Japan’s miraculous postwar recovery and spectacular economic growth earned it worldwide admiration and led many to view it as a growth model. Subsequently, however, it became clear that Japan’s economic growth came at a huge cost in terms of environmental degradation and human health.

The environment and economic development have emerged as major issues of international concern in recent years, particularly in the wake of the 1992 Rio summit on the environment. The search has continued for a role model that will permit sustainable economic development.

In the backdrop of environmental insecurity and unsustainable growth prospects, analysts emphasize the need for a model that integrates biophysical, philosophic and economic approaches. Conceptually, such a model envisages an orbicular ecosystem model for a bridged analysis of elements, states and relationships in a framework of scientific and moral approaches. An overwhelming concern is to bring systems of technology, policies and interactions together in a single coherent framework so that nature and its creations can coexist in harmony.

Keeping the foregoing concerns in perspective, policymakers and academics alike have been keenly observing Japanese experiences in the areas of environment and development. Known as a “peace” and “donor” superpower, Japan is the leading economy in Asia and ranks number two in the world. Naturally, Japan’s own environmental and economic development experiences continue to remain under considerable international scrutiny, particularly in many developing nations.

For a long time, the Japanese model of economic growth was considered to be a model for emulation by other Asian countries. However, many profound questions have emerged in recent years about the depth of Japan’s commitment to combating environmental degradation and to pursuing sustainable development.

Japan’s spectacular growth since the 1950s has not come without considerable cost. Japan’s environment has become highly polluted due to emissions of gases and dangerous chemicals. Citizens’ groups began to organize in response to this pollution, and the government itself soon realized that the nation’s economic miracle was causing immense damage to the nation’s air and water resources.

Starting in the 1970s, Japan began confronting such problems through the implementation of new environmental regulations at both the national and local levels and the introduction of innovative technologies. Laws and regulations were enacted in the fields of waste disposal, biodiversity, parks, cultural heritage, nature sanctuaries, acid rain, desertification and various forms of pollution.

The government and the private sector have joined hands to focus on environment-friendly energy resources, power-saving household appliances, recycling and environmental education.

Concurrently, there has also been an effort to pursue international environmental diplomacy and make Japan’s experiences relevant to other nations, especially to developing countries that are beneficiaries of Japanese ODA and are trying to emulate Japan’s growth experiences. Accordingly, Japan offers technical and advisory support to a number of countries, especially those in Asia.

Despite Japan’s economic and environmental successes, there remain some gray areas. Japanese industries continue to emit large amounts of toxins, and waters are dangerously polluted with dioxins. The policy of land reclamation should be reappraised in light of the vast amount of seismic activity that has been taking place. Its nuclear-energy plants are prone to dangerous accidents and pose an environmental hazard. Its whaling policies raise eyebrows, and its appetite for hardwood is leading to charges that Japan is playing a leading role in the destruction of tropical forests.

Despite these problems, Japan’s growth experience and its commitment to environmental protection still makes it a better role model than many other major powers. Tokyo must, however, do more in the way of lifestyle readjustment and technological innovation. The developmental culture of consumption, a criteria of growth of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is dated and must be replaced by conservation. A tightening of its environmental belt is essential through the enforcement of cardinal principles such as zero emissions, carbon taxes, the creation of environmental courts and the establishment and enforcement of mandatory environmental-impact assessment laws.

Raising social awareness of environmental concerns is also essential. The Japanese media has been and should continue to play a very positive role in generating an environmental consciousness.

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