Japan Sustainable Travel Guide
Sustainable travel entails respecting and supporting local cultures. Luckily, visiting Japan makes that fairly easy as they are known for being a nation that has well preserved their traditions and cultural norms for centuries. Tea ceremonies, gift giving, and bathing in hot springs are all major aspects of Japanese culture that dates back to ancient times. Japan’s heritage can be traced back to the fourth century where Shintoism was the major religion, upon which nature and ancient heroes were worshiped. Buddhism was later introduced in the sixth century. Today, although traditional values are still very much prominent, modernity has taken over in many of Japan’s major cities. However, it is still rare to come across a country like Japan that adopts Shintoism ideologies such as respecting natural spaces, while embracing a nearly futuristic approach of today’s modern world.
Japan is made up of four major islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Travelling sustainably between islands and throughout the country is a fairly easy task. Bullet trains, such as the innovative Maglev train which primarily uses magnets on its tracks, have become the fastest and cleanest way to travel in the country. According to Climate.org, the Maglev uses 50% less energy than automobiles and aircrafts. However, if you really want to minimize your carbon footprint while experiencing much of Japan’s landscapes, hiking is certainly recommended. 70% of Japan’s landscapes is mountainous or forested. Two highly recommended trails to hike include the Kumano Kodo, which used to be an ancient pilgrimage route through the Kil Mountains; and the Nakasendo Trail, a 17th century byway between Kyoto and modern day Tokyo.
While staying in Japan, either in cities or rural areas, consider opting for a Ryokan, traditional Japanese inns. These traditional inns are complete with tatami mats, low tables for drinking tea and eating meals, room dividers and wooden walls. Futuristic hotels with robot staff and where face recognition replaces keys to enter your room are also cool, but keep in mind the amount of energy required to power such facilities can be extensive.
With documentaries such as The Cove shedding light on Japan’s inhumane practice of herding, capturing and killing dolphins in Taiji, it’s highly recommended to avoid anything dolphin-related, such as visiting a dolphinarium. If you have yet to see The Cove, we highly recommend it; just be warned of graphic images of involving the murder of hundreds of dolphins. Additionally, Japan continues to practice whaling, despite being ordered to stop by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
From spiritual temples to futuristic hotels, a trip to Japan can be like taking a trip through time. No where on Earth with the exception of Japan will you be able to find centuries old traditions, ancient castles, stunning natural beauty, and a touch of the not-so-distant future all in one 377,000 sq km landmass. If you’re going on an adventure in Asia, be sure to add Japan to your list.