For those trying to think about the effect of their lifestyle on the environment, traveling responsibly can be difficult, especially if you don’t speak the language or know the culture of your destination. While there are more and more movements towards sustainability in Japan, convenience is still something that is made a priority in big cities like Tokyo, which can mean a lot of plastic, paper, and other sorts of waste. And many of those conveniences are put in place to make things easier for tourists as well. But if you want to travel responsibly, there are some small changes you can make during your time in Japan to reduce the amount you consume.
1. Refuse Plastic Bags with this Simple Japanese
Culturally, wrapping is an important practice. When giving someone a gift, or handing a customer a purchased item, having taken the time to carefully package an item and make it presentable is incredibly important. Traditional wrapping itself is incredibly eco-friendly! Furoshiki, square cotton cloths, used to be a common covering that was artfully tied around gifts.
Nowadays, you’ll see that paper and plastic bags abound. If you make a small purchase at a convenience store, unless you specifically ask the clerk not to, they will immediately put your purchase in a plastic bag. Memorize one of these simple Japanese phrases, or let’s be real, you can also communicate this in English or by taking a screenshot to tell your clerk you don’t need a bag.
EX 1: No thank you! (regarding the bag)
Fukuro wa kekkou desu.
EX 2: I don’t need a bag!
Fukuro wa irimasen.
If you make multiple purchases on a day out shopping, you can also ask for your items to be placed in a bag you already received.
EX 3: Do you mind consolidating my things into one bag?
Matomete onaji fukuro ni irete itadaite ii desuka?
Okay, this one is a mouthful for people who aren’t keen on learning Japanese…. But gestures are also a great way of showing staff you want your things together.
2. Pick up a Japanese Towel Handkerchief for Drying Your Hands
This is a great chance to get a nice souvenir while reducing your paper waste. People in Japan still bring handkerchiefs with them on a daily basis. This is super handy for the hot and humid summer months when you might need to wipe the perspiration from your face before an important meeting. It’s also common to have small towel handkerchiefs for use in public restrooms in lieu of one-time use paper towels. This is a big recommendation not only for your time in Japan, but also as a good habit to consider bringing back home! In addition to being a fun buy and a great gift, these handkerchiefs can literally be found everywhere, from small neighborhood shopping streets to department stores. Handkerchiefs come in infinite colors and designs, so plenty of options.
3. Don’t Overbuy Toiletries or Toss Leftovers
When travelling, a lot of people opt for the “I can buy it when I get there mindset.” And for several things, this is true. However, this way of thinking can also lead to a lot of waste. Purchasing shampoo in hard plastic bottles only to throw them out half full might be something people expect of travel, but it’s not very eco-friendly. We suggest if you want to purchase toiletries after landing, that you go to a store that offers travel goods that you can use time and time again. One of Japan’s most popular shops, Mujirushi, has a huge selection of travel goods that can be bought at a low price and used time and time again. And if you don’t want to carry around your toiletries, purchasing samples is a good way to avoid wasting things you didn’t get the chance to use and throwing out reusable plastics. It also doesn’t hurt to check and see if your hotel or AirBnB offers free soaps. In that case, the best way to avoid waste is to simply use the freebies.
And finally, many hostels have a ‘Leave Something Take Something’ basket in the shared area. In the cast that you overbuy, consider leaving the rest for someone else.
4. Think Twice About Vending Machines
We know exploring the novelty of vending machines in Japan is something special. They offer unique seasonal drinks you can only find here, from hot canned coffee to fizzy drinks with jelly. And we totally understand, who would want to pass these up! It’s alright to have a treat once in a while, but being selective and keeping track of how many things you purchase can help you reduce the amount of plastic bottles you consume. If you want to try specialty drinks, then consider not purchasing bottled water. Coming to Japan with a lightweight canteen/reusable bottle will really come in handy. In places like Tokyo, tap water is drinkable, so we recommend filling up your bottle at the beginning of each day. Not only is this good for the environment, but it will help your budget as well, as a 500ml bottle of water will on average cost between 100 and 130 JPY.
5. Separate your trash at home!
When travelling to Japan for the first time, some people are surprised by the lack of public trash cans.
Where do people throw their trash?
When on the go, if you have garbage there’s a simple courtesy that people here abide by: bring your trash home. Sometimes, especially if people are out for an entire day or going for a hike or some similar activity, they’ll carry a small bag just for garbage with them. Recently, you’ll see that most convenience stores have garbage cans meant for customers who either eat at the eat-in spaces, or outside the entrance. If you have a lot of plastic trash, it might seem like a good shortcut to sneak a bag into a convenience store garbage bin, but taking your trash back to your accommodation and separating it for recycling is the more responsible route.
6. Rent SIM or WIFI instead of Buying a Prepaid SIM
Finally, this is a pretty big one when it comes to travel! Most people look to stay connected during their travels, and pre-paid SIMs have become increasingly popular. The downside to these popular cards that make it easy to connect literally anywhere in the world (oftentimes for a low price) is that there is so much waste involved. Just look at the card above. For a thumbnail-sized SIM, a credit card sized piece of hard plastic is often used in packaging. The SIM card itself is made of a combination of ingredients including silicon, plastic, and metals such as aluminium, copper, and a thin outer layer of GOLD. So yes, when you toss a SIM Card, you are throwing some 24K in the trash! Instead of purchasing prepaid SIMs, consider using a SIM Rental or WIFI Rental. There are several, providers out there, but we can suggest out partner, CDJapan Rental for low prices and great customer service.
So is environmental responsibility something you consider when you you travel? How do you reduce your footprint?