As harsh as the truth may seem, at one time being a university student was not enough to educate me in caring for the environment. Perhaps, despite the university’s effort in promoting a cleaner learning atmosphere, I was just being dismissive by choosing to leave all the work to those who got paid to do it rather than taking up some of the work myself. I used to think that I’m already doing my share by throwing my trash in the bin and that was all I need to be sure that I was a good enough citizen. But I soon learned that I could do more, that caring for the environment can be a culture that each and every one of us may learn to live by.
I was given the opportunity to join the student exchange program in Japan in 2006, I was delighted beyond compare. Here was the chance for me to fulfill one of my dreams, which is to experience life in the land of the reddish sun. Life in Japan has opened up my mind to a myriad of things. The sight, smell, sound, taste and touch of everything that is new bring about a wonderful experience. In turn I realized that what makes up this amazing country do not lay solely upon the tall buildings or efficient railway system, or the advance in telecommunications etc. but more importantly on the people themselves. I was given the golden opportunity to immerse myself in the culture of the Japanese people. And one of the most important philosophies I have learned is “mottainai”.
It is difficult to explain the literal meaning of “mottainai”. Shimizu-sensei, my professor on Japanese studies in Bunkyo Gakuin University (BGU), Tokyo, always compared it to the Malay old adage that mothers use in telling their children if they don’t finish their food, “nanti nasi menangis” (then the rice will cry). Japanese mothers instill the culture of treating everything as precious by not wasting them even in their children and I was able to see this through being in the company of my Japanese friends. Every time they see that I had some food left on my plate, they would offer to finish them. In time I learned to grab my chopsticks and finish my food on my own heartily. This simple act of not wanting to let things go to waste extends further in the lives of the Japanese people. It is fact that Japan is leading the way to a safer and cleaner environment in line with not letting this earth go to waste.
At first, I thought Shimizu-sensei was an old eccentric when I saw him writing notes on the back of printed papers but soon discover that it was an excellent alternative to sending them to the recycling bin. If people don’t know any better, they would assume that he was just being cheap, but consider how much the little things that he do would give back to nature, forests are protected, energy is reserved. I was also impressed with what I saw when I was staying with my Japanese family. In the kitchen, there were two bins; one for burnable items, the other was for unburnable items. I’m assuming that the unburnable items refer to items such as glass bottles and plastics that may be recycled, whereas the burnable refers to normal household waste. In Malaysia, the culture of recycling seems to have yet to catch up in modern households. But the city of Tokyo is decorated with plenty of color and picture coded recycling bins that line up the streets making it more convenient for people to uphold the idea of reduce, reuse and recycle.
When BGU held a “Green Day” on the 9th of November 2006, an army of students clad in bright green jackets that was more than a fashion statement scoured the university compound in search of the notorious substance called litter. The enthusiasm that they portrayed in participating in the activity sums up their understanding of the importance of taking part in efforts to care for the environment. Even though there were hardly any trash lying around to begin with, the mere thought of the activity itself is commendable. I was impressed by this small yet meaningful gesture of caring of which I hope to bring back to Malaysia.
Now I am more particular about using my resources and doing my share to help caring for, not my but our environment. I print new notes on the blank side of my old materials, finish the rice on my plate, recycle plastic bottles and papers, and many more. Although all of these may sound as hardly worth mentioning, as they are bigger environmental problems out there in the world, I do believe that it’s alright for us to think small so that in time the changes will be big.