Japan’s Most Sustainable Export – Mottanai

Don’t worry if you haven’t learnt a whole new foreign lingo in lockdown just remember this simple one!

Mottainai – もったいない 

Sometimes we need to look to other languages to express the things we can’t in our own.

With no complete English translation, this term is how the Japanese relay the lexicon of regretful wastefulness, ‘waste not, want not.’ or ‘What a waste.’

Mottanai is often used to encapsulate the sustainable conservation practices of ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle.’ But – let’s be honest this is as arduous and monotonous as British catchphrases like ‘Catch it bin it kill it’ or ‘See it, say it, sort it.’

Origins – Mottanai was first an ancient Buddhist term that means ‘essence’. It embodies the respect for resources that surround you, not to take them for granted and to embrace gratitude for their value. Such a notion is very aligned to cradle to cradle design framework that promotes limitless value in what others may deem as ‘waste’.

Salience is placed on a fourth ‘R’  – respect.  This stems from the Shinto belief that objects have soles, perhaps of an ancestor and thus should not be discarded.

Mottanai has been central to the planning of the now postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. However, Japanese traditional cultural practices of mottanai transform old kimonos into accessories, clothed sandals, purses, fans to name but a few. Furoshiki, the art of fabric wrapping for gifts, items or food encapsulates perfectly how the Japanese omit unnecessary plastic waste from their day to day lifestyles.

With the paradigm shift to sustainability and the affinity to conscious consumerism exacerbated by the current pandemic underlines the precosity of resources. We can only hope the ethos of mottanai is adopted and put into action by those around the world.

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