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Japan's Sustainable History

Today Japan depends on imports from other countries for 78 percent of its energy, 60 percent of its food (caloric value), and 82 percent of its timber consumption. But for approximately 250 years during the Edo Period, Japan was self-sufficient in all resources, since nothing could be imported from overseas due to the national policy of isolation.

In recent years, an increasing number of Japanese have begun to realize that during the Edo Period their country had what we now recognize in today's terms as a sustainable society. The population was stable and the society did not rely on material inputs from the outside. Many are now trying to learn more about the social system of that time and apply the "wisdom of the Edo Period" in contemporary society and living.

Japan is now promoting efforts to recycle end-of-life products and materials. A major motivation for this today is to reduce the burden on landfills and prevent dioxins and other toxic chemical emissions from incinerators. But people in Edo Japan recycled of goods and materials for another reason: they had very limited goods and materials in the first place.

In the modern day, that connection between consumer and producer has been shattered, but during the Edo Period this "ultimate recycling" was possible because of the interdependent relationship between consumers and producers.

In the Edo Period, the reuse of goods was a common practice. There were many temple schools for children of commoners in Edo Period. Textbooks at temple schools were owned by the schools, not the users. According to records, one arithmetic textbook was used for 109 years.

As one could imagine, however, such extensive reuse and recycling systems embedded in society would limit the profits of paper makers, printing companies, publishers and shippers. In the economy of today, if people don't continuously buy new goods, the economy falters.

We must ask this a sustainable way to live? What can we learn from past successes that can take us to a more successful future?

This articles points out many intriguing insights into a past society that wasted very little...and maintained a clean, healthy way of life for their citizens. It might be worth a few minutes of discovery!

The Japan for Sustainability website has more interesting information:

This article was based on the article: "Japan's sustainable society in the Edo period (1603-1867)"
To learn more specifics about this sustainable age and culture in Japan, visit the article at:

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