West Coast of Japan – A threatened beauty


My trip to Japan wasn’t all about the gardens, it was more about experiencing Japan  and trying to get a little insight into its fascinating culture.  As I have said we travelled in a sort of zig-zag south from Kyoto.  A couple of days were spent on the west coast based in a town call Hagi.  Definitely off the western tourist trail but it gave us the opportunity to visit the south-western coastline which was so influential on early Japanese garden design.img_8201-1

It is easy to see how this coastal landscape with rocky outcrops topped with pines (or maybe they are larches?) inspired Japanese gardens.


Being much further south from Kyoto the natural vegetation is more evergreen and lush.  For someone who had struggled with the obsessive tidiness and control of the gardens we had seen I welcomed the opportunity to be in a more natural environment.

However, sadly, this beautiful landscape is not what it seems.  The west coast of Japan suffers from being landfall for a signficant amount of the plastic waste discarded into the ocean by China and its neighbours – its referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch


This photo does not really show very well the volume of the rubbish (it goes much further up out of shot) but we were shocked when we looked down  from the nature trail path to see inlets full of plastic rubbish, and it smelt.  For a country like Japan which is obsessive about cleanliness and where you never ever see rubbish anywhere this must be a real challenge to cope with. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say I have never been to such a tidy country; it was remarkable, considering the Japanese obsession with package, that there seemed to be no rubbish.  If you have a packed lunch, a bento box, you pack up your rubbish and you take it home and dispose of it.  Once home, or in the hotel, or wherever, the bins are all clearly marked with three categories which seem to be the same country-wide. So how annoying and frustrating it must be to have to sort out your neighbour’s rubbish.

I was so surprised by the amount of rubbish that I did some research when I got home to find out where it came from and as this post and this post explain it is a real problem for Japan.  Both posts refer to an initiative by Ocean Cleanup to try to address the problem but you have to feel for Japan when they deal with their own rubbish and end up having to deal with someone else’s as well.  It certainly has made me even more aware of the need to think about what plastics I use and how I dispose of them.

8 Comments on “West Coast of Japan – A threatened beauty

  1. After the series of beautiful photographs of such stunning scenery, the last one came as a shock to me. Interesting links and subject, thank you Helen.

  2. So sad and true. I too try to resist buying items encased in plastic. Recycling captures only a small percentage.

  3. No defense or excuse for China–but nearly ever other country is bad too, Japan and Germany apparently excepted–I just read an article about an American visiting Germany and getting used to the very orderly recycling system there.

    Every morning on our dog walks we (along with many neighbors) pick up plastic water bottles and fast-food trash tossed out by teenagers and college students, along with broken plastic toys kids and parents discard in the park. There’s a short direct funnel of land to the Pacific where all that trash would end up if we didn’t pick up. We’re doing our small bit to not make that Great Garbage Patch any bigger. California has just banned stores from providing free plastic bags to customers, but the plastic water bottle issue has become even worse.

    We take reusable containers to restaurants for our leftovers and to the coffee store when we buy coffee beans so we don’t bring home yet another plastic package, bag or Styrofoam box that goes into a landfill after one use.

    Didn’t realize this about Japan, but it’s not a surprise. Excellent post, thank you. Japan must also deal with all the coal pollution China spews out. It is estimated that 25% of the air pollution in Northern California is from China.

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