Created for expats living in Japan

Sustainable Lifestyles in Edo and Japanese History

In Japan, there has long been a 'mottainai spirit' of taking good care of things, and in the Edo era, people in various professions recycled things to reuse them. Sustainability, which has been attracting a lot of attention these days, was already very active in the Edo period. You can watch this story with more details on our YouTube video.

When was Edo Era?

広重:〔東都名所〕駿河町〔之図〕: 広重画帖(国立国会図書館)

The Edo era began in 1603 and lasted for 265 years, until 1868. The Tokugawa Shogunate governed Japan until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. During Edo period, economy was stable, and people in Edo had peaceful lives without wars. In Edo era, Japan traded with only a limited number of countries therefore Japan had to be self-sufficient in all aspects of life. There were variety of traders helped and created recycle systems.

Please also read "History of Tokyo" to learn more about Edo Era and the history of Tokyo until the present.

Recycling Businesses in Edo Era

Here are some of the unique recycling businesses of the Edo period.

Used Paper Buyer

守貞謾稿 巻6:喜田川季荘(国立国会図書館)

Paper was very precious at the time and used paper buyers walked around the city picking up paper trash and visited houses to buy used paper. The collected paper was sold to craftsmen who made recycled paper. Printed books were also expensive, they were passed on from one generation to another. It is recorded that one maths textbook from the Terakoya was used for 109 years. The picture below shows how paper was made.

彩画職人部類 上:橘岷江/高津伊助(国立国会図書館)

Umbrella repairman 

彩画職人部類 下:橘岷江/高津伊助(国立国会図書館)

Umbrellas in this period were mainly made of bamboo and paper. During the peaceful Edo period ,Samurai or Warriors did not have much opportunity to serve, therefore some of them made money by repairing umbrellas.

Sustainable Lifestyle and Japanese History

There are many more interesting recycling systems from the Edo period. Please watch the video below to find out the rest of the story, including the history of Japan.