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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.

24. Put several large buckets in the shower to put your graywater in as you wait for the water to get hot. The water can be used to flush the toilet or taken outside to water plants.

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 garden into a Zen rock garden with decomposed granite, succulents and drought tolerant plants.

49. Instead of buying Christmas tree ornaments, fold origami paper cranes to decorate your Christmas tree.

50. Instead of buying holiday gifts, make them yourself or give gifts of experiences and memories instead of consumer goods.

51. If you have an electric rice cooker, don’t leave it plugged in for long periods of time.

52. Cook with a slow cooker or pressure cooker to save on gas and electricity. Even better, research solar ovens.

53. Stay away from single-use products and sizes, like plastic water bottles, plastic silverware, and cups.

54. Bring a coffee mug to the office. There is no need for Styrofoam for every cup of coffee.

55. If you must go to Starbucks for a frappachino, bring your clear plastic cup from last time or bring your own coffee mug or container.

56. When you buy bento at the Japanese market, decline the extra napkin and hashi.

57. Bring cloth bags to the grocery store/farmer’s market instead of taking plastic or paper.

58. Buy the book “Mottainai Grandma” by Mariko Shinju, Kodansha Children’s Books. Not only does it have a great message about Grandma teaching her grandkids to recycle and reuse, but it is two books in one, English and Japanese. Sequels are “Mottainai Grandma Goes to the Magic Land” and “Mottainai Grandma Goes to the Woods.”

59. Donate your baby’s cloth books and used clothes to Grace Iino Children’s Center in Little Tokyo.

60. Donate preschool picture books to Nishi Child Development Center or Lumbini Child Development Center in Little Tokyo.

61. Donate your Japanese/Japanese American books to the Little Tokyo Branch Library or El Marino Language School.

62. Donate any Asian American studies books to your local middle and high school library.

63. Instead of buying books or DVDs at the bookstore or online, borrow them from the Little Tokyo Branch Library, or your closest library in walking distance.

64.  Instead of stopping for fast food, pack your own bento for road trips.

65. When you go to the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage in April, carpool or take the bus from Little Tokyo.

66. Go to YouTube and watch Great Leap’s “B.Y.O. Chopstix,” “Mottainai” and “Cycles of Change” music videos and forward them to your Nisei friends.

67. Invest in your kid’s future by making a donation to Little Tokyo Service Center’s Budokan of Los Angeles project. When the gym is built in Little Tokyo, hopefully you will save gas by not driving as far for basketball games and tournaments.

68. Stock up when things are on sale. It doesn’t help with clutter, but it does save on trips to the store.

69. Support your local Nikkei community and cultural centers. Whether they are teaching Japanese language, running taiko programs, painting sumi-e, teaching bonsai or Japanese dance, by participating, you help sustain culture for the next generations.

70. Buy a family membership to the JACCC and JANM and visit them both on the same day — another way to save gas and provide Japanese/Japanese American cultural enrichment to your children and grandchildren.

71. Participate in a volunteer cleanup day like Little Tokyo Sparkle, or at your local church, temple or community center.

72. Bring your own plate and utensils when you go to Obon in summer, and urge the Obon committee to ditch the styrofoam.

73. Buy Mottainai cloth bags from Senshin Buddhist Temple Bookstore.

74. Create your own kazari out of recycled materials for the Tanabata Festival in Little Tokyo.

75. Get involved with Sustainable Little Tokyo, the first cultural eco-district. Google it!

76. Move to Little Tokyo if possible and walk to get your Japanese foods at Nijiya or Marukai.

Nobuko Miyamoto in “B.Y.O. Chopstix.”

77. In the summer, send your middle-school kids to Camp Musubi to learn about Japanese and Japanese American culture in Little Tokyo and carpool with a friend.

78. Participate in the next CicLAvia by riding your bike, scooter or skateboard through Little Tokyo. Wear a happi coat, hachimaki or kimono to represent JA pride.

79. Use your bike, scooter or skateboard for short errands. Bicycle baskets can make quick stops to the market easier and it’s good exercise.

80. Buy a hybrid or electric car. Toyota, Honda and Nissan make good ones!

81. Go to Nisei Week events in August on the bus or train (MTA Expo Line, Blue Line, Gold Line, Metrolink).

82. Learn about artist Donna Keiko Ozawa’s Waribashi Project.

83. Learn about Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She led the worldwide Mottainai Campaign, inspired by her work in Japan.

84. Invest in your local credit union or bank such as the Nikkei Credit Union and Pacific Commerce Bank and keep the money in the community.

85. Support local efforts, such as in Culver City, to ban polystyrene food containers in restaurants and grocery stores.

86. Use your Rafu Shimpo newspapers to wrap gifts and presents.

87. Buy a Rafu Shimpo online subscription for yourself and as gifts to your children.

88. Spend the extra money to buy quality items once instead of cheaply made products that will end up in landfills.

89. Talk to your kids about the ways in which your parents and grandparents lived a greener lifestyle (or vice versa).

90. Always, remember, and never forget, no “mottainai,” it’s a shame to waste.

Note that this list currently only goes to 90. We need your help. Help us complete the “101 Ways JAs Can Be Greener” by emailing your ideas to Please also share the list — our planet depends on it.

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