Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Milk Is Free

I just got handed four milk cartons, with the promise of more to come. It makes me unwarrentedly gleeful when I get free stuff from school or neighbors or adult students. I don't buy much milk, but when I do, I'm glad that Japan sells it in a variety of small containers. Having to buy a half gallon at a time from SuperWalMart was one thing that kinda cramped my style in KS.. and my roommate and I drank different varieties, so we wasted more than I like to remember.

I hate wasting, so of course, in the spirit of mottainai, I'll be taking this milk on home to put into tea and coffee and other such coto.

I would by no means call myself "green," although I like to think I do okay at matters environmental. Especially in Japan, where they make some recycling virtually mandatory, and other recycling very easy (they just ain't got the space to throw stuff away), and I take the train and bus pretty frequently, I feel like my 'carbon footprint' isn't terribly large.

In some ways, Japan feels greener than being back home. In the suburbs around where I'm from, everything is at least a ten or twenty minute drive away, buses can be few, and there are no trains to speak of (not REALLY, I mean, come on). Recycling can be a hassle. When I was in college, most of my consumption was done in dining halls where I could sometimes be fiendish about how much I hated to waste food; I tended not to snack very much, nor cook. My own personal trashcan was negligible, shoebox-sized, to be taken out perhaps weekly. I didn't drive much because, shit, who had time?! I walked all over campus, and campus was essentially all the world I needed most days.

When I lived in Kansas, my roommate worked weekends at the local recycling center, so it was quite natural for us to put everything recyclable (since he knew what was, and how to sort it) in bags under the sink until we could throw them in his car before he left on Saturday. I tried to start a compost bucket, but since we had no yard of any kind, this endeavor failed.

I always tried to combine trips, mostly because I hate feeling inefficient. All the efforts I make toward conservation have been largely a factor of conservative personality rather than any real hardcore conservationist streak. I can't really conscion putting my plastic bottles in burnable trash when, if I cross the street, there's a bin to recycle them.

Japan forces you to sort your trash into burnable, non-burnable, and then a bunch of other types like bound paper, glass (but only kitchen type), plastic bottles, etc. And my town is pretty easygoing. When I say "forces," what I mean is, if you put the wrong crap in the burnable trash bag, the trash will be returned to your front stoop for you to try again. Thanks for playing. You have to sort because there ain't no space, and what is burnable will be burned.

Sending all kinds of awesome fumes into the air around you, of course. What Japan conserves in landfilling, they quite make up in burning. And what they conserve in recycling, I almost feel they make up (destructively) in the amount of packaging applied to every single damn piece of anything you ever buy. If you want to test my theory, try the Mickey-Dee's drive through and ask yourself if they aren't having a contest to see if they can't wrap your food in more different pieces of paper and plastic than the last time you were there.

But if you want a grocery bag and you forgot to bring your cloth number, you have to pay for one (or if you are stubborn as hell, you cram things in your purse and cradle the rest in your arms.. not that anyone I know does that).

Now that it's winter I wonder about other things. I'm sure there's math to figure out all the variables.. but on the one hand, yeah, maybe it is wasteful to have central heating and heat a building (or a room) you are not currently inhabiting. If you're at work all day, that heat is just being created for no one, right?

But on the other hand, maybe it's wasteful that a room can go cold fifteen minutes after I turn off the heater because the walls are made of paper alloys. I've always heard it's harder to warm up a space than to just keep it warm. I feel like we need to meet somewhere between insulation and space heating, people. When I lived in Kansas, we turned the thermostat down during the day when we were gone, but this was mostly because we were cheap, because we were poor bastards. Sometimes, trying to save money leads you towards being more conservative in your environmental destruction.

Sometimes it does the opposite. It really pisses me off when it is the opposite, because in my head it doesn't make sense that the environmentally friendly way may also be the more expensive way. Shouldn't I be conserving our energy and my cash?

The bus to Himeji costs 1110, one way. This means a round trip is 2220, for those of you who are worse at math than me. It's a little inconvenient because buses run every half hour or so, they take a full hour, and then stop running altogether after like 9:20, so you have to adjust your schedule accordingly. But of course, it is one less car on the road, and the bus is cheap. THIS BUS IS NOT CHEAP.

None of the local buses in my area are cheap. I sat down and calculated the cost of driving to Himeji, round trip. I was liberal in my estimations of both gas cost and amount of gas needed, assumed I was parking in the nicer parking lot and not the far-away 500 lot. And I still couldn't get the whole thing to cost more than 1550. Plus driving is more convenient, especially if you are taking a bunch of stuff with you, not to mention getting to/from the local bus station in the first place. It's crap. The perk of not having to drive is frequently trumped by this crap.

Luckily, I more often go to Himeji in pairs or small groups, which makes driving (ahem, carpooling) a no-brainer.

While I'm ranting..

I've heard people complain about toilets wasting water by using too much with each flush, and I've heard others complain that the lo-flow variety just don't provide enough water.. so I'm pretty pleased that Japan's toilets (even the low-tech squatty potties) offer you choices about 90% of the time. You push the handle one way for 大 (big) and the other way for 小 (small). That's a pretty ingenious way of solving that problem.

At the same time, I find that some Japanese women waste water by flushing the toilet too much. Seriously. It makes me livid to be standing over a squatty-potty, and hear the stall next door flush several times in a row because I'm tenanting in a culture that thinks it's more okay to waste water than to allow someone (SOMEONE, let me remind you, of the same sex, who is presumably in this very room to perform the same natural physical actions as you) to hear you pee.

Oh my God, the thought of it makes me gnash my teeth.

I personally waste water in much better ways, like by taking baths and showers. I just like to feel clean and warm.

I can't believe I've found a topic on which I actually feel like ranting! There's a lot more where this came from, all about travel, but I think I'll save it because I kind of want to think about making it a feature for the Hyogo Times (which, did I mention, I became EIC of..?).

I'm doing a lot of work on it, trying to get ready for the re-launch on January 31st. It's going to be pretty epic (as epic as a free JET-community prefectural publication captained by a total noob can be, anyway), and I'm pretty excited about it. I originally stayed out of the HT business because I didn't think I had time. But the honest truth is, I'm good at this, and that's good for me, and I can make some time. I'm realizing that I am destined neither to be a jack-of-all-trades, nor an expert at any one thing, but rather I am meant to get pretty damn good at one thing at a time, before finding my ceiling, and giving it up (or keeping it, but without aspiration to ever be The Best). I'll give you all the website and PDF upon our glorious re-launch.

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