Environmental issues in Japan

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Environmental pollution in Japan has accompanied industrialization since the Meiji period. One of the earliest cases was the copper poisoning caused by drainage from the Ashio Copper Mine in Tochigi Prefecture, beginning as early as 1878. Repeated floods occurred in the Watarase River basin, and 1,600 hectares of farmland and towns and villages in Tochigi and Gunma prefectures were damaged by the floodwater, which contained excessive inorganic copper compounds from the Ashio mine. [1] The local breeders led by Shōzō Tanaka, a member of the Lower House from Tochigi appealed to the prefecture and the government to call a halt to the mining operations. Although the mining company paid compensatory money and the government engaged in the embankment works of the Watarase River, no fundamental solution of the problem was achieved.


Japan is the world's leading importer of both exhaustible and renewable natural resources[ citation needed ] and one of the largest consumers of fossil fuels. [2]

Environment deterioration in the 1960s

Current Japanese environmental policy and regulations were the consequence of a number of environmental disasters in the 1950s and 1960s that attended the high-speed economic growth associated with the Japanese economic miracle. Cadmium poisoning from industrial waste in Toyama Prefecture was discovered to be the cause of the extremely painful itai-itai disease (イタイイタイ病, Itai itai byō, "ouch ouch sickness"). People in Minamata City in Kumamoto Prefecture were poisoned by methylmercury drained from a chemical factory, a condition known as the Minamata disease . The number of casualties in Minamata is 6,500 as of November 2006.

In Yokkaichi, a port in Mie Prefecture, air pollution caused by sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions led to a rapid increase in the number of people suffering from asthma and bronchitis. In urban areas photochemical smog from automotive and industrial exhaust fumes also contributed to a rise in respiratory problems. In the early 1970s, chronic arsenic poisoning attributed to dust from arsenic mines occurred in Shimane and Miyazaki Prefectures.

Environmentalist movements began to spring up around Japan in the wake of the 1960 Anpo protests, which energized a new generation of activists. [3] These movements gained momentum as Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda's Income Doubling Plan placed a priority on economic growth at all costs, exacerbating environmental problems.

In 1969, the Consumers Union of Japan was founded to deal with health problems and false claims by companies. The National Diet session of 1970 came to be remembered as "the Pollution Diet." [3] Responding to rising popular pressure and outrage, the Diet passed fourteen anti-pollution laws in a single session, in what was seen as a turning point in environmental policy. [3] As a result, Japan had what were at the time the strongest set of environmental protection laws in the world. [3]

These new laws included a Water Pollution Act and nationwide regulations of toxic discharges. The "polluter pays" principle was introduced. A national Environmental Agency, which later developed into the Ministry of Environment, was founded in 1971. [4] National governmental expenditures on environmental issues almost doubled between 1970 and 1975 and tripled on the local government level. Business investments in clean technologies rose dramatically, too.

In the latter half of the 1970s, the Consumers Union of Japan led the opposition to nuclear power, calling for a nationwide Anti-Nuclear Power Week Campaign. This movement would continue to grow over the next several decades into a sizable anti-nuclear power movement in Japan.

In the 1990s, Japan's environmental legislation was further tightened. In 1993 the government reorganized the environment law system and legislated the Basic Environment Law (環境基本法) and related laws. The law includes restriction of industrial emissions, restriction of products, restriction of wastes, improvement of energy conservation, promotion of recycling, restriction of land utilization, the arrangement of environmental pollution control programs, relief of victims and provision for sanctions. The Environment Agency was promoted to full-fledged Ministry of the Environment in 2001, to deal with the deteriorating international environmental problems.

In 1984 the Environmental Agency had issued its first white paper. In the 1989 study, citizens thought environmental problems had improved compared with the past, nearly 1.7% thought things had improved, 31% thought that they had stayed the same, and nearly 21% thought that they had worsened. Some 75% of those surveyed expressed concern about endangered species, shrinkage of rain forests, expansion of deserts, destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain, and increased water and air pollution in developing countries. Most believed that Japan, alone or in cooperation with other industrialized countries, had the responsibility to solve environmental problems. In the 2007 opinion poll, 31.8% of the people answered environmental conservation activity leads to more economic development, 22.0% answered the environmental activity does not always obstruct the economic, 23.3% answered environmental conservation should be given preference even if it may obstruct the economic and 3.2% answered economic development should place priority than environmental conservation. [5]

The OECD's first Environmental Performance Review of Japan was published in 1994, which applauded the nation for decoupling its economic development from air pollution, as the nation's air quality improved while the economy thrived. However, it received poorer marks for water quality, as its rivers, lakes and coastal waters did not meet quality standards. [6] Another report in 2002 said that the mix of instruments used to implement environmental policy is highly effective and regulations are strict, well enforced and based on strong monitoring capacities. [7]

In the 2006 environment annual report, [8] the Ministry of Environment reported that current major issues are global warming and preservation of the ozone layer, conservation of the atmospheric environment, water and soil, waste management and recycling, measures for chemical substances, conservation of the natural environment and the participation in the international cooperation.

Current issues

Waste management

Japan burns close to two thirds of its waste in municipal and industrial incinerators. [9] In 1999, some experts estimated 70 percent of the world's waste incinerators were located in Japan. [10] Combined with incinerator technologies of the time, this caused Japan to have the highest level of dioxin in its air of all G20 nations. [11] In 2019, technological progress had brought the problem of dioxins under control, no longer posing a major threat. [12] In 2001, the US Department of Justice brought suit against Japan for the deaths of U.S. service-members at Naval Air Facility Atsugi caused by a nearby waste incinerator known as Jinkanpo Atsugi Incinerator. [13] This has called into question the Japanese government line that the thousands of incinerators in Japan are safe.

Climate change

Climate change in Japan is already affecting Japan, and the Japanese government is increasingly enacting policy to respond. Currently, Japan is a world leader in the development of new climate-friendly technologies. [14] Honda and Toyota hybrid electric vehicles were named to have the highest fuel efficiency and lowest Greenhouse gas emissions. [15] The fuel economy and emissions decrease is due to the advanced technology in hybrid systems, biofuels, use of lighter weight material and better engineering. As a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, and host of the 1997 conference which created it, Japan is under treaty obligations to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and to take other steps related to curbing climate change.

Nuclear power

Japan maintains one-third of its electric production from nuclear power plants. While a majority of Japanese citizens generally supported the use of existing nuclear reactors, since the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011, this support seems to have shifted to a majority wanting Japan to phase out nuclear power. Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan was the first leading politician to openly voice his opposition to Japan's dependence upon nuclear energy and suggested a phasing out of nuclear energy sources towards other sources of renewable energy. [16] [17] Objections against the plan to construct further plants has grown as well since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami which triggered the nuclear melt down of three reactors at the Fukushima dai ichi plant in Eastern Japan. [18]

The treatment of radioactive wastes also became a subject of discussion in Japan. New spent-nuclear-fuel reprocessing plant was constructed in Rokkasho in 2008, the site of the underground nuclear-waste repository for the HLW and LLW has not yet been decided. Some local cities announced a plan to conduct an environmental study at the disposal site, but citizens' groups strongly oppose the plan.

Fishery and whaling

In Japanese diets, fish and its products are more prominent than other types of meat, so much so that fish consumption in Japan has been noted to be the highest in the world at times. [19] In a fact sheet released by the FAO in 2010, it highlighted that with the exception of 2007, Japan has been the leading importer of fish and fishery products since 1970s. [20] Even in today's market, Japan, is the third largest single market in the world for fish and fish products. [21] [22] It is estimated that in 2008 that Japan eat 81 percent of the worlds fresh tuna. [23] These reasons are why Japan has one of the most overfished waters in the world.

By 2004, the number of adult Atlantic Bluefin Tuna capable of spawning had plummeted to roughly 19 percent of the 1975 level in the western half of the ocean. Japan has a quarter of the world supply of the five big species: bluefin, southern bluefin, bigeye, yellowfin and albacore. [24] As of 2005, more than ten species faced serious stock depletion. Moreover, the authorities has started to implement stock rebuilding plans for mackerel, snow crab, sailfin sandfish, Japanese anchovy, tiger puffer, and several other species, as stock diminished to depletive measures. [25] These stock rebuilding plans were essential, because data shown by Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries highlights that mackerel stocks in the northern Sea of Japan were around 85,000 tonnes compared to 800,000 tonnes or so in the 1990s. [26]

However, because of the depletion of ocean stocks in the late 20th century and government intervention, Japan's total annual fish catch has been diminishing rapidly. Government policy that has been implemented include The Total Allowable Catch System (TACs). This was ratified by the Japanese government and a law simply known as the TAC law came into place on the 14th June 1996, which essentially sets quotas on the amount that fisheries are allowed to catch, together this coupled with the stock rebuilding plans is slowly reversing years of overfishing that has happened in Japanese waters. [27]

Whaling for research purposes continued even after the moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986. This whaling program has been criticized by environmental protection groups and anti-whaling countries, who say that the program is not for scientific research.

Urban planning

Densely packed buildings in Hamamatsucho, Tokyo. Looking down at Hamamatsucho.JPG
Densely packed buildings in Hamamatsucho, Tokyo.

The massive nationwide rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of World War II, and the development of the following decades, led to even further urbanization and construction. The construction industry in Japan is one of its largest, and while Japan maintains a great many parks and other natural spaces, even in the hearts of its cities, there are few major restrictions on where and how construction can be undertaken. Alex Kerr, in his books "Lost Japan" and "Dogs & Demons", [28] is one of a number of authors who focuses heavily on the environmental problems related to Japan's construction industry, and the industry's lobbying power preventing the introduction of stricter zoning laws and other environmental issues.

Electronic waste management


Japan had a 2018 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 5.8/10, ranking it 95th globally out of 172 countries. [29]

Past issues

See also

Related Research Articles


Incineration is a waste treatment process that involves the combustion of substances contained in waste materials. Industrial plants for waste incineration are commonly referred to as waste-to-energy facilities. Incineration and other high-temperature waste treatment systems are described as "thermal treatment". Incineration of waste materials converts the waste into ash, flue gas and heat. The ash is mostly formed by the inorganic constituents of the waste and may take the form of solid lumps or particulates carried by the flue gas. The flue gases must be cleaned of gaseous and particulate pollutants before they are dispersed into the atmosphere. In some cases, the heat that is generated by incineration can be used to generate electric power.

Minamata disease Severe neurological disease caused by mercury poisoning

Minamata disease, sometimes referred to as Chisso-Minamata disease, is a neurological disease caused by severe mercury poisoning. Signs and symptoms include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, loss of peripheral vision, and damage to hearing and speech. In extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, coma, and death follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. A congenital form of the disease can also affect fetuses in the womb.

Minamata, Kumamoto City in Kyushu, Japan

Minamata is a city located in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan. It is on the west coast of Kyūshū and faces Amakusa islands. Minamata was established as a village in 1889, re-designated as a town in 1912 and grew into a city in 1949. As of March 2017, the city has an estimated population of 25,310 and a population density of 160 persons per km². The total area is 162.88 km².

Itai-itai disease was the name given to the mass cadmium poisoning of Toyama Prefecture, Japan, starting around 1912. The term "itai-itai disease" was coined by locals for the severe pains people with the condition felt in the spine and joints. Cadmium (Cd) poisoning can also cause softening of the bones and kidney failure. Effective treatments involve the use of chelators to promote urinary excretion of Cd. The cadmium was released into rivers by mining companies in the mountains, which were successfully sued for the damage. Remediation efforts in the affected region have been ongoing since 1972 and were mostly complete as of 2012. Monetary costs of the cleanup have been paid for in part by Japan’s national government, Mitsui Mining, and the Gifu and Toyama prefectural governments. Itai-itai disease is known as one of the Four Big Pollution Diseases of Japan.

The four big pollution diseases of Japan were a group of man-made diseases all caused by environmental pollution due to improper handling of industrial wastes by Japanese corporations. The first occurred in 1912, and the other three occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Minamata disease compensation agreements of 1959 were agreed between the polluting Chisso company and representative groups of fishermen and Minamata disease patients who had been affected by mercury pollution. The agreements and their formation shared a number of common characteristics. They were formulated outside the legal system, by ad-hoc mediation committees specially established for the purpose. Members of the committees and the final agreements were weighted in favour of Chisso and all included punitive clauses that the groups could make no future claims for compensation against the company.

Jinkanpo Atsugi Incinerator Waste incinerator in Kanagawa, Japan

The Jinkanpo Atsugi Incinerator was a waste incinerator located in Ayase, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, operated by Enviro-Tech. It began operation in the 1980s and was closed in 2001. The incinerator was near Naval Air Facility Atsugi, a base manned partly by several thousand United States Navy members and their families.

Environmental issues in the United States Overview of the environmental issues in the United States of America

Environmental issues in the United States include climate change, energy, species conservation, invasive species, deforestation, mining, nuclear accidents, pesticides, pollution, waste and over-population. Despite taking hundreds of measures, the rate of environmental issues is increasing rapidly instead of reducing. The United States is among the most significant emitters of greenhouse gasses in the world. In terms of both total and per capita emissions, it is among the largest contributors. The climate policy of the United States has big influence on the world.

Environmental issues in Brazil include deforestation, illegal wildlife trade, illegal poaching, air, land degradation, and water pollution caused by mining activities, wetland degradation, pesticide use and severe oil spills, among others. As the home to approximately 13% of all known species, Brazil has one of the most diverse collections of flora and fauna on the planet. Impacts from agriculture and industrialization in the country threaten this biodiversity.

Environmental issues in India Overview of the environmental issues in India

There are many environmental issues in India. Air pollution, water pollution, garbage domestically prohibited goods and pollution of the natural environment are all challenges for India. Nature is also causing some drastic effects on India. The situation was worse between 1947 through 1995. According to data collected and environmental assessments studied by World Bank experts, between 1995 through 2010, India has made some of the fastest progress in addressing its environmental issues and improving its environmental quality in the world. Still, India has a long way to go to reach environmental quality similar to those enjoyed in developed economies. Pollution remains a major challenge and opportunity for India.

Mercury in fish

Fish and shellfish concentrate mercury in their bodies, often in the form of methylmercury, a highly toxic organomercury compound. Fish products have been shown to contain varying amounts of heavy metals, particularly mercury and fat-soluble pollutants from water pollution. Species of fish that are long-lived and high on the food chain, such as marlin, tuna, shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish contain higher concentrations of mercury than others.

Waste management in Japan today emphasizes not just the efficient and sanitary collection of waste, but also reduction in waste produced and recycling of waste when possible. This has been influenced by its history, particularly periods of significant economic expansion, as well as its geography as a mountainous country with limited space for landfills. Important forms of waste disposal include incineration, recycling and, to a smaller extent, landfills and land reclamation. Although Japan has made process since the 1990s in reducing waste produced and encouraging recycling, there is still further progress to be made in reducing reliance on incinerators and the garbage sent to landfills. Challenges also exist in the processing of electronic waste and debris left after natural disasters.

Index of environmental articles Wikipedia index

The natural environment, commonly referred to simply as the environment, includes all living and non-living things occurring naturally on Earth.

Environmental impact of shipping

The environmental impact of shipping includes air pollution, water pollution, acoustic, and oil pollution. Ships are responsible for more than 18 percent of some air pollutants.

Environmental issues in Russia

Many of the issues have been attributed to policies during the early Soviet Union, a time when many officials felt that pollution control was an unnecessary hindrance to economic development and industrialization, and, even though numerous attempts were made by the Soviet government to alleviate the situation in the 1970s and 1980s, the problems were not completely solved. By the 1990s, 40% of Russia's territory began demonstrating symptoms of significant ecological stress, largely due to a diverse number of environmental issues, including deforestation, energy irresponsibility, pollution, and nuclear waste. According to Russia's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Russia is currently warming 2.5 times faster than the rest of the globe.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to environmentalism, broad philosophy, ideology and social movement regarding concerns for environmental conservation and improvement of the health of the environment, particularly as the measure for this health seeks to incorporate the concerns of non-human elements. Environmentalism advocates the preservation, restoration and/or improvement of the natural environment, and may be referred to as a movement to control pollution.


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This article includes text from the public domain Library of Congress "Country Studies" at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/.

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