Technology, Ecology & Art: Garbage Incineration in Japan

Our group in the Hundertwasser Lobby

Yesterday our family visited the Maishima Incineration Plant located near the port of Osaka. Japan is the world leader in burning garbage to produce electricity. Land is precious in this crowded island nation, and landfills are not a good option.

The plant deals with garbage in three ways. Most waste is burned at extremely hot temperatures. The heat is converted to electricity through steam and turbines. Most of the electricity goes to power the plant itself, but the excess electricity is sold back to the municipal electrical grid. The leftover ash is used in land reclamation projects or converted to bricks to pave roads and sidewalks. Japan and in many other countries in Asia, artificial islands are quite common near the coasts of cities. In fact, the main international airport, Kansai International Airport (KIX) is an artificial island.

Large items, such as furniture, bicycles, etc. goes through a different process. The recyclable metals, iron and aluminum are converted to pellets and sent to recycling plants. The leftovers are either crushed into small blocks or burned. The 15 cm – 40 cm blocks are used with ash in land reclamation projects.

Mom and Owen

Incineration plants started in the 1990s and were found to emit toxins into the environment. Today, much of the plants are devoted to cleaning by-products before they are released.

Incineration plants are common in Japan. The Maishima plant is one of six in the Osaka metropolitan area. It handles around 900 tonnes of waste per day. The guide estimated that Osaka disposes approximately 36,000 tonnes per day. With a growing world population living at a higher standard of living than ever before, protecting the planet is an increased concern of mine. I am worried about climate change and the quality of life on earth being lessened by our wasteful lifestyles. I agree it is good to burn garbage instead of just burying it, but it would be better to reduce the amount of waste generated in our lives.

Control Room

On a small level, I have been tracking the waste generation of our family. We recycle glass, metal and paper through the excellent Minoh city recycling program. I’ve started to compost our vegetable matter at school. This has reduced our waste significantly. However, a big problem is packaging. The amount of plastic used to protect, transport and display products is crazy. As a consumer, it is impossible to escape!

View of facade from rooftop garden

What make the Maishima unique is the architecture of the plant. City officials commissions the Austrian/New Zealand artist and architect, Friednesreich Hundertwasser to improve the facade of the plant. Hundertwasser was a fascinating artist and a man ahead of his time. His mother was Jewish and father German, and he escaped death by hidingbill his maternal origins. He became quite a famous architect and applied artist after World War II. Hundertwasser detested straight lines and the grey monotony of city buildings. He was also one of the first architects to incorporate nature in his buildings and believed that planting trees in cities, helped well-being. We visited his famous apartment block in Vienna years ago. Hundertwasser was married to a Japanese women in the 1960s which may be the connection to Japan.

Compared to most of the boring, industrial design of buildings in Japan, I am happy that they invested in making it beautiful. It was uplifting to walk around the roof top garden and it has become of tourist destination and raised awareness of sustainability. Hundertwasser thought the project brought “technology, ecology and art in harmony” and I have to agree!

Yokohama Chinatown

Kantebiyo Temple (Chinatown, Yokohama)

When Japan opened to foreigners in 1859, it started with ports and Yokohama was one of the first ports to open. Many Chinese immigrants came at that time to work in the port and many settled nearby. It is the largest “Chinatown” in Japan and one of the largest in Asia, with over 250 Chinese restaurants and between 3,000 – 4,000 Chinese residents. It used to be much bigger, but the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 which killed 100,000 people and made almost 2 million homeless, caused many of the Chinese to pack up and go back to China instead of trying to rebuild. The Port of Yokohama is the third largest port in Japan after Tokyo and Kobe. None of the Japan ports compare in size to Busan, Korea, Singapore and several Chinese ports.

Akira and I in the bustling streets of 横浜中華街, 

I am in Yokohama for a basketball tournament and am staying in Motomachi, which is adjacent to Chinatown. My friend Akira and I went for a nice Chinese dinner and sento (hot bath). We walked around the narrow streets and took in the sights, including the extravagant Kantebiyo Temple. It is dedicated to the Chinese god of prosperity and good business. That is appropriate for a port town. It is nice to have some Chinese food for a change. We had a nice evening.

Owen and teammates wait to board the Nozomi shinkansen to Shin Yokohama

Cycling with Oliver

43701009240_53c36dcb7f_c
Attempting a selfie as we ride through Japan countryside

I’ve been trying to get out into nature every Sunday to recharge my batteries. Two weekends ago, I rode with Oliver on a loop outside of the town of Kameoka in the Kyoto prefecture. We drove 30 minutes to the town of Toyono and did a 25-kilometer loop along forested rolling hills and rice paddies. An absolutely heavenly afternoon for me, and despite his complaints through much of the ride, in the end, Oliver enjoyed it too!

There are so many great cycling routes in Japan. Drivers are very safe and much of the countryside is depopulating rapidly which makes for really good cycling. I love riding and hope to do as much as I can over the next 8 months I am here.

Oliver and I found a really nice spot for lunch. In between rice fields, a small shinto shrine was nestled between hills. The large sugi trees which are a characteristic of any temple or shrine provided shade and a quiet place to eat and talk.

There were some decent slopes and Oliver complained going up them, but towards the end of the loop back to our car, we had a very long descent through the forest that he loved. We saw many downed trees from the recent typhoon that came through here last month. Oliver doesn’t like cycling too much, but he was nice to humor me and come along.

A perfect afternoon that I wish could have lasted forever!

44792751914_d1952c7916_c

Halloween 2018

Halloween is widely celebrated in Japan. One sees all sorts of Halloween-related products for sale and people dress up. The modern customs of trick-or-treating and costumes are one of the gifts America has given to the world. Everyone enjoys dressing up, focusing on being scared and walking around collecting candy.

31947217368_84bbe64702_b
Oliver was a big hit in the neighborhood

Our neighborhood, Onohara, annually organizes a Halloween festival. There are booths run by high school students at the school and families volunteer to open their homes to trick-or-treating, which is not regularly practiced here. Japanese culture is super organized and so families had to sign up their children in August. Participants are given tickets and a map to where the homes are located. It costs money to join and the neighborhood association gives candy to the homes. We supplemented our candy supply with American candy from Costco. We decorated the steps and entryway to our house and played Halloween-themed music. Many of the neighborhood children did not know trick-or-treating etiquette and had limited English so we did our best to explain to them how it works. The international school students, especially the elementary students loved seeing “Ms. Nadia” passing out candy. So many of the children were very cute and it was pleasurable to see their excitement.

31766354268_6ddd1a83c7_c
Elina, Ocean, Alona and Mako pose as a smack of jellyfish (the technical term for a group of jellyfish)

Oliver dressed up as a dinosaur. We bought a blow-up costume that was hilarious and a hit with everyone. We didn’t manage to save any of the photos, however, due to storage issues on our phones. I hope to get one.

Ocean and three of her friends used umbrellas, lights and colored streamers to dress as jellyfish, which is very appropriate for seafood-loving Japan. They were massively popular with other trick-or-treaters and posed for many photos.

45588310952_f2048d3260_c
Ocean is trying to get out of our front gate

We finished the night with a dinner party at a friend’s house. The weather was perfect and it was a delightful evening.

Autumn Cycling with Owen

 

43514738000_290704a132_c
Harvesting Rice

Sunday afternoon Owen and I went for a bike ride up in the forested hills north of our suburb of Minoh. I just love cycling and going with my son combined with the scenery, it made for such a pleasurable afternoon. Many of the farmers we passed were harvesting rice, one of the many signs of autumn. Most of the rice fields near us our small and farmers use a harvester that looks like a riding lawnmower. You can smell the rice grains as you are riding by the fields.

 

31456098078_0e4af3a18b_c
Owen rides through the sugi forest

We drove 30 minutes up to the village of Ooiwa and parked at a temple parking lot. We rode 10 kilometers north and turned around. There was a good mix of forests, fields, deep valleys and rolling hills. I want to ride all the way to Kameoka, a city just outside of Kyoto, which is about 40 kilometers away.

31456098658_78a3e1c966_c
Ripe persimmons (kaki) 

 

Sports Day is a National Holiday in Japan

(Oliver runs a leg in the relay race at our school.)

I love sports and being active so thoroughly enjoy the unique Japanese national holiday, Sports Day (undoo kai – field day). The government started field day in 1966 being inspired by hosting the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. They wanted to promote an active lifestyle and chose mid-October when the weather is mostly sunny and cool. It is traditional on this day for schools to host relay races, tug-of-war, and other sports. Students and parents eagerly await the day and it is the biggest crowd of parents we get at any school event, except for perhaps the International Fair.

45150735862_09c978caa1_c
Oliver uses his mass to excel in the tug-of-war

The Japanese students take this very seriously and have extensive practices for the day. Our school does a range of events including ultimate frisbee, dodgeball and even a dance performance. The different grade levels for teams and winning the overall competition is big deal.

43387023080_fdf12310be_c
Owen’s team came second in ultimate frisbee! (Owen is with his friend Josh)

The elementary school students also participate but in non-competitive games. Ocean liked the swimming portion of the day but was not so excited about the field events.

45150731582_cd1f36a775_z

It was an absolutely gorgeous day with bright blue sunny skies, although it got a little hot in the afternoon. It was our last Sports Day in Japan and I tried to get the most of the day.

45150741612_ebe79f7b41_c
Sunset over Minoh – view from the top of Oasis parking garage