Terrie's Take 925 (Tourism Edition) - The Economics of Beach Trash in Japan

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Sun Dec 3 23:57:17 JST 2017

* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie 
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Dec 03 2017, Issue No. 925

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+++ The Economics of Beach Trash in Japan

This last week has been a busy one, highlighted by various last minute 
confirmations for tours in spring of 2018, travel media projects, and 
software development - such is life in a modern-day travel site/agency. 
But hogging my first 3 days was a trip to Ishikawa-ken, to accompany a 
potential US-based B2B2C partner around the cycling route for the Noto 
Peninsula. We started the tour from Kanazawa, with my guests taking the 
relatively speedy Joetsu Shinkansen, while I drove across with the 
guests' bikes in the back. It takes about 3 1/2 hours by Shinkansen and 
6 hours by car, so "training it" is definitely the way to go.

It was a brilliantly sunny late fall day when I picked the two guests up 
at Kanazawa station, and I was hoping that I could make a good 
impression. Unfortunately my reverie was quickly disrupted as we left 
the Noto highway to drive along the Chirihama Nagisa Driveway, a 
hard-paced sand beach that I described in TT-919. My male guest, who is 
the CEO of the US travel company, made some disapproving noises. Trying 
hard not to be put off, I explained how the Driveway is particularly 
notable for having no speed limit, or for that matter, road rules. 
Usually this lack of rules in a Japanese public place piques a guest's 
interest, but instead he frowned and declared: "I can't bring my 
customers here!"

"Why not?" I asked in mild shock.

"Well look at all the trash everywhere." he said. "Some of my customers 
live on the beach at Malibu and Santa Barbara, and they are not going to 
pay thousands of dollars to come all the way to Japan to have a riding 
experience on a second-rate beach like this!"

I took a second look at the view and realized he was right, there was 
trash everywhere, particularly white plastic shopping bags, food and 
chemicals containers, bottles, and pretty much everything in between. I 
also realized that perhaps I've been living in Japan for so long that 
I've lost the ability to see the ugly bits, instead doing what the 
Japanese do, and focusing in on just the parts with beauty. The truth is 
that in modern-day Japan, the grand vista is seldom perfect - whether 
it's a beach view marred by ugly tetrapods, a quaint wooden-housed 
village with a prefab 7-11 convenience store right in the middle, or 
Mount Fuji framed by power pylons.

Unlike tetrapods and even 7-11's, which arguably have a purpose for the 
community's greater good and thus might be acceptable, trash has no 
place on Japan's beaches, mountains, or anywhere else, at any time.

[Continued below...]

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As a result, my guest insisted that we skip the rest of the planned 
itinerary for the first day, even though it meant missing 200-year old 
roads threading through cute fishing villages, and forested cycleways 
that are perfect canopies of green. I reluctantly drove on to the next 
stopping point, Wajima, knowing that the local towns in between won't be 
seeing any revenue from this company's customers and nor would those 
foreign visitors get to experience a wonderful part of Japan. Such a waste.

Luckily my guests did like the top 200km of Noto Peninsula, so we were 
able to rescue the planned tour. As soon as I returned to Tokyo, I 
started researching just what the deal is with all the trash on the 
beaches. Not that this is anything new. Back in the 80's when I was 
still fresh to Japan, I also wondered why it is that Japanese people are 
so tidy in their own neighborhoods and yet think nothing of trashing 
their public spaces.

There are currently very few reliable studies about the impact of trash 
on Japan's shorelines. But to be sure, it is a huge, ongoing, and very 
visible problem. It should also be a major source of embarrassment for 
the government. The environment ministry did a series of studies between 
2013 and 2015 and found that in just the island of Tsushima alone, a 
sizable land mass situated in the Korean Strait between Fukuoka and 
Busan in South Korea, approximately 35,000 cubic meters of trash washes 
up on the island's shores annually. Put another way, this is one cubic 
meter of garbage per person on the island! So that would be a challenge 
for local volunteers to keep up with that kind of volume.

Nationally, the government estimates that in 2015 it disposed of about 
100,000 tons of sea-borne trash from its shores. The environment 
ministry reckons that about 50% of the trash came from South Korea, 25% 
from China, and 25% from Japan. A Tokyo University of Marine Science and 
Technology study points a sterner finger towards South Korea, saying it 
is responsible for 85% of trash on our coasts.

On the other hand, if you're in Okinawa, then you're probably going to 
say that China is the worst culprit, with estimates that about 80% of 
beach trash there is from the western neighbor. A Wall Street Journal 
study found that in 2010 China emitted about 8.8m tons of unmanaged 
plastic waste and that about 1.32m to 3.53m tons of this wound up in the 
ocean - i.e., most of it would eventually find its way to Japan. While 
in Noto, I did take an up-close look at some of the garbage, but frankly 
it was so weathered that mostly you were looking at worn down white 
polystyrene balls and aged plastic wrapperless bottles. I couldn't see 
any easy indication of where they came from.

But rather than taking the government at its word about the source of 
the trash, especially in these politically charged times, a better 
reference might be a comprehensive new study of the Tsushima Island area 
being done by the The Ocean Cleanup NPO (an international group), which 
should be available next year. This same group is also planning to pilot 
a floating garbage collector to start the job of removing the trash. The 
device will be about 2km wide and could set a standard for the Japanese 
government to copy in other parts of the country.

http://bit.ly/2nq2kW3 [The Ocean Cleanup update on its garbage 
collection project]

There is some agreement among experts that the biggest sectoral source 
of coastal pollution in Japan is from the S. Korean seaweed industry - a 
sector that you would normally think would be clean and green. 
Apparently about 90% of Korean seaweed is grown along that country's 
southwest coast, the closest point to Japan. The sector uses copious 
amounts of hydrogen peroxide and nitric acid to disinfect ropes after 
harvesting a season of seaweed and before reseeding the ropes. The 
plastic jugs used to contain these chemicals are either simply thrown 
overboard to float their way to Japan, or are thrown into untended trash 
piles near the coast, where they are caught up in bad weather and 
transported to Japan that way.

While the Japanese authorities point fingers at S. Korea and China, 
anecdotal evidence suggests that the Japanese themselves are also a 
pretty trash-happy bunch when away from home. Amy Chavez of the Japan 
Times visited this topic in 2014 and wrote a good article complete with 
photos that clearly show that most of the garbage on the beaches of her 
adopted island home, Shiraishi Island, did indeed come from Japan-based 
consumers. And just in case anyone wants to blame Chinese tourists, at 
that time there were still very few of them...

http://bit.ly/2iaueQu [Amy Chavez' article]

More evidence of trash-creating domestic tourists can be found closer to 
Tokyo, on Japan's most famous and sacred mountain, Mt. Fuji. Not many 
people know that before the mountain was finally awarded Cultural World 
Heritage status by the UN, it had failed the test for a Natural World 
Heritage rating, on the basis that the mountain was disfigured by so 
much trash. The "Cultural" rating doesn't consider the location's beauty 
as a factor - only its importance to Japanese culture - which is a 
cynical work-around from our point of view.

Japan does have citizens who are concerned about the garbage problem, 
and there are various beach clean-up efforts that typically take place 
on "Marine Day" or else-time in summer. But the problem is that the 
nation's public coastal littering is daily occurrence, and volunteers 
picking up tons of garbage once a year only emphasizes the ugliness for 
the other 51 weeks. The real answer is for the government to allocate 
funds to help motivate local communities to continuously clean up their 
shores, while at the same time employing a more macro solution to stop 
the trash tidal wave from reaching Japan in the first place - something 
like The Ocean Cleanup's floating garbage collector would be ideal.

This is not just some altruistic wish. It has been predicted that by 
2050 there will be more plastic in the world's oceans than there are 
fish (by volume) and since most of this trash is coming from China, per 
the Wall Street Journal study, you can be sure that most of us are 
already ingesting micro-particles of whatever trash is floating across, 
which should give rise to serious health concerns by the government in 
years to come.

The Japanese government does have a history of proactively allocating 
funds for ocean cleanups. After the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami 
floated vast amounts of debris out to the Pacific ocean and eventually 
to Canada and the USA, in 2012 the government allocated US$6m to be 
dispersed among cleanup groups in both nations. So if they can do it as 
part of a goodwill exercise for other nations, why can't they do it for 
themselves? For example, the JPY1,000/person exit tax that will be 
levied from 2019, and which will raise JPY30bn at least annually, would 
be a good starting point.

There is an irony here. As Inbound tourism powers on to become one of 
Japan's largest industries, it is notable that with a few exceptions 
where locals maintain trash-free beaches and coves for high-end hotels, 
most of Japan's coastline is unable to attract tourists because it is 
either uglified by factories and concrete sea walls, or by years of 
incoming trash. And yet, the nation's travel marketers are trying to 
push tourists out to iconic coastal locations like the Seto Inland Sea, 
the Miho no Matsubara pine forest and its views of Mt. Fuji, and more 
far-flung places like Kanazawa and Noto. But what's the point of 
marketing these locations if all the visiting traveler sees is a pile of 
garbage and tells their friends not to bother going there? The fact that 
these tourists are looking at someone else's garbage is lost on them, 
and so pointing fingers at neighboring countries isn't going to fix things.

Instead, there needs to be a public awareness campaign (reaching down 
into the schools), tougher fines for public space littering, forensic 
sampling of garbage sources and fines for companies responsible 
producing litter-related products (forcing them to switch to 
environmentally-friendly packaging), and paid mobilization of old folks 
in coastal areas to collect the trash in much the same way as they are 
used in major cities to issue parking tickets and tag and remove 
bicycles. In fact, if the forensic science is good enough, the 
government could pay a part of the fines on consumer plastics producers 
to the local communities as an incentive to keep the clean up efforts going.

...The information janitors/


*** CORRECTION: In TT-920, we ran an ad for Kashima Arts in Ginza. The 
artist Katsushika Hokusai was inadvertently referred to as Katsuhika 
Hokusai. This shouldn't detract from experiencing a wonderful artist who 
created a revolution in Ukiyoe and invented manga.


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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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