Ideas for a Sustainable Future: What We Can Learn from Japan

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Japanese policy towards innovation and domestic production has seen a major turnaround in the 80s. Japanese government set a new initiative: to not copy from the West, but to learn from the West and to do it better. In many ways the Japanese government and its people succeeded. Japanese tech industry in now producing the most-high tech products imaginable. Dedication and diligence in work Japanese people are known for have produced major advances in urban planning, artificial intelligence, nuclear power research and other fields that that will surely increase in weight as years go by.
In addition to that, and I’ve been thinking this for a long time now, there is a lot we can learn from Japan not technologically but personally, as people from people. It may very well be that Japanese unique culture has sides to it that are best suited for what the future holds for us.
Speaking of future, uncertainty and sustainability, it would be a mistake to leave out takeaways from the social world, which includes unique insights from the fields of education, politics and, of course, entrepreneurship.
Urban Farming
The reasons behind advancements in urban planning and urban agriculture in Japan come from unique geographic features. Considering the size of its population, Japan has really small territory and is locked by water from all sides. The country itself rests on four islands, what makes domestic logistics even harder. As it is to be expected from a country with extremely high population density and not particularly friendly climate and topography for cropping, many people have taken up agriculture in urban areas. By year 2050 worldwide urban population may almost double, so this is a good thing that urban farming technologies have already seen significant developments in Japan.
Although urban farming is not for every country, a significant part of Japan’s agriculture sector is nested in cities. Urban crops in Tokyo can feed up to a million people and, according to the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, urban agriculture zones are more efficient and productive than rural areas despite the challenges associated with raising crops in cities. Urban agriculture, wherever it is present, poses challenges to its workers. Urban farmers in Japan are forced to use little or no chemicals on their crops. Furthermore, it is extremely hard to make urban crops profitable due to cost of land ownership. Technological solutions are needed but, as it is with all things, only time can deliver something new and better.
Social Rules
There is one curious characteristic relating to how Japanese people view family, friends, their bosses and outsiders. The concept explaining their attitudes is called Uchi Soto. It is perhaps the most interesting side of social interactions in Japan, as it explains why Japanese people can be so timid towards foreigners and so hearty towards friends. Uchi standing for ‘inner’ and Soto standing for ‘outer’, the concept is deeply rooted in centuries-old tradition. It puts all people into two categories – close people and outsiders, sort of protecting the person from unnecessary worries and disruption caused by those they don’t know well. In corporate context, a person would consider their boss to be an Uchi and call them by their first name to demonstrate firm’s clients that the boss and the employees are one family that ranks lower than the client.
Relationships between people have arguably faded over time, especially for those who live in cities. There is lots of social anxiety in cities and that statistic can be expected to rise. Social anxiety arises equally from increasing distance between close people and decreasing distance to outsiders. This is what city life already is and this is what future years will bring us too. Perhaps Uchi Soto is the best philosophy, if we may call it that, for living in the city and, more generally, for living in future decades.
One-man Sustainability
A widely known futurist Richard Buckminster Fuller once wrote, “The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.” In this quote, R. Fuller couldn’t be any closer to capturing the truth of what perfect labor relations ought to be between people. A country’s economy can never be sustainable if its tiniest elements, people, are not sustainable in their labor desires, job realities, and factual earnings.
What we can learn from Japan in this particular context is take a look at small, independent entrepreneurs whose numbers have been growing in Japan in recent years. Take a look at Hajime Asaoka who, as presented in this article, is a famous independent watchmaker making watches, watch cases, dials, hands, dial numerals all by himself. He is a perfect example of what every human element of a perfectly sustainable economic system ought to be.  
Sports and Discipline from Early Age
Japanese high schoolers are well-known for their high academic integrity standards. They take academic assignments personally and professionally and often avoid paying for essay writing services, unlike many western students.
Besides that, they are forced to take compulsory martial art classes like Kendo and Judo. These arts are part of the culture of course, though there are certainly other reasons behind keeping those classes part of the curriculum. For one thing, martial art classes teach awareness, respect and that each and every person is not an object but a living being. This kind of attitude is to be cherished and cultivated at all times. It may become more necessary as time goes on, however. A sustainable society is one, which elements can healthily interact with one another. For that, Japanese schooling practice may very well prove an important idea generator.
Real-Time City Networks
The Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town is a project being developed in Japan that will connect hundreds of homes in a ‘smart’ network. The network is meant to ensure steady and CO2-free recycling and smart re-distribution of energy and data wherever it may be needed throughout the town. Tech gear will consist of solar batteries and panels, LED bulbs, fuel cell systems inside homes, water heaters and, of course, the internet. The town will also connect various interdependent facilities such as educational institutions, medical and administrative buildings.
The thing about sustainability is that it does not end with ecology. Sustainability ought to be in personal life, in economic relations and in culture. Looking for new ideas on sustainable futures, we ought not to limit ourselves with categories of ideas. Instead we should go out and look for things inside individual countries, no matter how distant, that may be applied to building better, more sustainable and predictable futures.

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