Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868) faced many of the same energy and environmental resource problems that the Western world faces today—namely shit running out fast.
I bring this up because a friend recently lent me an interesting book on the topic, Azby Brown‘s Just Enough: Lessons in Green Living from Traditional Japan. Using emblematic stories (“They are not fables. They are depictions of vanished ways of life told from the point of view of a contemporary observer, based on extensive research and presented as narrative), Brown lays out the life of the farmer, carpenter and samurai illustrated with hand-sketched diagrams of the design and tools employed by each to live as efficiently as possible.
Each of the book’s three parts begins with a description of a particular category of citizen’s life during the period in question followed by these whimsically mapped out drawings, which in turn precede short bulleted chapters on what lessons we modern folk can extract, update and apply to our present day communities. Suggestions range from plant a garden to my personal favorite: “Build homes that are inspirational.”
It’s an entertaining approach to the potentially dry topic of conservation, with the soothing message just enough repeated throughout. Garbage per se comes up infrequently because the Edo days produced little waste and found new uses for byproducts. The best illustration in the book is a centerfold spread of rice production, mapping how every part of the crop is named and used including hulls upcycled into “footwear, hats, aprons, mats, bags, rope, brush and many others!!” (Exclamation points are ok if handwritten next to little pictures of rice stalks.)
For those more digital than literary, Brown taped a talk on the Edo approach at TEDxTokyo. Interestingly, it’s pretty dull. The spirit of the book is hearkening back to a simpler time, which somehow doesn’t translate well to PowerPoint. So, if you’re interested, I recommend you get your hands, literally, on a hardcover copy and flip through the pictures.