Mottainai is the thoughtful Japanese word with love and compassion to think of the gift from the nature or someone who made the product. The word closest to Mottainai in English is
"What a waste!", "Do not waste!" or the situation a thing is being wasted or being used without good care and consideration.
Mottainai is a word that meaning "let's not waste it". Mottainai is a very widely used, and can be considered as one of the core symbols of Japanese thinking. Mottainai is visible everywhere. In the way how Japanese have custom to clean their rice bowls so that not one single seed of rice is wasted, or the way how Japanese Buddhist man wraps a beetle into his napking gently and takes it outside, without hurting the living being - thus not wasting the life. In the old times mottainai could be used as "it was inconvenient" and "more than my situation". One can also say mottainai in another kind of situation, when food in restaurant for example wasn't so delicious.
Japanese Minister Yuriko Koike created the "Mottainai Furoshiki" as a symbol of Japanese culture to reduce wastes. Furoshiki is traditional Japanese wrapping clothe that is used to protect and carry things. Mottainai furoshiki is made from recycled PET bottles, and has a motifs designed by Itoh Jakuchu, a painter of the mid-Edo era
We are in the business of delivering world peace through environment conservation
Using MOTTAINAI as a keyword, we want to pass on the beauty of our earth to future generations. Prof. Maathai told us that we are merely borrowing the earth from future generations and that it is adults' responsibility to make sure we hand over to them a beautiful world. Personally, we believe that Japan, as the only country to have undergone a nuclear attack, and its people can use MOTTAINAI as an expression of their remorse and hopes for the future. By that, we mean that we should make an anti-war pledge to rid the world of war, the biggest example of MOTTAINAI because it is a waste of valuable resources.
In Japan, With its daily circulation of 4 million, the Mainichi has been calling on Japanese to do simple things to reduce carbon dioxide emission to prevent global warming, like such activities as:
Not leaving the water running when they brush their teeth
Not driving their car for distances they could easily walk
Turning out lights that don’t need to be on
Using energy conserving home appliances
Choosing their own reusable shopping bags over the plastic bags handed out at stores
Many people across Japan have shown their support for the concept of MOTTAINAI, with a recent poll showing that 80 percent of Japanese are aware of the campaign.
“Mottai” is originally a Buddhist term that refers to the essence of things. It also applies to everything in our physical universe, suggesting that objects do not exist in isolation but are intrinsically linked to one another.
“Nai” is a negation, so “MOTTAINAI” is an expression of sadness over the repudiation of the ties linking all living and nonliving entities. It is also a rallying cry to reestablish such bonds and reassert the importance of treating all animate and inanimate objects with great care.
Practicing this concept requires making the most of limited resources and using them as efficiently as possible. In more familiar terms, it is very much in line with efforts to promote the “3Rs”: to reduce waste, reuse finite resources, and recycle what we can.
Implementing the 3Rs is the shortest path to environmental conservation. Since an appreciation of the concept of “MOTTAINAI” is synonymous with respect for the essence of things, it should not only contribute to protecting the environment but also lead to enhanced respect for human rights and world peace. It is a truly timely concept for modern times.
Prof. Maathai lecturing about MOTTAINAI at the Commission on the Status of Woman in New York
Another lesson I brought from Japan was the spirit of the 3R campaign, which I know you are familiar with (reduce, re-use, repair and recycle). In Japan I learned that the Buddhist word MOTTAINAI embraces that concept of not wasting resources but using them with respect and gratitude. I have been sharing that word, MOTTAINAI wherever I go because I think it’s a beautiful word and I have been consciously practicing the 3R campaign, especially by re-using my shopping bags.
(From a speech by Prof. Maathai in Chicago)