Management and waste disposal methods in the United States and Japan do differ. In Japan, about 80% of the waste is incinerated whereas in the United States 52% goes to landfills and about 13% in combustion. I believe cultural, geographical, and governing differences has affected the stark differences in their public policy.
Japan and the United States have a different history and evolved into different societies culturally. According to Hofstede, Japan is more of a collective society than an individualistic one like the United States, as shown in the Figure below. The United States scores higher in Individualism and Long Term Orientation and lower in Uncertainty Avoidance than Japan.
Figure 1: Hofstede's Cultural Comparisons
As more of a collective society, Japan values communal space and harmonized living. I believe these values are also instilled in their government as well. Perhaps because Japan is long-term oriented, Japan’s government invests a lot of money in the health and the welfare of its citizens as shown in Figure 2. It also invests a higher percentage in transportation and in infrastructure that the United States. I do believe that Japan invests more in its public spaces and services for its people. It values convenience, respect, and efficiency. When it comes to waste management, it is convenient, respectable and efficient. The incinerators are made with human health in mind. They have invested in technology that has made communities around incinerators safe and livable. The separation of trash makes it efficient for the waste management facilities easier to sort out. The people also respect the government and follow the law. The government is specific as to how organize the waste with recyclables and non-recyables and for the most part, people follow. If there is a sign that is placed in the United States whether its recycling or trash, people don’t necessarily pay attention to signs. Whereas people in Japan are more mindful of their surroundings and especially of the rules within public spaces. It is easy to see how people value public spaces and the government also values the public spaces and the people in general.
Figure 2: Comparison of Japan and the US's government budget.
As mentioned in an earlier blog, the geography of these two countries has contributed to its waste management. Japan is an island that with limited space and high density populated areas. On the other hand, the United States has a vacant space and low costing land. The Japanese had to invest in technology that would better dispose waste other than a landfill in order to conserve space. The United States does not have this issue.
There are definite cultural and geographical reasons why Japan and the United States differ in their waste management. I believe the United States can learn in this area and should try to emulate Japan. However, for a country that is more economcially motivated than socially, it does not seem feasible for the Untied States to move away from landfills.
It is evident that Japan and the United States approach Municipal Solid Waste disposal differently. Japan and the United states are two countries that are developed countries with similar economies and innovation rates. United States ranks second in economy size and Japan is ranked third. Both the United States and Japan are some of the most innovative countries in the world, so these two countries have been leaders in producing break through technology. However, when it comes to waste disposal, Japan and the United States use very different methods and technology. In Japan, about 80% of the waste is incinerated whereas in the United States 52% goes to landfills and about 13% in combustion. I believe geography, public perception, and public policy have affected the stark contrasts between these two countries and their methods.
There are 1243 incineration facilities in Japan while there are 86 in the United States. However, geography has probably been the greatest motivation for Japan to create the high energy efficient generators that they have now. Japan has limited land space compared to the United States. In the 1960’s, as Japan’s waste generation and population began increasing, they began looking at options that would reduce the volume generated, and the solution was found in burning it. For the same reasons of limited land space, they needed to ensure that these facilities would be safe and accepted near residential and commercial districts. Thus, they were pressured to create the proper technology that would filter the toxins and make it the surrounding areas safe and habitable. For example, in 2011 near Shibuya Station, one of the busiest stations in the world and a highly densely populated commercial and residential area, a highly efficient incinerator was built with technology that filtered out any harmful pollutants right in the middle of this densely populated metropolitan area. Limited land space forced Japan into creating innovative and creative solutions in order to provide habitable spaces for its people.
On the other hand, in the United States, space is not an issue. Land is available and at a low cost. The United States does not have enough economical motivation to create these highly efficient and filtered technological facilities. They can place landfills in rural areas and not have to worry about affecting highly dense populations. Granted, landfills can often affect the people around them. \
Not only does land capabilities differ for both Japan and the United States, the public perception is important when making these decisions. The only way for the Japanese move forward was to have a positive and trustworthy perception of the safety and health hazards of the incinerators. Incinerators are accepted by the public so more investments in the technology can be made. That is how an incinerator is now in the middle of Shibuya as shown in the Figure below. In the United States, incinerators are not a form of waste management that is accepted by the public at large.
The Greater Tokyo area and the Keihanshin areas have similar contrasts much like the regions of New York City and Atlanta. Japan has a relatively small land mass compared to the United States, yet there are still observed regional differences within the country. Certain words are said different such as the word for “thank you” is “arigato” in Tokyo and “ookini” in Kaihanshin. People ride on the opposite side of the elevator. Every region has its customs. Similarly, within the United States, every region and city has its own subculture. The north references soda as “pop”. The South is infamous for its “yall”. Within every country every region has its differences. The Greater Tokyo area has a population of 37.8 million people and New York Metropolitan area has a population size of 20.3 million. The Keihanshin population size is 18.6 million while the Atlanta Metropolitan area is 5.6 million. Its been interesting to compare the different regions in different counties.
To start off with, the fashion in these regions are very different. In Tokyo, at any given moment when you ride the train, majority of the people in the car are in business clothes. I was alarmed by the amount of people, men and women, in professional attire during most of my time while I was in Tokyo. If they weren’t in professional attire, I noticed more fashionable “streetwear” among the general population. Whereas, in the Keihanshin area, I noticed more casual wear. In Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, I notice more people on the train are in casual attire. I still saw people in professional attire but not to the point where that is all I can see like in Tokyo. People here do wear streetwear, but I still saw more in Tokyo. Likewise, in New York, most of the people you see are in professional attire or more streetwear. In Atlanta, most people dress casually compared to New York. Tokyo and New York City shows how these economic hubs influence the fashion seen in between its skyscrapers.
Secondly, the differences in transportation in Greater Tokyo and Keihanshin is similar to New York and Atlanta. In the Greater Tokyo Area, the main mode of transportation is the rail system. Likewise, in New York City, the main mode of transportation is also the rail system. In Keihanshin, while there is still rail, there are more cars, bikes, and pedestrians on the roads. In Atlanta, there isn’t a reliable rail, but the main mode of transportation is cars with large roads and highways engineered to take people long distances to get to work. Transportation across these two hubs in Japan is similar to two different hubs in the US.
There is a stark contrast between the two regions within in Japan that is different with the two regions in the Untied States. The Keihanshin area, specifically Kyoto, has shrines embedded throughout the city. In Kobe and Osaka, not so much. Within Tokyo, there are also shrines embedded throughout the city, and some with massive parks that are in contrast to the bustling city surrounding the green space. In cities with such high population densities, any piece of land is very valuable. They dedicate a lot of land to their religion and history. However, in New York City and Atlanta, there are no religious monuments that have large amounts of land dedicated to them. Hardly any area is dedicated to green space. There are more parks in Tokyo when compared to New York. Atlanta is one of the more greener cities since it has many trees throughout the streets of Atlanta. In the aspect of religion, the regions of Japan and the U.S. vary in that sense.
Tokyo and Keihanshin areas showed resemblance to New York and Atlanta regions . The differences in fashion and transportation modes resembled the differences in the US as well. They differ in regards to how both cities value religion and history compared to New York and Atlanta, despite its dense populations. Seeing the differences between the two regions and comparing them to places we know back home has been vey enlightening.
Japan incorporates “smart technologies” into its sustainable development and has areas where it could incorporate more. They have technologies within the train system that are energy efficient and more equitable for the passenger. They also have technologies in daily life that are also more energy and water efficient, as well as some that are not.
Within their goal of achieving sustainable development, they have also included features that make it more convenient for the passenger that are “smart”. The metro cards, such as Suica, are able to be uploaded to your cellphone and a passenger is able to just touch their cellphone. The card may also be used in convenience stores within or near the train stations. This is very convenient for the passenger and gives the passenger a reason to also be sustainable with their mode of transportation.
Image 1: Suice on an Iphone X's Apple Pay. (Source)
The train company JR East is also investing resources towards creating more equitable and energy efficient technologies. JR East is currently working on creating check in stations that are more accessible to those that are handicapped and having a screen that is also accessible, not just from a standing position. They have designed seats that have raised edges that creates equal seating for men and women. They have also created trains that are electronically efficient with batteries to use when the trains do not have access to electricity. They are also constructing a train called the Maglev, which is magnetically powered which can be more efficient than conventional high-speed trains. JR East is also researching the potential energy transfer from one train during its deceleration to another train’s acceleration, drastically reducing the amount of power needed to accelerate trains, which is when energy is mostly consumed. JR East is invested in creating more equitable and energy efficient innovations.
Japan’s restrooms have also shown energy efficient features. Smaller restrooms such as within the National Olympic Youth Center and the Tokyo Palace Hotel have had motion sensors that turn off a lot quicker than any other restroom I have seen. Not only are the rooms energy efficient, but the toilets are also water efficient. Many toilets have a sink on top that pumps water out automatically. A lot of them also have the option to flush lighter, which is water efficient. However, many toilet seats are always heated and come with a touch panel. The seat is always heated during the day for the few minutes a person sit downs during a day. This seems like the use of energy is not being used to its maximum capacity. The toilets require an electrical input that seems like an abundant amount of electricity is being used for a few minutes of comfort.
Image 3: Japanese toilet with side panel and sink (Source)
Likewise, in the name of comfort, Japan uses a lot of plastic in order to make life more comfortable and convenient for the consumer. There is a lot of plastic packaging and items that come with products that are not sustainable. Many drinks and cups come with plastic straws or utensils. The grocery stores are lined up with numerous small items. It is a very difficult to buy in bulk as you would in the United States. Many items are individually packaged for the sake of using that one item and disposing it right after. There are bags that often have smaller individually packaged cookies or chips. Despite having modernized check-out systems and technology, there is a significant amount of plastic consumption.
Image 4: A store with plethora of small plastic packaging. (Source)
The last few weeks in Japan has shown me many instances of “smart technology”. Their transit is efficient, and JR East is looking towards creating more efficiency and equity within their trains and train stations. The bathrooms have also given me a glance of areas that Japan is efficient and in other ways, where it is not. The features on the toilet are great, but in regards to energy efficiency, are not so. The grocery stores are also another place that highlights where more technology could play a factor in their reduction of plastic consumption. Like all countries, including the United States, Japan has many areas with smart technologies and areas that are still working on in achieving sustainability.
Tokyo’s transit system reminds me of the European railway system. The Shinkansen’s features and operations specifically reminds me of Germany’s ICE and France’s TGV. Japan Rail (JR), a Japanese company, has a high-speed long distance rail system named the Shinkansen and reaches speeds up to 240 km/hr. Germany’s DB (Deutsche Bahn), a German company, has a high-speed long distance rail system as well called ICE (Intercity-Express) reaching up to 300 km/hr. The SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français, “French National Railway Company”), a French company, also has a high-speed long-distance rail system called the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, "high-speed train") and operates on average at about 320 km/hr. The train systems have relatively similar features such as the seat reservation seats, reliability, security and patrons.
Image 1: French TGV and Displayed Current Speed
For seat reservations, all three companies encourage the passenger to reserve a seat. For the TGV, you must ride with a reservation. For ICE, all of the cars have reservable seats; however, passengers may board the train without having a seat and may just have to stand up on the train. For the Shinkansen, there are cars that are for reserved and non-reserved. The TGV, ICE, and the Shinkansen all have a system to alert others above the seats whether the seats are reserved or not reserved. The ICE trains will notify you at what station the passenger is boarding. The Shinkansen notifies you with a green, yellow, and red light if the seat is not reserved, will soon to be reserved, and currently reserved respectfully.
The Shinkansen, ICE, and TGV are similar and different in their reliability. The Shinkansen is notorious for not being late. Deutsche Bahn is also known for being reliable and efficient; however, I have also experienced delays ranging from a few minutes to the occasional couple of hours due to track malfunctions such as protests and fires. The TGV is also known for being reliable; however, I have experienced many delays on the TGV by up to 20 minutes. Since the Deutsche Bahn trains frequent many bustling stations, it is easy to be able to go to another city with another route. They frequently travel around from station to station all over the middle of Europe. With the TGV, the TGV is direct with minimal stops to your destination. With popular routes, there is a TGV running every hour from 6 am to 8 pm. Although the TGV only travels to larger stations and has a limited window, passengers can still travel to their destination because the SNCF has many routes to take the passenger from any city to another city in France or Europe even if its not high speed. There really is only an issue for ICE and the TGV if you plan on riding an overnight train because once you miss that train, you must wait until 6 in the morning. The Shinkansen similarly also seems to have frequent timing, however, there are only so many other routes you can take to travel to other regions of the country.
In regards to on-board security and other patrons, all three train systems are similar. On ICE trains, staff regularly patrols the cars. A couple of times over the course of a few hours, a person comes down the aisle checking for tickets and for Eurails if you have one; however, they were normally very lax about whether or not you were in the correct seat or not. The other patrons on board desired silence, but it was not a nuisance if people were talking or laughing as long as they were not obnoxious. Every now and then, a group of adults were clearly a little intoxicated and enjoying themselves, and people didn’t seem to mind too much. However, if it was teenagers or young adults are being obnoxious, other passengers seem to mind. Whereas shortly after departing on the TGV, an officer comes by and checks your reserved ticket and your Eurail. They are stricter on checking whether you are in the right seat or not because normally most TGV’s are full. Almost every ride on the TGV is for the most part silent. Most people do not talk to each other. If there is a family that is sitting together, they are a little louder; but it is obvious that other passengers do mind the noise level. On the Shinkansen, I noticed the security walks down the aisle a lot more frequently than any other train I have been on and not making sure if people are in their correct seat or not. The passengers are either talking to themselves quietly, if at all. It only seems to be the foreigners (Americans) that seem to talk a lot louder than whispering. It seems that from a relaxed environment to a stricter environment it is the ICE, Shinkansen, and then TGV. Despite some slight differences in noise level, Japan’s Shinkansen, Germany’s ICE, and France’s TGV are high-speed rail systems that have evolved similarly despite the differences in their cultures. May these three continue to be an example for the rest of the world in long-distance travel.
We praised Tokyo’s sustainable development surrounding their transit system; however, in towns outside of this megaregion, they do not have these capabilities. The towns within the prefecture of Fukushima, the preferred mode of transportation was cars. In front of every retail center, there was parking spots and parking lots, indicating people needed to travel by car in order to reach these destinations. In Kyoto, a much older city, the roads are much smaller. It seems that within these condensed patches of infrastructure, bikes and walking are the preferred mode of transportation. With towns within Fukushima, power plants have taken advantage of the hardly dense population for the rest of the country. Prior to the nuclear reaction, the plant in Fukushima powered most of Tokyo. Unfortunately, these are the areas that are susceptible to a nuclear reaction or other hazardous materials such as hydrogen because of this reason.
Resilient is not an adjective I thought could describe a city or a community beforehand. The towns of Fukushima show true resilience. The people did not abandon the city even when there was nothing left to return to for some. There were no more jobs and for some, no more homes. Towns that had been there the last 1200 years were wiped. All the town’s history, important monuments, and people’s homes were all gone in a matter of a few hours. In place of these towns, the have built a seawall all alongside in order to mitigate further damage in the future. They have also built new homes for those who were forced to evacuate. They are slowly one by one tearing down homes that were affected by the earthquake and tsunami. The amount of current movement that bustles in and out carrying soil bags was impactful. They did not leave the city to let nature took over. The amount of work that goes into removing the entire surface of multiple towns sounds like a development nightmare. There is a lot of current movement, even eight year later, in these towns that are building infrastructure in place in order to mitigate and rebuild livable conditions.
Image 1: The seawall supplies next to the last standing school.
Image 2: New homes rebuilt for the evacuees.
Not only are they keen on physically rebuilding, they want to rebuild their community. The sheer determination from Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe of Okuma really left an impact on me. Even after 8 years, he still considered himself the mayor of the town and never stopped working on his duties ever since the day of the evacuation. He still felt ownership and responsibility over his town. He is aware that the elderly in the community are the ones who want to come back and he is recreating a home for them because they do not have the economic stability to work in another place and restart their lives. They just want to retire and finish their lives in their beloved home. I am touched that so many resources and money are going to the reconstruction of this town primarily for its elderly inhabitants.
Image 3: Georgia Tech students and Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe of Okuma.
I am touched by our tour guides who are still tirelessly trying to make the city a home for themselves and for their loved ones. This is their home and their history, and they will continue to rebuild. I also believe it says a lot of the Japanese culture and their beliefs. They value tradition and innovation. They are rebuilding their communities that have significant history and taking the opportunity to do things better. They took the opportunity to convert to 100% renewable energy and have flooded their fields with solar panels and a hydrogen plant. I am very impressed with the determination of the government, the people, the businesses, and the overall community. I do believe the towns once affected by a triple disaster will be the epitome of a resilient community for others in the world to emulate.
Image 4: Georgia Tech students with our tour guides.
The United States and Japan have different transportation systems. There are a few contributing factors as to why their transportation system differs. For the Japanese, the first mode of transportation is the transit system within cities and to other cities. In the United States, the first mode of transportation is personal vehicles, and then airplanes for travel to other cities. The United States has cities with public transit services such as New York’s Subway, Boston’s T, San Francisco’s BART, and Atlanta’s MARTA, with some being better than others. While there are rails that connect cities to one another in the United States, it’s not used. This makes the carbon footprint per capita much higher in the United States than in Japan. With a handful of transit systems the US has, they don’t always meet the critical elements of a good transit system.
Effective transit transportation must be convenient, reliable, affordable, and enjoyable. Japan’s transit systems meets all of these criteria. There is a train station within walking distance in Tokyo, which allows the people of Japan to get anywhere in the city without the use of a car. Whereas in Atlanta, the chances of a station being near you or near your destination are very low, often causing the passenger to have to take multiple modes of transportation or walk long distances. The Japanese transit system is reliable. The trains always arrive on time within the minute and frequently serve stations. In cities like New York, there is a higher reliability rate, but in Atlanta, the MARTA is not as frequent and late up to 5 minutes. The Japanese transit system ensures that the passenger has an enjoyable ride. The cleanliness of the trains is unmatched. Every train car and train station is clean and well kept. Unfortunately, there have been far too many times within any transit system in the US that has smelled of human urine. With MARTA, the system is not convenient, reliable, affordable, nor enjoyable for the entire population of Atlanta. However, the transit system in Tokyo is equitable and accessible by all of its inhabitants.
Not only is the transit system not as effective within cities, but the United States does not have an effective system connecting other cities. To begin with, the sheer land size of the United States and Japan differs. The United States is 9.8 million sq. kilometers, and Japan is 378 thousand sq. kilometers. Because of its size, it is easier to create a transit system that connects all of the cities for a country like Japan. However, its size is no reason why the United States does not have an effective transportation system. Europe is 10.18 million square kilometers, yet it has an extensive transit system connecting cities across its countryside. Europeans use the train system to commute and to travel, which resembles how the system would be used here in the United States as well. European trains service 460 billion-passenger kilometers in a year in 2017 and Japan serviced 10 billion people in 2015. The size of the United States should not deter the United States from having an affective transportation system that connects its cities together. It is simply that the United States does not prioritize sustainable transportation like many other parts of the world.
However, Rail companies in Japan such as the JR East do prioritize and understand the importance of sustainable transportation. JR East is a Japanese company that has created the rails that span over the country side of Japan as well as metro Tokyo. They have a research facility that focuses on the safety and engineering of new technology as well as the human experience of their trains and stations. They are creating ground breaking innovations such as train break pads, single-hinged catenary wires, and battery powered mixed electric trains to name a few. Not only does JR East create innovative engineering solutions, they are also dedicated to researching the development and reduction of environmental loads with building more energy efficient power plants, more renewable energy sources, sustainable building systems, and energy saving snow removal. Even though JR East is focusing on more sustainable transportation with innovative solutions, they still have the passenger in mind. They also test the visibility of their signs depending on the height of the ceiling. They are also researching more ways for the person to scan by just walking through the gates. The facility is consistently looking for ways to make the ride more enjoyable and easier on the passenger through innovative technology. Much like the rest of the Japanese transit system, JR East has the passenger in mind and ensures they are comfortable and safe. JR East’s efforts are a part of Japan’s sustainable transit system and help make Japan be an inspiration for the United States to emulate.
The Tokyo transit system is an integral part of what allows the city to function the way it does. With a metro system that caters to around 8.5 million people daily, the most in the world, one would think the human experience would be the last feature in mind. However, the metro system is catered to insuring the passenger is comfortable and oriented. The Tokyo transit system is at the heart of Tokyo, and the human experience is at the heart of the transit system. Given the capacity of passengers, the cleanliness of the cars are fantastic. The cars and stations are kept in great condition. The first cart of some trains during non-peak hours is specifically reserved for women, pregnant women, elementary children, disabled, and elderly. The train cars are each air conditioned and adjusted to the amount of people detected after each stop. At the end of some of the stations, there is a blue light that is scientifically proven to elevate one’s mood. Suicide rates were reduced by 86% in stations were these blue lights were placed. There are also bird chirping noises, even when underground. The info graphics within the cars show where the exits are in comparison to the car you’re in to ensure you have the fastest exit. The features of the train station and the train have the passenger in mind.
Since these stations must be expansive and require multiple floors to house all of the lines traveling through, these stations have efficiently used the remainder of the land by commercializing the rest of the floors. Above the busiest stations, there is now even more of an incentive to come to these stations. With stations like Shinjuku and Tokyo, locals and tourists now flock to the stations for another purpose: retail shopping. Tokyo station caters to the infamous Ramen and Character Street whereas Shinjuku caters to multiple floors of department and boutique shops and food. While New York’s Grand Central Station has the Apple store, it does not compare to Shinjuku’s extensive retail floor plan. Since there are so many people moving through the station, it’s a great marketing strategy to have people walking through the hallways of its store. Not only is it a great marketing strategy for traveling passengers, it is a great strategy for the purpose of locating a mall.
If developers wanted to place a mall somewhere, why shouldn’t they look to placing it at a train system? If you want people to come to a mall, place it in a convenient location. The most convenient location is next to a train station. Train stations in Tokyo are highly regarded real estate. Office buildings will spring into the air wherever a train station is located. Development seems to have catered to the train stations. For instance, in Shinigawa, skyscrapers line the train station in all directions. At other stations, buildings surround all of the major train stations. The land surrounding the train stations is for offices and retail.
My last few days has been spent observing how Tokyo has created an expansive and effective transit system. For a city that has to move over 9 million people, its transit system needs to be effective and it certainly is. It certainly meets the elements of good transit system. Because of Tokyo’s comfortable and reliable transit system, millions of people are able to ride everyday and use the transit system as their main form of transportation.