Expert sees 'just enough' in Edo-era Japan as key to living green


          By Yoichi Kosukegawa

     TOKYO, Feb. 8 Kyodo.  The lifestyle of people in Japan around 200 years ago, which was guided by the principle of consuming less, would help to create a sustainable society in the 21st Century, an American expert on Japanese architecture says.

     Just before Japan opened itself up to the West for modernization and industrialization, there was an ideal recycling society in the late Edo period, where even toilet waste was traded as a fertilizer, says Azby Brown, an associate professor at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology and director of the Future Design Institute in Tokyo.

     ''We think Edo was a kind of static and nonprogressive era, but in fact, it was constant innovation in almost every aspect of life, certainly material, culture and technology, and certainly design,'' said Brown, who published a book in Japan last October about the way of life in the late Edo era.

     The book, ''Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan,'' provides a close look at how people lived at the time -- in the rural setting of the rice farmer, in the downtown setting of an urban carpenter and in the elite setting of the urban samurai.

     The book, published by Kodansha International Ltd. and made available in the United States in January, contains hundreds of detailed sketches by the author about the methods and technology of the time as well as a number of tips for environmentally friendly living today.

     ''I think the goal was to give an example, not specific things like you should plant rice this way, or you should cut wood this way, but more about the state of mind, a way of thinking and a way of looking at the environment,'' Brown said of the book in a recent interview with Kyodo News.

     He said people in the Edo period overcame many of the same problems confronting present-day society -- issues of energy, water, materials, food and population -- in unique ways.

     For example, trading in human waste was big business, with farmers going to great lengths to secure contracts to collect and transport night soil from cities for use in their fields, at a time when in Europe such waste was being dumped in rivers, polluting the water supply and leading to outbreaks of cholera, Brown said.

     Japan's geography, its mountainous terrain with little arable land combined with a high population density and limited natural resources, led people to create a waste-free society, he said.

     Brown, who was born in California in 1956 and grew up in New Orleans, first came to Japan about 25 years ago to study miya daiku temple carpentry and his interest spread to contemporary urban housing practices in Japan focused on living well in a limited space.

     Brown said a number of lessons can be learned from the Edo period to make modern life more environmentally friendly.

     He cited oshinko Japanese pickles as examples of food that can be preserved and eaten without the need for cooking, saving fuel. ''We can probably save a lot of energy if we eat more foods that don't require cooking,'' he said.

     Brown also said he likes the ''idea of heating only a limited area where people are, trying to heat the people, not the space,'' citing ''hibachi'' and other traditional Japanese heating devices.

     He said while there are many examples from the Edo period, readers should not expect to learn about or reproduce specific techniques. What is really important is the ''underlying design process and thinking'' that can lead to solutions for environmental problems, he said.

     Brown said ''consuming like a prince'' may be a very seductive idea but that it is a ''very recent phenomenon.'' Before the Industrial Revolution, it was very difficult for people, except the upper classes, to consume more than they needed to, he said.

     ''I think we will enter a period, or we are entering a period, where we are going to need to consume less power,'' he said. ''I think we have to just think twice about using energy.''

     In America, for example, people are building or buying homes that are far too large for their needs and should be encouraged to reexamine that, he said.

     ''I think just enough should be on our minds over time,'' Brown said. ''Is it just enough? Is it too much? We should think about it over time.''

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