals in an alley in Kyoto.
A model of the town hall of Okuma inside the town hall. The town had an evacuation order for most of the past 8 years but it was recently lifted and the town is starting to go back to how it was before the 3.11 incident.
As we traveled outside of Tokyo and made our way to Fukushima, I could see notable differences in the landscapes from place to place. As would be expected when traveling away from a densely packed megaregion like Tokyo, the houses became a bit more spread out and I noticed more and more greenery. During one of our many train rides, I noticed a lot of rice paddies as well as more small, individual homes. Obviously, the ways of life of people within Tokyo and people further away would differ. It seemed that as we traveled further from the megaregion, there was a transformation from corporate business to agrarian lifestyles.
One thing I noticed that both the areas within Tokyo and outside the megaregion shared was that people take advantage of every square meter of arable land, whether for farming, building, or living. In Tokyo, the land was strategically planned to build numerous high-rise corporate offices, house popular shopping streets, or make space for parks. On the way to Fukushima, the land seemed to be taken up by either homes or farmland. In both cases, though, the land was strategically used so that people could take full advantage of the available land space.
Before arriving in Fukushima, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know a lot about the disaster there, because I was only in 5th grade when it occurred. I didn’t realize how bad it had been and how many people were displaced. I was shocked to learn that people living within a 20 km radius around the nuclear power plant had to evacuate. I didn’t realize that the scale of the disaster was so large, and that most people are still displaced and haven’t returned home yet because some areas are still in the red zone and others were opened as recently as this year. After learning all of this at the Tepco museum, I felt sadness and despair that this community had to suffer so much and I worried that they would never recover.
However, as we began to tour the exclusion zone later in the day, I was surprised at how many people I saw cleaning up buildings or working on the roadways. When we stopped at the abandoned nursing home to look over the Tepco power plant where the disaster took place, our tour guide who also works in the government told us there were still thousands of workers who continue to clean up and decommission the power plant.
Although this community suffered a terrible disaster, they are by no means giving up and abandoning their home. As we drove around Fukushima, our tour guide showed us the many places where renewable energy is beginning to grow in the form of wind turbines or solar farms. This is direct evidence of a community that is working to rebuild. After talking with our tour guides, a father of one of them, and students all from the area, I realized that people still care tremendously about their home and repairing it so that they can one day return. This gives me hope for the people of Fukushima, and I admire how strong and resilient the community is.
From the people of Fukushima, I learned a lot about how strong a community can be, and how much they can withstand and still want to return home. I believe that the Japanese collectivist culture enhances this resilience that I saw in Fukushima. It seems like Japan is not willing to forget about this community or leave them behind, so they continue to help clean up the area. I am impressed by how much effort is still being put in to rebuild this community and learned a lot about resilience from Fukushima.
Last Monday, our group was a funny and struggling sight; everyone was weighed down by 10 weeks worth of luggage through the dense subways of Tokyo. Many flights of steps later and a few short rail trips, we made it on a long express train out of the city to begin our travel leg. The scenery quickly changed as we left the densely-layered streets of Tokyo to rural rice paddies. Our exit from the Tokyo megaregion.
Sustainable living is a broad term that means the same general thing to all (high quality of life without sacrificing the quality of life for future generations), but looks different in different areas. For Tokyo, to sustain the high paced living and production of a city requires efficient intercity transit. Effective public transit, as discussed, decreases space on the road and encourages physical wellbeing among many other factors. Other factors for urban sustainable lifestyles include conserving living space and using energy efficient devices. Out in rural areas, sustainable living also includes an effective use of space and efficient transportation, but this looks different and is most often centered around agricultural productivity. I noticed a seemingly effective use of land outside my window through rice paddies taking up most of the available land.
That being said, watching from a train for sustainable living is like skimming a book—I can't really say what it's like to maintain a sustainable lifestyle in rural Japan. But like in all rural regions around the world, I noticed areas appearing more frugal with less resources that one would find in a city.
So far on this trip, our dialogue has been centered around how humans make personal or systemic decisions that influence the sustainability of a megaregion. But what if a tragedy occurs that is outside human control? In the case of Fukushima, how does a community sustain itself when the land has been destroyed by earthquake and tsunami, and the region now is actually uninhabitable due to its nuclear disaster? Sustainability requires resilience for the unpredictable. Our tour in the red zone was heartbreaking to see a place that is literally on pause from 2011. We looked inside classrooms and hospitals still filled with the things left behind during evacuation. For years, there was no way to live in those regions, period—sustainably or not.
But this community is resilient. In an article by the Guardian, the mayor of Okuma has returned to his city and reflects on the change happening. Although 60 percent of the city remains off-limits, people are returning where they can and rebuilding their homes of over twenty generations. And change is happening as renewable energy—solar panels and wind turbines—are starting to replace the land. In our visit to a school in the Fukushima prefecture, we discussed how collectivism increases this resilience, as people hold themselves accountable for the larger population's development. This is seen through education, as the school allows anyone of any age to visit and professionals are working with students on their capstone projects on sustainable living. This is different from the highly individualistic society of the United States. But, as we also discussed that day, other factors such as racial discrimination affect the ability of all communities to be resilient in disasters, as seen in Hurricane Katrina. Resilience, and sustainable development have their own challenges in every community. Fukushima still faces several challenges, such as increasing the value of its rice produced and reducing stigma around contamination.
Overall, my experience in Fukushima was incredibly moving and a true form of experiential education. I'm excited to continue this learning process this week as we travel across the country.