Mottainai! "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" Gets Ethical in Japan and Beyond

There are some words that are difficult to translate across languages, and mottainai is one of them. But author Mariko Shinju's gives it a shot with the English translation of her book Mottainai Grandma, which teaches kids the basics of the 3Rs, but also tries to instill in still them a deep respect for the value of caring about why they matter; that is, teaching them mottainai. Nobel Peace Prize winner Waangari Matthai is a fan of the concept, and is campaigning to coin the term internationally. Below the fold, both Shinju and Matthai explain the concept of term, of why it's so apt for today's eco-movement.
Having already sold a half million copies of her book in Japan, Shinju has been featured on National Public Radio, and is currently touring Japan to promote her little book. Here, she explains her M.O.:


"What do you mean by Mottainai?" One day I was asked by my child. How can I explain this word? There are some Japanese words that cannot be translated into English and Mottainai is the one and is difficult to explain even in Japanese. This is how I started to think about making this picture story book.

Living in such a rich material world where food and things are fully supplied, it is very hard to find the situation for children to understand the meaning of this word. I hope that children will find the answer by reading this book that has wisdoms and interesting ideas in order to find it is fun to learn about "Mottainai" situation, I also hope that children can have a concrete and clear image of the situation. I would be happy, if this book could provide an opportunity to think of the gift from nature or someone, love and compassion, mind to cherish things. --Mariko Shinju, Mottainai Granma (Published by Kodansha)

Japanese environmental groups and many from corporate CEOs to ordinary housewives are now familiar with the usual 3 Rs of reduce, reuse and recycle, but the mottainai concept also deals with the sense of "waste not, want not" or "what shall I do about all this stuff?" Mariko Shinju's book lets granma teach the kids not to waste food, and generally try to care about their actions. Don't let the tap run if you are not using the water - that sort of thing.

Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai has visited Japan many times, and likes to tell the story how she tried to find equivalent words to "Mottainai" in other languages. She feels there is no better term that includes this attitude of respect and reverence for things, including the concept of reduce, reuse, recycle. Therefore, she is promoting the use of the word "Mottainai" as an international expression.

When Mariko Shinju meets kids at the events during her tour, she brings a huge doll looking like the stern granma in the book, complete with the signature grey bun hairstyle and watchful eyes behind rimmed glasses. The kids laugh a lot at her jokes and the talk is about compassion and fun - with a serious message that the children understand very well. She also talks about child labour and children soldiers - and worse - in her world report tour.

(Photos from Good News Japan)

More Mottainai here on Treehugger:
Respect For The Green Senior Citizens
Book Review: Flight of the Hummingbird
Who Needs a Shopping Bag With a Mottainai Furoshiki?
Japan's Wrap Attack: Reduce Waste With the 'Mottainai' Furoshiki

Brought to you by Martin Frid at greenz.jp

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