Sunday, March 16, 2008


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

Source link from Hanami web

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.

What does MOTTAINAI mean?

“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)

"Mottainai", its movement, and Japanese spirituality
by Satoshi

Mottainai is a Japanese adjective that means “it is so wasteful that things are not made full use of their value,” or simply puts, “it is too valuable to waste.” This term is used in Japanese daily lives very frequently when things which are still useful and valuable are wasted. Originally it comes from old Buddhism term mottai (things). Nai in Japanese means denying. Therefore, a combination of word mottai and -nai means that things are sadly not in full use as much as it should be, with no respect and thank to both things and their producers such as farmers. Largely it is used in Japan for economical reasons to reduce unnecessary spending and waste. In this sense, it is, in some level, also connected to Japanese Zen’s spirituality which likes simplicity and stoicism of life.

However, this native Japanese word suddenly became an internationally known word thanks to the promotion by Dr. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2004. She discovered the value this word has in the conservation movement and knew that its profound meanings go beyond the concept of 3 Rs. She found this word when she visited Japan in 2005 for a Kyoto Protocol-related event, and learned there was no correctly equated word in any other languages with the same level of respect and love to things the term mottainai has. Since she learned this word, she has frequently used it in her public speeches including the one in the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the Live 8 concert held in England in 2005, while believing that the value and spirituality of mottainai Japanese traditionally have could transcend culture and national boarders.

After Dr. Maathai started to use mottainai frequently, Japanese government under the Koizumi Administration also made an effort to expand its philosophy in and out of Japan to conserve things and manage waste efficiently in the national-level discussion. In addition, a number of corporations use this word in their PR campaigns and green marketing strategies. Akira Yamaguchi, an author of a best-seller simply titled Mottainai (Waste Not, Want Not) (1995), explains its concept in detail that mottainai contains human beings’ awes, thanks, and in-depth love to all creations in our universe, recommending the ideal life in harmony with the nature. He extends mottainai’s philosophy that, for the convenience of our life, the social paradigm of technology-led 20th century such as mass production, mass marketing, and mass consumption destroyed humanity, culture, social values, sense of communities, and loves to the nature in which human beings live, and that the philosophy and implementation of mottainai can be a savior in 21st century which people have to reduce waste and realize carbon-free society.

With the word and philosophy of mottainai, Japanese traditionally considers wasting resources and throwing them away before fully using is the shameful act that profanes and disrespects our Creator of nature. Mottainai reflects a sad feeling that things are lost and underappreciated, as well. Therefore, traditional Japanese culture prohibits people to waste things with a sense of guilty. Most Japanese children are taught by parents with the term mottainai that they must eat every peace of rice in the bowl; otherwise, the leftover means disrespect to blood, toil, tears and sweat of hardworking farmers who produce rice. In addition, children are taught in a Japanese folk tale that if they waste things, “mottainai ghost” would haunt to scare them.

Much before 3 Rs education took place in Western countries, historically Japanese have had the ecological thought, mottainai, in the religious philosophy that human beings are just one of the creations in all nature, and that people should respect awesome magnificence of nature. In this philosophy, the hierarchy between human beings and nature is horizontal. Traditionally, Japanese do not think the nature as “resources” human beings can use as much as they want in the same way the Western culture treats nature. For them, every non-human thing (even stones and flowers) has spirit and soul inside of it. Simply put, wasting things is anti-social, anti-nature, and most importantly, anti-God-in-nature activity for Japanese. No wonder Japan is awarded the gold medal in the Recycling Olympics with the half level of CO2 emissions of the United States (Planet Ark, 2004; The World Bank, 2005). This love and respect toward things can be introduced as a revolutionary idea of conservation movement in the United States where people wastefully consume high volume of resources without understanding and respecting our nature.