In lecture on Thursday, we discussed the historical development of MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) management policies in Japan and the United States. Both countries started creating legal policies for waste in the mid-1900s for environmental protection. The Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA) of 1965 was the first US MSW law enacted, and the Waste Management Act of 1970 in Japan became its framework for MSW policy. The beginnings of waste policies were very similar in timeliness, yet today we see that these countries look very different with how they handle waste.
As I discussed in my last post, Japan policy has created a majority incineration-based management while the US relies more on landfills. This is fairly logical from a space argument; the US is much less dense of a country than Japan and has space (for now at least) for landfills. Space solutions are similar for radioactive waste as it is literally just sitting in storage facilities because there's no long term solution for what to do with it. Space is our asset for waste in this country.
Japan, on the other hand, is small and highly populated—and the space used for landfills becomes unproductive (or can't be used for many other activities). Our field trip to the solar panel center showed one way the Kansai region is making use of a landfill as a spot for solar panels. The choice of incineration allows for Japan to save space, and its visually cleaner than landfills.
So space is a large factor in the choice of how to get rid of waste. But looking at the effectiveness of these policies also requires an understanding of what is being thrown away. Japan and the US have different definitions of what MSW is, and what should be recycled. In the United States, MSW includes bottles and corrugated boxes, food, grass clippings, furniture, computers, tires and refrigerators. In Japan, consumer recycling policy is more refined to include home appliances, and fertilizer and feed producers. These were put into policy by the Home Appliance Recycling Law (2001), which is intended to promote the recycling of useful parts and reduces the amount of unwanted household appliances in local landfills. Additionally, the Food Recycling law of 2000 called for a recycle loop for feed and fertilizers.
A comparative outcome is this: approximately 50% of solid wastes are recycled in Japan, compared to about 30% in the United States. Japan's recycling efforts have increasing at a higher rate than the US has since policy was originally instituted.
The reasons for more effective policy in the United States appear to be cultural, as we discussed in breakout groups the other day. Japan has a concept called "Mottainai," which means treasuring and using things for as long as possible. I think as Americans, this practice of conservation was more common during the Great Depression, but today, we have a culture of planned obsolescence—things are made to be finite. We're also trendy, and we (specifically my generation) replaces things quickly as they fall out of style. And because MSW policies aren't very strict in the country at the household level, the result is a lot of disorganized waste.
Through transit, and now through waste management, I've found that the United States can learn a lot from Japan.
One of the more blatant lifestyle differences that I noticed upon arriving to Japan was the way they categorize common trash, or Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). The English translation on every trash can here denotes itself as a "combustible" or "incombustible." Instead of the USA, where a majority of our trash goes to landfills, in Japan, a majority of MSW is incinerated.
As an American, this took a second to adjust to. But now that I'm in an apartment where it's very important to separate our trash correctly, I've learned that:
Combustibles are food waste, and anything else denotedly burnable (such as paper)
Incombustibles: these are commonly divided up in the following two categories
Cans and bottles
Plastic packaging and trays
It's seemingly more complex than our system in the US, where the bright blue bins denote recycling. But the rules of recycling in the US are non-specific and are unclear to many people. I found this out many times in my high school's Environmental Club, where we would take out recycling bags that were full of sticky soda, food waste and still see piles of paper in the trash cans next to them.
From my experiences so far, it seems like there is much more responsibility taken on a personal level to throw away trash correctly. Combustibles and incombustibles taken for disposal appear to be much neater than the ones I've seen in the US.
(garbage to be picked up in New York City)
(recycling to be picked up in Japan)
As a result, recycling is a significant part of the waste stream in Japan. Japan's recycling rate for beverage cans is said to be 87.4% (Global Recycling Magazine). And Japanese total waste volume in the 2014 fiscal year was 437 Mt (million tons), with 89.9% industrial waste and 10.1% municipal waste. The amount of recirculated resources derived from this waste was 50.6% of the total waste volume. ("Current State and Trend of Waste and Recycling in Japan"). Efforts as seen in the data to separate things that can be recycled from combustibles allows for resource conservation and cleaner incineration processes.
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.
Our travel week is over :( but now we're in Kobe studying with a class twice the size of us! We talked about smart cities in our first lecture together. A smart city is one that uses digital ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) and other new technologies to improve citizen's lives. These new technologies can help promote sustainable development by providing data and increasing efficiency for all groups of people. They also have the potential to make a country more resilient, as seen in earthquake-resistant structures. There are several ways that I've seen Japan fit the mold of a sustainable city. Although some of these technologies seem unnecessary, Japan is a clear leader for integrating smart technologies for environmental efforts and social inclusion.
My immediate observations about tech here is its appearance in food. On Ramen Street, we ordered by pressing a button. Other places, I've ordered by an app.
Toilets are also honestly an amazing technology here. As a combination of western design and eastern bidet practices, it is amenable to many people. The toilets in our new apartments have a built in sink that also pours water in to refill the tank.
Both the food and toilet technology may seem small, but they're contributing a lot to sustainability issues in the country. Tech in restaurants helps limit the number of people needed to run it—and for a country that's losing its workforce this is a practical solution for the future. Toilets with built-in faucets help conserve water and space.
Our tour of Giken way back in week one was another example of smart technologies. Their silent press-in system helps eliminate noise emitted by construction. Their Eco-Park design also conserves space and saves people time by providing an automated valet.
When I think of unnecessary technologies, my usual frame of reference is thinking about how that time/money could have been spent more effectively. For example, when we visited Fukushima, our tour started with a movie played at the TEPCO decommissioning archive center. The video was combined elements of digital and paper media to illustrate the explosions, and part of the video was projected on the ground. It was a really well-designed movie but it lacked any discussion about how TEPCO is trying to make a change. What else could've been done in the time to make that very tech-savvy video? Maybe increased efforts to help people more who were personally affected by the mistakes made during the nuclear disaster.
That being said, smart technologies are being introduced in Fukushima. Solar panels are becoming common, and hydrogen as a source of power is being explored in the region. New sources of energy can help improve citizen's lives and safety.
As seen, there are many instances where Japan is investing into smart technologies. Some are small, but almost all are improving citizen quality of life. Other efforts may not really be necessary, but I also recognize the functionality of technology also varies by the person. The fact that Japan is working on tech-involved parking systems and forms of energy illustrates how much of a leader it has become in the realm of sustainability.
I write this at about 200 mph as scenery flies past my window on the Shinkansen (or "bullet train"). We just passed by Mount Fuji, and watching it while the sun set by it was one of the most beautiful moments on this trip so far.
The Shinkansen is fast, but the energy around the train is rather slow and calm compared to the anxiety-filled and packed trains within Tokyo. For one, there are less people on the train than a typical subway in Tokyo at any time of the day. Another factor is seating. In intercity rides around Tokyo, lucky passengers can find a seat around the perimeter of the car and the rest are standing, packed together as needed. On some monorails and longer routes, like one of our trains to Fukushima, seats face each other for a more casual social atmosphere—although sometimes this has standing patrons too. But on the Shinkansen, seats are organized in rows like on a plane. At least in our car, no one had to stand and we had seats to spare. We had leg space too, which was such a luxury. The calmness I felt on this ride came largely from having this reserved space.
My first blog post discussed how train stations in Tokyo make use of their land for retail space, and places like Tokyo Station have entire streets within them. Further from the city, stations are less complex. When we arrived in Fukushima prefecture, our station was just a roof to cover some standing space along with some Suica card readers. At these stations there's less options for where to go—which for me, a tourist, meant less of an information overload. I could imagine those living in more rural regions like this may be limited by this, or choose other forms of transportation like cars or buses.
I was able to experience other forms of transit after getting off the Shinkansen at Kyoto for our next few days of this travel leg. Kyoto is a beautiful, mountainous region that is my favorite area so far. In this new megaregion, I found that getting around was somewhat different from Tokyo. Attractions here are further apart, and I got around by bus and subway (about half each). Trains were notably older than the ones I rode on in Tokyo, and all had an old style of velvet seats.
Navigating by bus, I found, was similar to intercity trains since they were standing room and often packed, and each stop was announced by intercom so navigation was fairly simple. One difficulty however is that the bus stops are not centralized like in a station and it can be tricky here to find where to get on. We waited at one stop for awhile until a helpful shopkeeper kindly told us we were going in the wrong direction. Another difficulty of buses is from their classification as C transportation—they aren't removed from surrounding traffic, and it stopped frequently. Overall, due to comfort and efficiency I would usually choose a train over bus.
Tomorrow, we'll head off to Hiroshima by way of Shinkansen again. I've really enjoyed getting around this way and am already not looking forward to getting home to my car in suburban Atlanta.
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.
Having completed our crash course in the Tokyo transit system on day one of INTA 3232, Smart and Sustainable Megaregion, we moved on to a tour of JR East to learn its process of Research and Development. From what I've seen today, efforts towards making transportation more sustainable are much more systemically-focused in Japan, whereas the US sustainability is more often targeted towards flashy technology and still lags much behind in providing effective transit service.
To understand what it means to have an effective transit system, our lecture prefacing the field trip had us consider factors why we choose (or more commonly, not choose) to ride MARTA while at Tech. Our ideas fell under the seven demands for useful service:
It takes me where I want to go
It takes me when I want to go
It is a good use of my time
It is a good use of my money
I can trust it
It gives me freedom (to change my plans)
In my adventures the past few days, my personal seven demands for useful service have been fulfilled easily: I've been able to take a train to a stop within easy walking distance to my destination; I have never waited more than five minutes for a train; I've saved a lot by not having to Uber anywhere. The biggest thing for me is that I can get across central Tokyo in less than 30 minutes, which has allowed me to explore so much of this city in a jam-packed couple of days.
This is effective transit.
(at least from my personal experience)
Having this experience has made me realize what Atlanta could be with a better system. Personally, I could live at home if MARTA had a grid system within the perimeter, and the rush hour flow into and out of the city could be cut down immensely if rail options satisfied the demands of useful service.
All of this being said, effective transit can only truly be called that if it's also sustainable; it meets the demands of the three-legged stool model:
…be economically viable, environmentally conservative, and socially equitable
Our first transit tour (discussed in my previous entry) proved that JR East is economically viable; selling the land around the rail lines for retail brings in enough to make a profit sans government subsidies (as is the case in the US). This was also clear when we took the tour on Thursday through the sheer amount of funding for research, which is currently focused on the social and environmental development of transit. With one research center focused on environmental engineering, JR East has developed a rail system relying wholly on electricity (the US relies on gas when electric power is low). The company is also developing solar panel technology to be used in train stations. In the social realm, this JR East is designing Suica card readers that are shaped to accommodate people in wheelchairs, and they are also creating effective barriers to prevent people from jumping off the platform. Apart from what they're making, JR East is also focused on disaster prevention methods, testing out the strength of their concrete. As seen, a lot is being done to continually improve this already-developed system of transit.
In contrast, what we're seeing in the US is a lot of hype about Tesla, Uber, and Bird scooters, when none of them are actually reducing the amount of cars and emissions on the road. It makes me wonder why places like Atlanta aren't trying to grow their public transit system as their populations continue to grow, but apart from the politics around it, I think there are some distinct cultural reasons. We find value in private ownership so much in this country—in high school, owning a car can be a popularity status, and as an adult, owning luxury vehicles also show a higher status. Having to share transit with others—at least for now—is seen as lower class, whereas in Japan I've been able to see people of various wealth ride the train. In our country, a cultural shift may need to happen to fully bring about a major public transit system, used by all. Of course, this is an oversimplification, as our socio-economic and political landscape is much different than Japan. But after our tour of JR East, I believe this is the right direction of development.
In a categorically "good" transit service, all people are able to get from one desired point to the next: quickly and safely…and, in context with our learnings from INTA 2050, transit today also shouldn’t affect the ability for future generations to have safe and accessible transport.From this interpretation, the goodness of transportation is simple to conceptualize. Developing a good transportation system, however, is much more difficult, which I've discovered today especially.
From a basic standpoint, how do you successfully move the mass amount of people that make up Tokyo ?
But within the words "quick" and "safe" also are the following questions…
How do you encourage people to live healthy and mobile lives?
How do you make public transit safe for young children and accessible for persons with disabilities?
How do you protect women from sexual assault on their way to work?
How do you prevent suicides by train?...and much more.
From this, transit is really a multidisciplinary system. When you unpack what it requires for everyone to feel safe, and everyone to get where they need efficiently, it's incredibly overwhelming.
But overwhelming is certainly the Tokyo rail system.
Almost all of Japan is fully-controlled rapid transit, which allows people to move from stops at a time completely removed from interfering traffic. I experienced this several times on the tour today, through multiple forms of transit: rapid rail, monorail, and automated guideway. In this experience, I found that Tokyo has an amazing transit system that's still improving and is seeking to answer questions of user experience and sustainability that I've never known of other cities to do.
My immediate amazement was by the efficiency of the rail system. I never waited more than five minutes for a train, and we rode a combination of express and local lines which allowed us to travel both short and longer distances without having to wait for many other stops. Today made me realize more of the sheer size of this city's population; trains typically ran every few minutes and were still packed with people. And these people were of all ages, indicating the inclusivity of this service. I saw several people offer their seats to older passengers, and later in the day, I found myself riding on a women-only car, which helps increase gender-oriented safety.
Having no knowledge of Japanese, I found that this system is also still fairly easy to navigate; all trains are alphanumerically designated and with its compatibility with apps like Google maps, I can find the quickest route and the specific trains I need to switch to. Beyond efficiency, what I was the most amazed by was how this city has made transit a lifestyle. As we rode the monorail, I noticed seats facing each other filled with people chatting on their way to the airport.
Later, at Tokyo station, I saw Transit-Oriented Development at work as we entered a station with 14 floors of retail. I was able to spend some time there the following day at "Character Street" and "Ramen Street": two hallways filled with stores for the best gifts and meals. By this, Tokyo has developed a whole economy around their public transportation. This lifestyle is also created through aesthetic. Like a standard Japanese home, the railway stations are pristine: no trash, lots of light, and beautiful commissioned artwork throughout.
I learned that the art choices here are more than just beautiful. Incorporating blue light into some stations is a form of suicide prevention as the color psychologically makes humans happier. These small details could save lives.
I hesitate to say that Japan has a perfect rail system, because I've only experienced it for a few days. That being said, I've yet to find any fault to it in my experience and am in awe of the efficiency and lifestyle that I discussed above. Now I have a better sense of how to get around here, and am excited to try out new forms of transit, such as the Shinkansen, in the following week.