Small but significant ways to live lightly on the earth in an apartment in Tokyo
I’ve just come off the back of many years of continuous travel without being settled in one country, one city, and certainly not one room for a long time. I’m currently in Tokyo, Japan to do a Master’s in Peace Studies through the Rotary Peace Fellowship.
This requires me to be in Tokyo for at least 10 months before I can start to head off back into the world to do field work and my normal nomad way of life. This means I had to find a place to live for 10 months – staying in the same place for the first time since 2008 when I lived in Ethiopia for a year.
In general, for the past 15 years I have been travelling and moving often and my usual form of accommodation has been varied including:
- Living in a van with my best friend travelling throughout Arctic Canada
- Well over 100 nights/year in my tent for at least 5 years, especially when travelling from Arctic Canada to the bottom of Tierra del Fuego in South America over 2 years
- A one room dormitory on Ethiopia without running water and sporadic electricity
- Another van that I lived in around the streets of Melbourne, and often the carpark of where I was volunteering
- My friend’s garage/basement with one electricity socket and slightly dungeon surroundings
- Two self-sufficient tiny houses that I made with volunteers
- And then an almost infinite number of houses, floors, couches and anything else I’ve been fortunate to close my eyes for 6 hours or more each night for 15 years J
Anyway my point here is that I am not used to conventional living in any sense of the word so coming to Japan and living in an apartment was always going to be a significant struggle going on my past form and especially because I definitely know my favourite form of accommodation which are my Happy, simply homes – sustainable, off-grid, self-sufficient, where less is more and just enough is plenty!
So in a very conventional setting that I am in here in Tokyo I wanted to share each and every small Teaspoons of Change that I feel is a move toward more self-sufficiency, sustainability and happiness trying to live within one-planet resources and environmental limitations.
I should firstly point out that the apartment is pretty typical for cheap but common accommodation for a student or single person in Japan. It is 19m² with kitchen, bathroom/toilet and bedroom/living room and rent is ¥450,000 / month (about $450USD).
I don’t have a choice of renewable energy nor water capture for the majority of my electricity and piped water so I have had to work within those parameters as much as possible to find my Teaspoons of Change.
- Buckets: I have buckets, many buckets. One for water capture from my shower and washing my face each morning, one for capturing rainwater outside when it rains, one for shaving in the bathroom and a basin for the kitchen
- All of the water I use in the house gets captured in some way through these buckets and is used to flush the toilet once a day – washing up water, showering water, etc.
- Solar: I have one small 7W solar panel that I can use to charge a small powerbank when the sun is shining. The first day I left it on top of the neighbour’s fence which was the sunniest spot around they called the police not knowing what it was and I had to retrieve it from the main police station assuring them it was not something harmful! I think this is a pretty good indication of the understanding and relationship of Japan and solar energy.
- Anyway, I can usually charge my powerbank only once in a week with solar power as it has been a cloudy month here
- Devices – I use USB devices as much as possible.
- I have a 10LED usb light I use for light above my desk and computer, this is the light I use the most, the rest of my lights are conventional fluoro lights that I use on a needs basis and are turned off at all other times.
- My music comes from a small USB powered musical box. The speaker is more than sufficient for listening to my favourite songs at volume or to play podcasts that I save from the internet and put on an SD card which slots into my little sound box :)
- I try to charge these devices and my phone via the powerbank as often as possible and my USB light runs permanently from my laptop usb
- I rarely flush my toilet with the lever on the toilet, instead I flush with 90% left over water from the shower, the kitchen, or capturing rainwater with my buckets
- I have filled my cistern with a wine bottle and two large plastic bottles so it uses less water to refill and I have made it so it only flushes as little time as you need and control – so not just one push and the factory choice of how water but a matter of holding the lever flushing till the waste is gone which is a lot less water
- I have not done a full flush in the month I’ve been here with my combination of re-purposed water and minimum flushing techniques and no smells or nasties floating around the place!
- BTW the terracotta pot-plant pots are to assist with a squatty potty (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbYWhdLO43Q) and can be used with a candle as a low-burn thermal heater (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzKbFzUEWkA)
- I continue to military shower as I always do, or as a few of my friends around the world call it, d’Arcy shower: cold water only, get wet turn off the water, wash, turn on water and rinse. I use about 5-10l maximum with this technique. I must note that it is warm in Japan in summer so the cold showers haven’t been too invigorating so far but come middle of winter I will be using hot water but showering less often, still using the d’Arcy shower technique
- I capture as much water as possible from my showering to use to flush the toilet
- Of course only organic soaps and cleaning is with vinegar and bi-carb soda
- I haven’t brushed my teeth using water for many, many years mainly because I have spent a long time in developing countries where you can’t safely use the tap water. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to clean your teeth without water and I spit my toothpaste into the toilet to be flushed by my shower water
- As I stated earlier I use a small basin in the sink to capture all washing up water and any other water for washing my hands or veges etc. all of it going into flushing the toilet
- I inherited a small fridge when I arrived but I am so used to not having or using a fridge so it was used as a cupboard for the first month till I gave it to my neighbour who moved into an empty place the other day so I am fridge-free and instead have an esky (cooler, chilly bin, call it what you will) outside and a smaller coolbag in my cupboard inside
- Meat and dairy free. I do occasionally eat these things when it is not my direct choice – eating at a friend’s place or function where the food has been determined for me
- No microwave – big suckers of energy and I use a rice cooker which I am told is more energy efficient than cooking rice on the stove…
- I don’t use hot water in the kitchen (or actually anywhere in the house since it isn’t winter) and my dishes don’t seem to mind nor does my general health
- I inherited a pressure cooker to cook my lentils and beans etc, although to be honest I haven’t used it yet! But when I do it will save energy!
- Less gadgets and stuff, my drinking vessel is a large jar and I have about two of everything and if I have more guests I get them to bring their own plates and utensils that I will wash and dry for them at the end of the night (in cold waterJ)
- All of my food waste goes into the vacant block across the road from me and I have a nice organic compost system going on there as it is scattered over a space and seems to be composting very well – without complaint from the neighbours, yet!
- I was dumpster diving once a week last month from the convenient stores that throw out heaps of stuff everyday which goes straight to landfill but it is mostly very processed and unhealthy food. I would also get in decent trouble in Japan for such a thing as they wouldn’t really see the logic in ‘one man’s waste is another man’s meal’ so I have stopped for this month to try and get some better eating habits and go for a dive once in a while from next month
- I mainly use this as my study space and spend a lot of time here but mostly under outside light from my sliding glass doors or under my USB LED light
- A huge thing for me is less stuff. Small places, or in my case for 15 years, my backpack, means I don’t have nor need stuff. A laptop for my work and communication, a phone, some camping stuff and the usual draw of miscellaneous items
- The three significant purchases I have made since being in Japan have been: my loft bed, push-up bars and a shoehorn, each of these things give me daily joy and justification for my purchase. I work under my bed by day – increasing the space in my apartment x2 and sleep on it by night, my push-up bars are cool and my shoehorn is something I’ve wanted to own for a while and I like putting my shoes on comfortably and not ruining them and making them last longer! These are the kinds of things I define as luxury items because I don’t NEED them but enjoy having them
- The majority of my clothing is second-hand, minimal and I wear the same stuff for years on end
- I don’t have a car nor have I had once since I was using one as a form of accommodation in Melbourne in 2009!
- Tokyo is very easy for public transport and mostly cycling friendly
- I actually rarely use trains and like to walk or cycle to downtown 20km away if I can and I usually make it a priority to do so and take the time it takes J
- Mostly it is walking, writing, cycling, running, meeting and talking with friends, speaking to my girlfriend via whatsapp, some stretching, a little bit of meditation, etc. They are all pretty energy-low recreations
- A few of the normal Teaspoons of Change things are: washing clothes in cold water with minimal detergents and only on full loads, 100% recycled toilet paper, ethical and Fairtrade food and products where possible – not so great in Japan and for university I am close to paper-free unlike my classmates. I do all of my readings on my laptop and assignments sent via email, I still haven’t purchased bottled water for more than three years and I will have a beer about once a week which is via can or bottle and not too many or too often – it is a treat and appreciated as such.
What I am still struggling and challenged by:
- Plastic packaging – so incredibly ridiculous in Japan, even when I buy direct from the small plots of land around me that sell their produce direct it ‘has’ to come in a plastic bag. When I asked for it not to be packaged they just take out the produce and then throw the plastic packaging anyway in the bin…
- Energy – my laptop and wifi lives on power and not sure how I can divorce myself off mains power more
- Heating – I’ll see what happens in winter as I plan to get a onesie, rug up, do lots of push-ups and use candle heating with terracotta pots
- My flying habit – I still fly a lot for work, travel, family etc and I have a very stringent carbon pricing program through http://www.offsetters.ca/ but need to reduce as much as possible moving forward…
My hope in all of that is not to say ‘look at me saving the world’ but to share some of the ways I love to live and there might be a few things that you think about taking on in your own homes…
So some of the things that I really love about my way of living is that I am happy when it is raining – to capture water for my toilet, or when it is sunny – to charge my powerbank with solar. I’m still not sure what to do when it is cloudy which actually seems to be most of the time!
The other thing I really love is that when I leave my house or go to sleep at night everything is off and I am not using a single watt of energy – mainly because I don’t have a fridge and I unplug my wifi. I think this makes a huge difference.
I love to look at the world like this and do my best to reduce my consumption and walk lightly on the earth. I’d love to extend this much much further and would love new ideas, suggestions and feedforward on more I can do… please share with me your tips!