Saturday, July 17, 2010

Self-sustainability and us

I had a couple of interesting revelations the day before yesterday....

A Japanese family that I was very close to in High School happened to have a day in Berkeley and I went to see them. I hadn't seen them in 9 years, or since the last time I was in Japan, and that's even more unfortunate as they used to be such a huge part of my life. Anyway - we were talking about my moving to North Carolina and homesteading on my parents' property, and the whole sustainability issue, etc. I went on my normal rant about eco-friendly practices, etc (why I think growing your own veggies at the very least is greener than not driving your car....a whole big long discussion). She asked me what other things I do to be 'green' other than growing as much as my own food as possible, especially as where I am now gets close to no sun and I have to supplement the light in my outdoor garden with lights. I answered with the fact that I have a paperless kitchen, and an almost paperless household. She kind of stared at me blankly - and then quite matter of factly asked me how else my kitchen would be? I then remembered that a paperless kitchen in Japan is the norm. Even with the Japanese tendency to deep fry things, paper towels in the kitchen are pretty much unheard of (some housewives buy special non-waxed absorbent paper for deep frying, but most people just use news print...). Using and reusing cloth is the norm. This also extends to household cleaning - windows are cleaned with cloth or old newspaper, and floors etc, are cleaned with cloths that are washed and reused..... And it's amazing how these practices got leeched right out of me when I came back to the US and proceeded to assimilate back into western society.....

I had a second realization at the same time - I was searching for the Japanese version of the term 'self-sustained'. I couldn't for the life of me think of it, and was obviously stumbling. That in of itself was an oddity as I'm not a huge fan of the term in English.... I finally just had to admit I didn't know the word and went about just explaining my meaning. At which point the person I was talking to just supplied to phrase for me. The thing is - in Japanese it's such an old word that people of my age don't often know it, but it is ingrained in the culture and the language of Japan. It just illuminated the fact that we in the west have so completely grown away from self-sustainability (even though in the not-so-distant past homesteading and growing all your own consumables was the norm....) and have had to come up with a term fairly recently to describe such a seemingly foreign concept. In Japan, however, the concept is still on the forefront of people's minds enough that the term was never completely lost - perhaps from being closed off to the world for several hundred years? I don't know, but it was another one of the sociolinguistic things that just kind of smacked me in the face.

I wonder how many more of these concepts are lurking back in the habits I grew up with in Japan?

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