Japan and the US have cultural and environmental differences that affect how we dispose of waste. Factors such as size, rule following, and stigmas influence the MSW systems.
The main difference that has influenced Japan’s MSW system is how much less usable land than the US does. Without extra space, they can’t use landfills as easily. In lecture, we learned about how you can’t put a building on top of a landfill because of how the landfill sinks over time. People also don’t want to live near a landfill, so Japan can’t waste the space on top of or around a landfill. They do have some landfills, like the one we visited in Sakai Solar Power Station. They built a solar farm on top of the landfill because solar panels are light and it’s ok if they sink.
In both countries it is illegal to cross a crosswalk when the light is red. Japanese people, for the most part, wait at the red light even if there are no cars. In the US, if you can cross without getting run over, you will. Japanese people tend to follow the formal and informal institutions. Americans like to defy the system and be individual. I think that is part of the reason for Japan’s MSW system. The Japanese will take the time to sort their trash before throwing it away. Having pre-sorted trash makes waste management easier and they can incinerate waste more effectively and recycle more products.
Since Japan is an island country, they have a lot of access to the ocean. They can use waste to build more land, something they need. The US doesn’t really have a need for more land, nor is the ocean a big part of our daily life (depends on where you live). We also have stricter regulations on what we put into the water. Japan uses their incinerated waste when they build the islands. The US doesn’t have many incinerators to make these islands anyway. Incinerators have a bad reputation in the US even though they have been proven to work in other countries.
Both countries have MSW systems that are different but come from each countries values and resources. Both systems could improve, but they function well in their own ways.
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.
While traveling around Japan, I’ve noticed differences in people’s behavior, language, food, and modes of transportation. People in Keihanshin seem to be more relaxed and less rushed. There are still a lot of people who are serious and busy, but less than in Tokyo. We also talked about the differing dialects between the two regions. I’ve noticed the accent is a bit lower sounding here, but it’s hard for me to tell.
There are different food specialties in different regions around Japan. One of my classmates asked about the food I ate so far and I talked about Okonomiyaki from Hiroshima. He said I have to try Osakan style, because different regions have different versions of the food. I tried some yesterday in Osaka and watched the different way it was made. Personally, I prefer Hiroshima style, but I will try more to make sure. I’ve also noticed that there are more cars in Keihanshin. There’s been more traffic and we have to take a bus to get to class. We talked in class about how there are more cars in this region compared to Tokyo, but still a good amount of public transportation.
Japan has regional differences that are more easily defined than regions in the US. People from Keihanshin seem to have an somewhat unified identity, but it’s more difficult to find people in an area like the South with a collective identity. Americans define themselves as American, rather than a Southerner, for example. There are some regional differences in the US, such as accents and behaviors (laid back west coast, polite south, etc.) and some foods (deep dish pizza, pecan pie). Since Americans come from many different backgrounds, they each have their own traditions, but still share common traditions like thanksgiving. People are mixed all around the country and people within a region can be completely different. There are regionalistic similarities but it’s difficult to group these areas together because of the diversity of people living there. Maybe this is true in Japan too, but I haven't noticed it so far.
(First of all: apologies in advance for pictures being sideways and videos being linked instead of embedded. GT is giving me an error when I try to embed the images and videos. I will try to fix the issues for next post.)
In some areas, Japan’s technological progress has amazed me. However, I am surprised that such an advanced country is lacking in other areas.
One of the technologies that I first encountered, and have grown to love, are the toilets. There are so many options to make the experience comfortable. Often, there are cleaning wipes so you can sit directly on the seat (they are heated!). Most of these features are more for comfort than sustainability, but there are environmental and social features too. Many of the toilets I’ve used have settings for different flush levels to save water, including the toilets in our dorms. This toilet also has a faucet on the top, so when you flush it refills the toilet and you can rinse your hands simultaneously (not gross toilet water, regular sink water). This feature saves water, although I am still trying to figure out where hand soap comes in this process (I feel weird not using soap, so I wash my hands after the toilet rinse). There are also baby holders in some of the public bathrooms I’ve encountered. This is helpful for mothers to bring their children on errands so they can be more time efficient. I doubt there is the same in the men’s restrooms, but if they incorporated that, it would be great for increasing gender equality.
Another technology I have encountered is sliding automatic doors. In the states, most automatic doors are in supermarkets where you would be carrying bags. In Japan, almost all doors I’ve encountered are automatic doors. I’ve become so used to them that when I encounter a door I have to push or pull, I do a double take. These doors help prevent germs from spreading since there are no handles. They are also helpful for older people or people with disabilities who might have a hard time opening the doors. They allow for people to have their hands full, maybe carrying a child or bags. Another benefit is that the sliding doors take up less space which helps with the high population density. Overall, automatic sliding doors are a sustainable in a variety of ways. One downside might be that they use electricity, but this can be a neutral effect if the electricity comes from a reusable source.
One smart technology that has the potential to be so much more sustainable are vending machines. There are so many vending machines in Japan. Unfortunately, almost all the bottles are made of plastic. While there are receptacles for these bottles specifically, reducing plastic use is much more effective than recycling in terms of sustainability. In my opinion, the vending machines don’t have to disappear, but they could instead use dispensing vending machines. There are fancy Coca-Cola machines in Atlanta that pour a huge variety of drinks while being easy and fun to use. They don’t incorporate a payment system, but if the price was set by the type and amount of beverage, this could eliminate the need for bottles. At Tech, everyone carries around a water bottle. If people in Japan had personal water bottles and refilled them with any drink from a vending machine, the plastic use would go down dramatically while still being profitable. One minor issue is figuring out how to refill these machines, which would be harder than with bottles but certainly doable.
Japan has many smart technologies that make the country sustainable. There are areas where they could improve, and I hope they do. I also hope we implement some of these useful technologies in the US and other countries. One major lesson I’ve learned on this trip so far, is that all the countries in the world could learn a little bit more from each other; that would be nice.
I think I have ridden on long distance trains in Italy when I was younger, but I don’t remember much of riding on the train. I can remember the stations being smaller with less stores and all the trains were on the same floor area. The stations were more chaotic, with similar amounts of people, but everyone walks everywhere. Here in Japan the walkways are more clearly defined and people are generally more organized. I was surprised when our train was delayed because of an issue with the tracks, but getting on another train was also surprisingly easy.
Thankfully, with my luggage, the train stations have all been within a 10-minute walk from our hotels. It is difficult to carry stuff up or down the stairs when there are no escalators. Because the stations are bigger on the inside, it’s been hard to get around especially with all the stairs. I feel like if I had less stuff to carry it would be perfect. Finding the platform has been really easy. I just look for the Shinkansen signs and find the platform for the area we are going. It hasn’t been confusing at all for me and I like how they have time displays and directions everywhere.
In terms of comfort, the Shinkansen is incredibly smooth. My stomach can get a little confused when we accelerate because it’s so fast, but I haven’t felt sick. I also really enjoy looking out the window. I know the new Shinkansen they’re building is supposed to be mostly underground, which is unfortunate, but worth the speed increase. These trains are very exciting to me as an engineering student and riding on them is a lot of fun. I wish I could take trains all the time in the US.
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.
There are four main elements that good transit service requires. In all those areas, the US lags behind Japan. From our lectures in 3232 and “Does the Future of Mobility Depend on Public Transportation?” by Dr. Watkins, the four elements of good transit are:
If travel is a utility, then mobility must be a service
Spatial priority must be given to collective transportation modes
Focus first on service, then on technology
“Scientia potential est” – knowledge is power
During our tours, I witnessed Japan implementing these points.
In Tokyo, transit is a utility that anyone can use. While not all the stations are disability accessible, they are working towards adding more wheelchair friendly paths. I mentioned the rubber paths for blind people in my previous post, which makes me believe that Japan values mobility as a service for the people. JR East, a rail company in Tokyo, talked about their priorities as a company (see below). They valued passenger safety highly. By focusing on servicing people, Japan makes transportation sustainable because it benefits people socially by giving them access to any place they need to go. Compared to MARTA, the Tokyo transit massively out serves the Atlanta system. It’s hard to believe that the US values mobility as a service, if it is restricted to people who have access to cars. Many people in Atlanta have no means of getting around and thus live in food deserts/swamps where they can’t access healthy food.
In Tokyo, the trains rule. By that I mean that they have priority over other vehicles. By being in Japan, I’ve witnessed a hierarchy of transportation. Trains have the highest right of way, followed by people and bikes, then cars. People do have to wait at stop lights for cars, but in many places there are significantly more people walking than driving, and the allowed walk time seems to be longer than in the US. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible in the US because everything is so spread out. Even though we have a lower density, that shouldn’t stop us from getting better access to public transit. If anything, it makes it more important because everything is farther apart.
The US likes to try out new technology without really thinking about why it should be used. We talked about Hyperloop during lecture and how it’s being implemented in places where it’s not really necessary. Transportation should be used to fulfill a need in the community, and we should find technology to fit those needs. Not try to create needs that don’t exist to find uses for technology. JR is working on lines to decrease the travel time and decrease congestion on trains. As people use the system more and more, they are able to expand their services which then allows more people to use it.
Lastly, information must be available to the consumers. MARTA has their on the go app – which I haven’t used because they have the times in the stations and the map is really simple. I haven’t used the bus system, but the trains have been mostly on time. In Tokyo, there are train apps that I haven’t used either, but information about the system is readily available both inside and outside the trains. It would be cool to track the trains in live time, but it’s almost not necessary because the trains are always on time here.
I didn’t mean to bash the US in this blog, but I can’t think of many positives to our transit system, especially in Atlanta. There are plans to improve MARTA at least. Unfortunately, they will take at least a decade to implement and I’m not sure how some of the features, like streetcars will be effective if they have to compete with cars. I hope we can improve our transit system faster and follow some of the more successful systems in the world.
Tokyo’s transit system seemed very overwhelming just by looking at the complex line map. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get anywhere without following someone. After riding a few times, I not only felt safe, but I felt like I could get anywhere.
Information about the lines can be easily found at many places throughout the station, like in the picture above. There are signs for arrival times and directional signs pointing to the line name and where they lead to. The directional signs have symbols like arrows and escalators that give visual clues on where to go. In the picture below, the floor is marked with areas where people should wait in line for the trains. The footprints make lining up easy and intuitive.
Even when the stations are packed, it is not too difficult to get around. It is harder because we have a large group, and sometimes we got in the way of the flow of people. But most people travel alone or in small groups, which makes it easier to navigate the crowd. The system makes the flow easier by a stations are designed to make moving around easier with a variety of floor markings. Like the footprints, there are other kinds of queue markings (picture below). There are also arrows pointing to which side of the walkway and stairways to walk on.
I also found out the rubber paths (picture above) along the floor are for blind people to follow which I thought was a really smart way to help them get around. Also in the picture above, there are gates where the train lines up to. This barrier makes me feel more protected around the tracks.
The most amazing part to me is how subtle and organized everything is. The signs and directions and information on the train are very intuitive and the system is reliable, making it trustworthy even to newcomers. Even though the map seems daunting at first, it’s designed to be easy to learn.