THROUGH THE FIRE: 101 Ways JAs Can Be Greener


In 1996, we co-authored the original “101 Ways to Tell You Are Japanese American” for The Rafu Shimpo. Photocopies of it went viral, with regional lists created in the Bay Area, Hawai’i and Utah. Online, an active Facebook group with over 4,700 members post and share Japanese American cultural experiences daily.

In 2015 Tony wrote “101 Ways to Kill a Zombie Japanese American Style” and now, here are some environmental tips with a Japanese American influence.

The Issei and Nisei were eco-pioneers, long before any of us. Maybe it came from growing up on small farms in Japan with less resources, living through the Depression, having to give up their possessions when they went to camp, or coming from post-war Japan. Some Japanese Americans are very tidy, with their clean cars and perfectly manicured lawns. Others are packrats and messies.

Some crafty and do-it-yourself Sansei, who grew up with the first Earth Days of the 1970s, and the Shin-Issei (post-WWII immigrants) are as resourceful as their parents and grandparents were in Japan. Then the Yonsei and beyond have grown up in an eco-friendlier world with more emphasis on the damaging effects of climate change. For our daughter, turning off lights to save energy, not running the water, and green awareness were lessons learned not only in elementary school, but even in preschool.

But for every Prius out there, there are as many gas-guzzling minivans and SUVs. We live in a big-box chain generation that consumes more and more, with busy lifestyles that rely on disposable items in our daily use, and the endless availability of one-time use and polystyrene takeout containers. But there are easy things we can do in our everyday lives, and we can do it in our unique Japanese American style.

101 Ways Japanese Americans Can Be Greener

1, B.Y.O. Chopstix – Bring your own set of hashi when you eat in restaurants that only offer throwaway chopsticks.

2. Bring your own take-home containers when you have leftover food at restaurants.

3. Buy stainless-steel containers to pack school lunches for your Hapa kids.

4. Get those Hello Kitty reusable sandwich storage bags.

5. Wash and dry your Ziploc baggies, and use them again.

6. Use cloth napkins instead of disposable paper napkins.

7. Instead of throwing your kitchen scraps in a trash can, use a countertop compost pail and then transfer them to a backyard composter.

8. Like Grandma used to do, keep a supply of rubber bands, twist ties, butter and tofu containers in the kitchen.

9. Make your own dipping sauce for broccoli with Best Foods mayo, shoyu and lemon.

10. Make homemade takuan and tsukemono. You have a JA cookbook? Look it up, or ask your mom or grandma.

11. Buy shoyu in the gallon size. Have a small bottle to keep on the table or countertop and refill when necessary.

12. Buy rice in 20 pound-bags or larger. Not only cost-effective, but saves on trips to the store and packaging. You can also share or split a bag with friends and relatives.

13. Save the kome no togijiru (water used to wash rice) to water plants, boil noodles and wash dishes.

14. Use an airpump thermos instead of buying single-use plastic water bottles when you bring snacks to your kids’ JA basketball games.

15. Don’t give away Grandma’s fancy dishes. Bring them out at Oshogatsu and use them instead of buying disposable paper goods.

16. When you go to a JA potluck, bring the food in a Pyrex or reusable container, rather than an aluminum tray or something that will just get tossed after you eat.

17. Host a potluck Oshogatsu on New Year’s. Make-your-own-sushi handrolls.

18. Use furoshiki to wrap holiday gifts and potluck dishes. Give them out as gifts and teach younger people how to use them.

19. When you have JA potluck leftovers in the fridge, heat them up and eat them! Don’t let them rot in your fridge.

20. Use washable fabric tablecloths for parties instead of one-time-use thin plastic tablecloths.

21. Install a filter for tap water in the kitchen and put your drinks in reusable stainless steel, glass or BPA-free water bottles.

22. Refuse plastic straws with your restaurant drinks and boba teas. Or, bring your own glass or stainless steel reusable straws.

23. Turn off water when brushing teeth.

25. Take shorter showers… better yet, take a bath (ofuro style) and save the bathwater for the younger siblings (hahaha).

26. Look into solar panels, tankless water heaters and grey water systems for your home or business.

27. Have any old Japanese print fabrics? Cut them up to make cloth napkins, dish towels or quilts.

28. Channel Obaasan by crocheting blankets, potholders, dish towels and toilet paper holders.

29. Buy homemade dishcloths and scrubbers from JA craft fairs and stop buying paper towels.

30. Learn how to make a crocheted water bottle holder out of a grocery store plastic bag from Mrs. Matsuda or another Nisei lady in your hood.

31. Pick up one of those crocheted water bottle holders at your Obon or community center white elephant sale.

32. Be like Grandpa and Grandma; try to repair items before you buy a new one.

33. Instead of doping up on costly medications, make some okayu next time you’re sick.

34. Give your kids used wooden hashi and use them to make creative arts and crafts.

35. Styrofoam meat trays, plastic containers, boxes can be used to make kids’ crafts or hold craft supplies.

36. Instead of buying cheap plastic toys, go wild at the Sansei craft fairs.

37. Go to your local Japanese restaurant, and ask them to supply reusable chopsticks or at least switch to bamboo instead of those cheap wood waribashi.

38. Remember that if you don’t buy it, you don’t have to recycle or reuse it. Stay away from big-box stores and chain stores with heavy packaging.

39. Buy clothes from your local thrift shop or buy long-lasting, high-quality clothing; donate them when you are done with them.

40. Make rags, quilts, no-sew T-shirt bags or zabuton seat cushions out of your old “I’m with Baka,” Nisei Week and Tofu Festival T-shirts. Really, you still have them?

41. Plant a kaki, lemon or Satsuma tree, and you will always have omiyage gifts on hand and healthy fruits to eat.

42. Grow your own vegetable garden to save money on produce like Grandma used to do.

43. Save the seeds from your fruits and veggies and use them again next year.

44. Save fruit and vegetable containers and baskets and share what comes out of your garden.

45. Eat less meat and more locally grown vegetables from your farmers’ market or CSA.

46. Dry your clothes outdoors on a clothesline like Grandma used to do and use the sun’s energy.

47. Use rain barrels to collect rain water and water your garden.

48. Transform your water intensive Japanese g