Global Greening Lifestyles: Japan

What factors are influencing different countries in their approaches to green design and green living? Here we look at Japan.


Trending Meaning
Of late CultureofFuture has
been called to speak at a number of venues and more and more it is a request
for direction and meaning. The think tank Demos.fl of Finland brought us to
present a LoCarbon Lifestyle Trend presentation to 20 journalists and a
Meaningful Brands presentation to over 200 creatives in Helsinki via SUBtv.
Demos knows how to influence a topic forward! We will write more on this experience later, but it gave us many ideas one of which is a call to various trenders to submit content on meaningful trends.


Kristina and I met while presenting at the lovely Malmo,
Sweden sustainable design conference and exhibition. Kristina is
sharing here her perspective as she spends time in Japan.

Factors that influence
Japan’s approach to sustainability

Kristina Dryza,

Least possible wastage
Historically, the small size
of the country and its limited resources meant extravagance in the use of space
and materials was seen as immoral. Getting the most out of every thing is
deeply engrained in the Japanese psyche. This is why recycling is such a strong
feature of daily Japanese existence.


Blaine Brownell, an
architect and sustainable material researcher, said in an interview that many
Japanese architects practice sustainable design in Japan without necessarily
labeling it as such. They just naturally make the most of limited space and
resources with highly imaginative solutions. They are conscious of space and
know how to enhance it.

While today Tokyo is the
sky-high neon city we all know, there are still objects and utensils used whose
production hasn’t changed in centuries. The secret behind this long lastingness
according to the Louis Vuitton City Guide is “the simple fact that from their
origins, the objects produced in Edo were meant for daily use. They were
functional, adapted to the lives of ordinary citizens and not objects of grand
luxury intended for ostentatious display – like the daimyo – who held power.
They were designed in a spirit of craftsmanship where economic imperatives
(such as the least possible wasting of materials) were key.”

In previous centuries the
humility poverty instilled led the Japanese to appreciate a rustic simplicity.
This quiet dignity and Zen austerity still influences their designs today
allowing them to refine concepts down to their essence. True beauty is not
showy; it’s considered and thoughtful and gets to the heart of all things.


Life in Japan is driven by
the seasons. The four seasons are so clearly felt, seen and experienced, and
the whole culture supports the celebration and acknowledgment of seasonality.

Japanese cuisine especially
places paramount importance on expressing the joys of each season. For example,
Japanese sweets (called wagashi) represent
the different seasons with both elegance and feeling. They are inspired both by
nature and emotion, and express natural and abstract phenomena. These sweets
are to be served graciously, enjoyed leisurely and appreciated delicately and
attentively. Each bite brings with it the emotion of the season.

The Japanese also know when
each food is in its prime – like the first harvest of a seasonal crop – whether
it’s bamboo shoots, melons or wild mushrooms. The ‘first of the season’ idea is
incredibly important to a culture so attuned to the cycles of nature.


Attention to detailThe Japanese ability to
attend to details is what made the nation the economic powerhouse it is
today. Their efficiency and precision is known the world over. This attention
to detail and the ubiquitous pursuit of perfectionism leads to fast adaptation,
compact editing and their clean, modern design aesthetic.

Shigeru Uchida in his book
‘Japanese Interior Design – Its Cultural Origin’ says the physical sensibility
of the “culture of sitting down” and “culture of taking off shoes” means the
Japanese pay attention to fine details. “People of the climate, of the forests,
sit on the earth and observe nature, imagine and infer. Their attitude is one
that pays careful attention to very subtle occurrences, and one that discovers
beauty hidden in fine details. The manner of being one with nature is felt by
listening to the insects in the garden, appreciating the changing seasons and
admiring the glories of nature in the peaceful flow of time.” These
sensibilities are directly reflected in the design of Japanese spaces.

Traditional Japanese flower
arrangement (called ikebana) is not
just about floral display. It’s used as a tool to convey the creator’s own


Flowers and plants aren’t
just beautiful, pretty things to be admired – they have their own energy. Ikebana artists learn to read and
enhance the energy these plants have. As nature tries to grow to the sun, the ikebana artist finds the best expression
for each branch by finding its ‘front face’ – its highest possible

By reading deeper into the
energy it’s possible to have a two-way communication with nature that enhances
the artist’s own creative expression. Ikebana
teaches its students to step back and see the bigger picture, yet also to
pay attention to details. Ikebana
artists learn to work in multiple dimensions balancing space, containers and

But one of the central
aspects of ikebana is the
appreciation for the different stages of nature, respecting each of the changes
that happen to a tree. For example, the wilting bark, the falling leaf and the
hole the bug made in the leaf. As Kisho Kurokawa, an architect, concurs, “We
used to consider things that could live forever to be beautiful. But this way
of thinking has been exposed as a lie. True beauty lies in things that die,
things that change.”


Sense of quality
It’s well known that the
Japanese have a keen sense of quality. But more than that, they have a deep
respect for exquisite quality that goes beyond the product to include the
person who sells the item to them, the creator, and any thing and every person
that touches the item in between. This sense of holism means the Japanese look
beyond the surface of things and equally judge quality by what is not visible
to the naked eye.

Japanese concept of beauty
Soetsu Yanagi, a famed
handicraft authority, described the keys to Japanese beauty using the terms shibui, yugen and myo. Myo refers to a special spirit that
imbues the truly beautiful, a spirit that goes beyond mechanical skill to
express a delicate mystery. Yugen
expresses both a mystery and subtlety that lies modestly beneath the surface of
things in delicate, perfect harmony. And shibui
refers to a restrained, highly refined beauty that epitomises classic
simplicity and also exhibits the quality of myo
and yugen.

This is why there is
artistic merit in almost every item in the Japanese home. This holistic
approach to beauty leads the Japanese to have a refined aesthetic sense that
they take with them into all aspects of their lives.


Bringing the outside in
Gardens in Japan aren’t just
for palaces or Zen monasteries, but to be brought into one’s own world. The
Japanese have always been bringing the outside into their homes and office
buildings. As author Boye Lafayette De Mente says, “Shintoism, the native
Japanese religion, holds that all things in nature, including trees and rocks,
have a spiritual essence of their own. In this philosophy, the apprentice
carpenter cannot fully master his craft until he is able to recognise and
respect the spirit of the wood used in his trade.”

Learning to look to the
spirit that lies beyond all things means nature is not something separate to
the Japanese. Bringing things that are a part of nature into their surroundings
is essential to promote the flow of spiritual harmony.

Some examples of these
approaches in practice:

Least possible wastage

Reben is a wall paint that
consists of powdered Japanese washi
(paper), seaweed glue, scallop-shell powder, titanium dioxide and natural
pigments that actually ‘clean’ the air:


Seasons As the season’s change, so
do the look and taste of Toraya’s sweets:

 Attention to detail
Utilising computer network
technology, Toyota’s new Home Energy Management System can
display the amount of energy consumption and control operations of home

The Cerulean Tower Tokyu
Hotel employs ikebana artist Eikou Sumura to craft installations as a
form of communication with their guests:


 Sense of quality
The directors of 21_21
Design Sight – Issey Miyake, Taku Satoh and Naoto Fukasawa – each create in
different mediums and exhibitions here are testament to their holistic view of

Japanese concept of beauty
The porcelain in designer
Gaku Otomo’s tea cups is so fine, green tea literally ‘shines’ through:

Another view: Leonard Koren’s classic books on Japan explore Wabi Sabi For Artists and Poets, Japanese Flower Arranging and How To Take A Japanese Bath.
For complete collection of books on Japan:


 Bringing the outside inThe ‘Fiber City: Tokyo 2050’
concept describes four strategies – Green Finger, Green Web, Green Partition
and Urban Wrinkle – for an alternative metropolis:

of Future is Jody Turner, the founder, and Kathy Baylor, the VP of research.
Jody holds US West Coast and European perspectives from San Francisco and Los
Angeles, while Kathy covers Asia and East Coast perspective from NYC and

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About the author

A dynamic social researcher, cultural narrator, future trendhunter and strategic designer, Jody Turner works and speaks globally via her west coast company and the London group Client engagements have included Apple, BMW, StyleVision France, Adidas, Starbucks, The Gap, Unilever Istanbul and multiple others


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