Do you know about Mottainai – The Japanese Philosophy On Low-Waste Living?

An age-old approach to saving our planet 🌎

If you’re a fan of zero-waste living, this might be the favorite thing you’ve read in a while! The Japanese have an interesting philosophy behind the concept of a low-waste lifestyle. They have a word for it – Mottainai. They don’t make anything they can’t use. It is a culture that emphasizes Mottainai, which translates into β€œWhat a waste!” It’s a mindset that encourages us not to waste anything and use resources sparingly. This is because the Japanese feel strongly about the inherited duty to pass down a resource-rich culture to future generations.

What Is The Concept Of Mottainai?


Deeply rooted in the Buddhist culture, Mottainai shows the meaningful connection between an object and its owner. Mottai stands for the essence of things (any kind of material in the world). It advocates the idea that objects don’t exist in isolation. And Nai, here, means negations. So, this makes the entire word Mottainai an expression of sorrow or regret of losing the connection between two things. We are all aware of the three Rs, right? The cycle and mantra of a low-waste lifestyle: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Mottainai adds a fourth R in the low-waste lifestyle’s mantra: Respect.

In this day and age, where consuming is an important part of our lives, we as consumers often tend to disrespect what we buy and use. For instance, in modern-day fast fashion, we have little to no respect for our clothes or the maker who makes them. We wear them without taking proper care of them and discard them whenever they are out of trend. Of course, we can neither know the maker personally nor keep wearing the clothes forever. However, what we can do is ask our favorite brands to be transparent about their products and their makers. And keep upcycling, donating, and reusing the clothes we already have. That’s how we can have respect for the things we own.

Mottainai And Its Advocacy Beyond Japan

Wangari Maathai
Mottainai/ Facebook

Not just in Japan, the concept of Mottainai is spreading its branches to the other part of the world as well. All thanks to Wangari Maathai, the first Kenyan woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for starting the Mottainai Campaign. Marina Silva, an environmental protection activist, also strongly agrees with Mottainai, saying it is “a word that supports the heart to create a new development model.

The Mottainai campaign also hosts flea markets and handmade craft fairs to promote the notion. They have also opened a web store that sells things that follow the 4Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Respect. In addition, they sell things like furoshiki (traditional Japanese wrapping cloths) made from recycled plastic bottles. They are reusable, and the charming and lovely designs encourage cautious and passionate use.

The Mottainai festival is now held annually throughout Vietnam, and the Little Tokyo neighborhood in Los Angeles chose it as the focus of its 2016 revitalization effort. The beautiful part about these events is that they were not planned by the Mottainai Campaign but rather by local communities themselves. Even the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games placed a spotlight on sustainability, particularly the Mottainai form of it.

Mottainai – Part Of Children’s Education To Carry On This Valuable Lesson To Future Generations

Mottainai Grandma

Mottainai is now also ingrained into the curriculum of children’s education in Japan. This allows them to understand the importance of a low-waste lifestyle, and green living, and pass it on through generations. Mariko Shinju’s ‘Mottainai Grandma‘ is a well-known Japanese children’s book series that teaches the significance of not being wasteful. The fact that it is so popular is a clear indication that children are interested in environmental issues.

The Most Valuable Lesson From This Philosophy

rachalourane/ Instagram

Have you ever seen any posts or photos of broken or shattered pots being fixed with gold and transformed into something lovely? It is a procedure called Kintsugi, the country’s traditional repairing art. As previously stated, the relationship between a product and a person is extremely important in Japanese culture. Kintsugi is a Japanese technique that restores shattered pots with gold seams, based on the belief that nothing is truly broken. The philosophy can also be viewed as a metaphor for life.

Mottainai is the lesson and a mantra that can lead us to a zero-waste lifestyle. Imagine the wonderful things we can do to the world if we just live by this concept. Our cities and trashcans will have less plastic waste (or any type of waste). Homes will have more upcycled items. Clothes will either get donated, get thrifted, or will be reused for some other things. Eventually, we will be able to solve our landfills problem. Won’t that be a big win for the planet?

If you respect the things you own, you won’t let them go to waste. We should all incorporate this into our lives, especially when we are on the verge of climate disaster and in fear of losing our planet. It is because of concepts like this, that Japan has managed to have impeccably clean cities.

Now, It’s Time To Rethink

Perhaps, it is time to rethink our connection with the things we own. The memories that we hold with them. Every materialistic thing that we come across or own, has a story connected to it. Letting it go into our trashcans is disrespecting the memory and its story. Maybe you could give a new life to that story, or a new purpose to it. It’s easy to throw away something that is still usable, especially if you’re shopping for a new one. But deciding to repair, repurpose, or reuse responsibly can greatly impact the world around us. We hope that awareness of Mottainai will keep us away from adding unnecessarily to our planet’s current level of wastefulness.

Gift wrapping technique
espacejapon/ Instagram

What a wonderful concept Japan has provided the world with Mottainai. It forces a person to look at everything more carefully and relate only to things they actually need and want. This way of thinking is definitely a stepping stone to low-waste living and frugality. So the next time you are at the store or planning your next big shopping spree, this is something to think about.

Now it’s up to you to make a decision. Whether to adopt Mottainai’s message into your daily life or dismiss this piece as just another day’s piece of reading you’ve come across. And if you are looking for tips to start your zero-waste journey, then we have 10 epic low-waste living tips for you.

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