Sunday, February 1, 2009

A freegan day in Japan

I've had a bit of correspondence recently concerning freeganism in Japan, so......

I'm not exactly sure what freeganism is, except it's a new word for living sensibly, for stepping back a little from the process of consumption and waste, and for finding different ways of relating to other humans other than through the medium of money.

I'm not the smartest cookie in the cookie jar, but it's obvious to me that much of what ails the planet, and those of us living on it, can be traced back to overconsumerism, and overproduction of waste, both things I can do something about in my daily life.

Japan is a wonderful place to practise freeganism as there is rampant over-consumption, and waste on a massive scale.

There are two factors that contribute to Japan being ideal for freeganism, first, that by and large the Japanese do not like to buy second-hand things. Obviously, there are exceptions, and the situation is changing in the current "economic downturn", but thrift stores/charity shops are a rarity. The second factor is that to throw away anything in Japan costs a lot of money. This is a good thing, but has negative consequences;.. I remember cycling north out of Kyoto and being stunned by the amount of junk and trash tipped over the side of the roads into the stream banks.

So, let's take a look at my day yesterday.

About a week ago I began to get worried. I was running out of firewood. I have plenty of firewood for next winter, but it is still green and shouldn't be used yet. So we drove up the river a little ways to a side valley where they are doing some forestry. Forestry in Japan mostly means one thing, clearcut! followed by monoculture planting of tree farms. After they have taken out all the logs that are usable there are huge piles of waste,.. trimmings, small trees etc.


We found the guy who was in charge of the 3 man crew and asked if we could take some of the scrap. "Please do" was his reply, as all that we took would be that much less for him to deal with!
A win-win situation, so we loaded up the van with some older stuff that could be burned right away.

On the way back home we stopped in at the village across the river as Yoko said there was a house being demolished and we could probably get some scrap wood there. Just as we got there a huge truck was about to pull away loaded with timber from the house. "Do you live far?" asked the driver. "nope" was the reply, so he followed us over to our parking lot and dumped the load there. We had saved him a 20k journey. 2 hours later he returned with a second load.

The house was not old, maybe 30 years or so, so most of the timber was in perfect condition, mostly 4 by 4's and 4 by 6's, so as well as a winters worth of firewood I now have enough lumber to build a new woodhed and workshop.


In the evening we got a phone call from Mrs. S., a farmer in nearby Oda village. She calls a couple of times a year to see if we will take some chickens off her hands. She has a big chickenshack and just lets the chickens do their thing, so she ends up with more cocks than she needs. Males are a waste of food and space (as I'm sure many japanese housewives would agree :)) For some reason quite a lot of people who keep chickens here don't like to kill them. Possibly a buddhist thing, but more likely related to the spiritual pollution connected with blood and death.


When I picked up the 10 chickens, Mrs. S. was so grateful for the favor I was doing her that she gave me a half-sack of chicken feed, a half-sack of last years rice....(for the chickens I hasten to add... no Mikasa business practises here), 2 kilos of leeks, and a huge chinese cabbage.

So, this morning me and my cleaver got up early..... The young hens end up in the freezer, the older hens and the cocks I used to eat, but nowadays just use them to make gallons of tasty chickenstock.


So, I sit in my cozy, warm house, belly full of leek and potato soup, the room filling with the aroma of chicken stock reducing on the stove, and ponder my investment portfolio. No matter what the vagaries of interest rates and economic climates, I won't be going hungry or getting cold.


  1. Same story for me.

    People are begging me to take their wood, before the snow started I would wake up and find piles of wood just sitting at our door step, and we also are burning a recently demolished house in our stove this year. Only problem is that it is sugi and so dry that it burns way to quickly, but its really nice to stick a piece of that in with a green log from the mountain to create a balance.

    We also are the beneficiaries of free chickens (don't have them yet though).

    We have found that it is almost a waste of time to even grow our own food (except that it is fun and satisfying) because everyone around us grows well more than they can use, or they leave the "ugly" ones in the field, so we are allowed to harvest all their left-overs. We have enough food here now for two years, and are concerned about next year, because by next winter we will have to find a place to store enough food for 4 years!

    Heck, as far as freeganism goes, there are people who get their entire house for free in this area, just because it costs so much for the owner to tear down! (unfortunately we had to pay a bit for ours)

    And when we go to the dump with our load of junk (mostly still trying to get rid of some of the useless stuff that was in the house when we moved in) we usually come back with more than we went with. Farm tools, wagons, skis, snowboards, underwear, shovels, etc.

  2. we started selling boxes of our excess veggies... city folks are prepared to pay for genuine organic stuff.....

  3. Freeganism's known here in the UK and was widely on TV last year. A group of freeganists check out all the waste bins outside Manks & Spencer and pick up heat sealed pre packed honey roast ham which has just gone past its sell buy date by an hour. Unfortunately supermarkets have now a policy of opening all food and spraying it with purple dye before discarding it open to germs in the skip.
    The most bizzar act of anti-freeganism I have seen was at the back of The Savoy Hotel in 1991.
    The cooks were throwing away the un-eaten meals from the restaurant into a skip, then lighting up a cigarette to take 5 minutes to see if any of the homeless were brave enough to approach them. Something out of 'A Tail of Two City's'.
    What is wrong with giving what you don't want?
    Good luck with the veggie business Jake...
    Speak soon.... Nick

  4. Hey Nick.....back in the states we called it dumpster-diving. When I lived at Big Mountain the dumpsters in Flagstaff provided much.
    They are only just beginning to start foodbanks in Japan.... like most "advanced economies" Japan throws away millions of tons of food while homeless starve.

  5. I caught part of a programme on Freeganism only the other week. I was going to write a bit about it.
    The focus was on New York. The reporter spoke a women rifling through a skip/dumpster. She turned out to be a high school teacher. Next a guy who is a physiologist etc...
    It returned to Japan looked at food wastage. There seems to be a change in attitude if a small one.

  6. As we see the capitalism failing, I think we should rethink the way of living. And I was encouraged by your freeganic life in Shimane. Thank you.

  7. I live on a small island off the west coast of British Columbia, and our community practises freeganism, although we don't call it that. We have a Free Store, where people bring useful goods that they don't need anymore. There is a small garbage dump, but it is only open for 2 hours a month so people are much more aware of their waste. And most are living on a small income. But it feels like paradise!

  8. Ojisan, this is a well written, informative and interesting article. Enjoyed reading it.
    Regards from another old guy and former Japan resident for 17 years in one of the prior centuries.