Greener Travel: Japan Part 2

Hi Everyone! I am so so so sorry for my tardiness getting this second post about Japan out! I have had a very uncharacteristically busy spring so far with my product photography and a new writing gig. Whew! Anyway, this upcoming month things should be settling down, so I should be able to write more frequently and consistently. Thank you for your support as always. So, just a quick recap, in this Part 2 we will be discussing our take on the transportation situation in Japan, our struggle with tiny hotels, too many complimentary hygiene products, and lastly I answer the question “Where is all of the garbage?”.


Before heading to Tokyo the hubs did a fair bit of research into the various types of public transportation available for us. We knew we didn’t need to rent a car simply because where we were going was connected wholly by public transit – Tokyo, Osaka, & Kyoto. If we were heading further south, it may have been more beneficial time-wise to rent a vehicle, but in our case it did not make sense. This also meant that we could cut down our carbon footprint by using mass transit.

We pre-purchased a Japan Rail Pass. These passes are specifically for tourists visiting for 7 days to 21 days. A 7 day pass starts at $263.00 and you must be registered as a tourist.

Japan had a combination of high tech bullet trains and vintage trains like this little “grape”

Temporary Visitor entry status, according to Japanese Immigration Law, allows a stay in Japan of 15 days or 90 days for “sight-seeing, etc.” If you apply for a “stay for sight-seeing” when you enter Japan, entry personnel will stamp your passport as “Temporary Visitor,” as shown below. *In order to receive or use JAPAN RAIL PASS, your passport must bear this stamp or sticker.

Japan Rail

The cost of the pass was nothing compared to the cost of a single one-way trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, and considering we rode the bullet train a total of 3 times, and dozens of inter-city trains, it was well worth it.

This pass was good on all JR routes, the Hikari bullet train and other municipal transit systems owned by Japan Rail. For other routes and trains, we purchased the Suica pass, which is a refillable card (much like Vancouver’s Compass Card). This allowed us to fill the gap the JRPass left.

Traveling around Tokyo was fairly straightforward despite the complicated looking route maps. We simply used Google Maps App to find our destination and it detailed our trip indicating which rail line to take, what platform number, and even what colour the signage to look for. I was very apprehensive to travel alone (while the Hubs was working) but I easily made my way around the city using this method. Yes, it did require that I paid for a travel data plan; however, at just an additional $91.00 I feel like it was an expense I was happy to incur.

Google Maps Example

On two occasions we took a taxi and an Uber because we were traveling with my husbands large and heavy tool box. This was both time consuming, expensive, and difficult as the tool box barely fit in the taxis trunk, the roads were busy and we traveled a fair distance. Both the Hubs and I agreed that it would have been easier to take transit, despite all of our baggage being cumbersome.

While traveling on the trains, I made sure I packed my Mason Jar Merchant tumbler, a bottle of water, and a snack in my Eba Tote. This allowed me to be relatively hands-free and have somewhere to stow my jacket once I went inside to my destination. Additionally, it provided somewhere for me to put my garbage until I could find a receptacle. This was an interesting aspect of Japan that I spoke about last time. Having few places to throw out our garbage meant that I had to carry it with me for a long time. It made me highly aware of what I was consuming and where. I would recommend this as a experiment to try at home to show yourself and family just exactly how much garbage you may generate in day! A good reminder of our lifestyle choices!


I joked with my husband that hotels in Japan were not made for people of his stature… I myself was okay at 5′ 2″, but his 6’1″ frame was a bit over-sized for the rooms. Our hotel in Kyoto was so small that he could almost touch both walls at the same time. Tiny! However, this is beneficial because I noticed that even in he smaller cities, they used every spare inch of real estate. This isn’t because they have used up every piece of land on the islands, since there is plenty of farmland, but because it is just well planned. Why have an unused alleyway? I appreciated this smart urban planning.

The small hotels rooms were also a reason I was grateful that we packed carry-on bags only, as there were hardly any spaces for our luggage in any of the rooms, and no closets to stow or hang anything either. At our last hotel in Tokyo, the Hubs had to keep his suitcase open, but tucked under the bed because there simply wasn’t anywhere else for it.

Citadine Hotel – Largest hotel room – Steve stayed here alone for work after I left.

Many of the hotels noted that rooms were not cleaned on a daily basis (just our hotel in Tokyo did). This was because they wanted to reduce the amount of laundry to be done in an effort to lower their water waste. Additionally, every hotel we stayed at had a bidet. Not common in North America, these cleansing toilets are popular in Japan, Europe and other nations and as a result reduce the amount of toilet paper that is required per capita. In fact, the United States is the number one consumer of toilet paper in the world. If you would like to know more about the water and energy costs attributed to producing paper towel (similar to toilet paper) check out my post here.

Hotel Rinn Gion in Kyoto – Image Via Hotel Rinn Gion

I think the largest waste of resources at our hotels were their generous use of one-time-use personal hygiene products. Although many rooms had large refillable shampoo and conditioner items, many of the providers left “beauty kits” of packets of moisturizer, facial oils, makeup removers, combs, hair brushes, dental floss, toothbrushes, toothpastes, hair clips, hair elastics, cotton swabs and much much more. They often came in a tiny branded travel bag. At first I thought it as a novelty, but by the 4th hotel, I was irritated by the large amount of disposable “stuff” offered to me. In the end, I left them untouched because I didn’t need any supplies.

Hotel Gracery in Tokyo – Image Via Hotel Gracery

In an another effort to reduce our waste, the Hubs and I avoided ordering room service, fast-foods and take-out. By eating in restaurants we were able to order exactly what we could consume (there weren’t refrigerators in our rooms for leftovers), use metal cutlery or reusable chopsticks and avoid plastic convenience food wrappers.

As I previously mentioned in my last post, the hotels had very few breakfast and coffee amenities. I was so grateful for our Mason Jar Merchant tumblers because they provided us with coffee making receptacles on more than one occasion, preventing us from needing to stop at a vending machine for a can of coffee. Yes, hot coffee comes in cans… LOL

Japan’s Waste Problem

Although Japan falls short on the recovery aspect, as they only recycle 19% of their waste, while Canada has a recovery rate of 24% (as of 2013) they make up for in a slightly different way. Japan incinerates their garbage and many recyclables as a source of energy; in fact 71% of collected waste is incinerated in the 7200 facilities to produce energy for the nation, leaving only 9-10% to go to their landfills compared to Canada’s 74%.

So, although our recycling rate is higher, we are losing out on potential energy gains, especially since modern incinerators have drastically reduced their ash, dioxin, NOx, SOx, HCI, HI and CO emission rates. Many of these new incinerators double and triple burn their off-gases to reduce their overall emissions, which is better than burning coal, kind of. Depending on the facility, type of technologies used to “scrub” gasses, some incinerators may be less efficient and more polluting when compared to coal.

However, a study by Columbia University found that “emissions of sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides were lower from waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities than from coal-fired plants. Hydrogen chloride emissions are higher in WTE flue gases. Emissions of cadmium, lead and mercury from WTE and coal-fired plants are nearly the same. ” If you want to know more about the future of WTE, I highly suggest you read this article on plasma converters – I know it sounds dry, but its not that bad I promise.

The Take Away

So where does this leave Japan in the world of recycling, waste reduction, and garbage? Well, it is still pulling its weight when compared to the average US and Canada citizens who produce 1600 lbs and 1450 lbs respectively each year per person. This is in comparison to 875 lbs by each Japanese citizen. I think it is almost a North American past time to point fingers at nations with large populations or who’s economies are based in manufacturing and say “they pollute more, so I can keep polluting”. Let’s stop that nonsense and just get on with solving the problem.

The problem is consumption and North Americans are bloated when it comes to over indulging in clothing, electronics, furniture, etc. I think it was eye opening for me to travel to Japan simply to see the size of the homes that these families live within. They just don’t have the space for that much junk. So, I guess the take away for me on this trip was that you don’t need to have a huge home to live large, and Tokyo definitely embodied that for me.

Thanks again for tuning in – Heather

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