|A Train in Japan; Ben Garney via Flickr|
- Reusable bags are fairly common and easy to use at stores. I brought one with me and really cut back on the number of plastic bags I had to throw out or bring home at the end of my trip.
- Secondhand Goods, such as books, music, and DVDs, are widely available at stores such as Book Off. I was stunned by the new or nearly-new condition of most of the "used" items. It seems that secondhand books, music, and DVDs are handled with more care than I often see here in the U.S., which helps extend a product's life. It should be noted, however, that other used items such as clothing are not very popular in Japan and, for cultural reasons, most other items are often purchased new.
- Recycling is convenient in many places in Japan.Whether I was in a coffee shop or a zoo, I often found recycling containers side-by-side with each garbage can. It was impressive, and makes the choice to recycle a very easy one.
- Trains are incredibly clean and well-run in Japan. Trains are rarely late and are kept in good condition. Many cities have robust public transportation systems (though some cities, like Kyoto, also are largely dependent on buses). I was very impressed by the efficiency of the public transportation system. While waiting for a monorail to the Chiba zoo, I saw a monorail attendant pull out a ramp, help a child in a wheelchair onto the monorail, and load up the ramp in less than a minute. Everyone can utilize the public transportation system, because it is easy and convenient (at least in larger cities).
- Cities are built for walking, offering sidewalks, narrow alleyways, and other infrastructure that is essential for foot traffic. Whereas cities in the U.S. are often sprawling, cities in Japan have small hubs around train stations, which are often in easy walking or biking distance from residences. I rarely felt in danger from car traffic, a nice change from walking along the sidewalks of Austin, Texas and having cars zoom past.
|A small apartment in Tokyo; maridari via Flickr|
- Small spaces are one of the hallmarks of Tokyo living, and New York living as well. I stayed in a hotel room that measured a mere 165 square feet, and yet I felt more comfortable than I did in many larger hotel rooms in the U.S. The difference lied in the design; a smaller space that is laid out efficiently and meets your need is, in my opinion, far superior to a larger space that is poorly designed and full of wasted space.
- Vertical spaces take advantage of the often-ignored space above our heads. Our hotel, for example, took up several floors of a building that also served as a train station and a multi-story shopping mall. It was an incredibly simple idea, and yet housing all those buildings under one roof was a very practical idea. I could take an escalator downstairs and have Starbucks coffee, or an elevator down and go shopping, all without leaving the building.
- Green spaces are very common, even in larger cities like Tokyo. It's easy to find yourself in a garden or a forest and forget that you are in the middle of a huge city. Green spaces also help to combat some of the smog and other negative effects of city life.
- Smaller portions of food are served in Japan than in many restaurants in the U.S. "Bigger is better" has become a common trend, especially in Texas, and it has had an unfortunate effect on our bodies. Despite the increased amount of physical activity, I never found myself feeling hungry after a meal. It was nice not to have to limit myself to half of my plate at every meal, and being served "just enough" was a wonderfully welcome change.
- Water was served upon request, but wasn't handed around the table as a policy. Some U.S. restaurants have instituted a similar policy in the interest of saving our drinking water. I was glad to see this was the norm at most Japanese restaurants, as it prevents restaurants from dumping gallons of clean, untouched water down the drain.
- Green cleaning at our hotel wasn't just an option; it was incentivized. For each day we chose to forego our normal changing of linens and cleaning, we received a 500 yen voucher to use in the hotel restaurant or gift shop. Giving customers an incentive to save resources is a fantastic way to help the earth and the hotel at the same time.
- Electricity wouldn't turn on without the hotel key. I had never seen this before, so initially I was confused, but then I thought it was brilliant. It makes it much harder to leave a light on when you leave, as you need to take the key with you if you want to get back into your room later.
- Auto-off switches were installed on almost every escalator or moving sidewalk. Instead of keeping them running during "business hours," busy places like train stations would often keep escalators running only when there was traffic and have them shut off automatically when they were not needed.
- Shoes are not worn inside homes and often not in hotel rooms, either. While some American homes also practice this custom, the idea of removing shoes helps keep building interiors cleaner. If dirt isn't tracked inside in the first place, there is less time and energy required to clean a home.
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