The idea of 'mottainai’—a Japanese approach to the concept of waste—could provide the west with a philosophical answer to environmental crises.
In an increasingly globalised world, island nations have access to outside resources but the island mentality remains in countries such as Japan, which has developed a particular environmental awareness articulated concisely by the word mottainai.
The term expresses a feeling of regret at wasting the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and can be translated as both 'what a waste' and 'don't be wasteful'.
The idea that we are part of nature and should maintain a harmonious relationship with nature is a deep part of Japanese psychology.
Not only does nature find itself imbued with kami, Shinto also celebrates the spirituality in man-made objects.
While Mottainai has been identified in such manifestations, it is for the most part understood as having its origins in Buddhist philosophy—particularly the concept of pratītyasamutpāda, or dependent origination.
Buddhist environmentalism is said to have begun with Gary Snyder in the early 1950s. Among Snyder's contributions to eco-Buddhism was his ecological reading of Indra's net—a metaphor used to illustrate the concept of dependent origination.
Mottainai attempts to communicate the inherent value in a thing and encourage using objects fully or all the way to the end of their lifespan. Leave no grain of rice in your bowl; if a toy breaks, repair it; and take good care of everything.