For this month’s Miso Green, I’d like to divide my attention to two audiences: those that are leaving the JET program and those that are staying. Your upcoming summer battles are very different, but I believe that I have ideas for making them tolerable in minimally impactful ways.

 

Part 1: Simple solutions for beating the heat

Air conditioning is certainly not the most environmentally-friendly innovation, but in these intolerable summers, even I can’t avoid using it sometimes. Our schools are relatively merciful with it, but they keep it at temperatures high enough that you can expect to still break a sweat. However, in the name of the environment, I’ve been utilizing these methods to beat the heat and still avoid waste. They really do help.

1. Atomize with peppermint oil. Menthol has natural cooling properties and masks odors rather well (hence its presence in gums and toothpastes). Put a few drops of Kodera Peppermint Oil in an atomizer with some water, and spritz your skin when hot (avoid your eyes!) The spray will not only refresh your skin, but has the added benefit of acting as an insect repellent.

2. Powder yourself with cornstarch. I praised cornstarch as a face powder in last month’s article, but its usefulness is not limited to the face. Cornstarch is a primary ingredient in some baby powders for its absorbent properties, and it’s translucent on the skin, so powder it anywhere you’re prone to sweating and chafing to stall the effects of the heat.

3. Take ice and beverage concentrates. Besides air conditioning, we probably spend the most money and create the most waste with beverages in the heat. Water alone often isn’t enough to quell the side effects of a Japanese summer, so if you want to avoid hundreds of unnecessary PET bottles, try making a beverage concentrate to mix with water and ice on the go. Here are some recipes for strawberry lemonade, sweet tea, and a sports drink, but you should certainly try experimenting. If you don’t want to take the time to make concentrates, you can still avoid lots of plastic by buying powdered Pocari Sweat.

4. Try my deodorant recipe! Just to reiterate for those of you who might have missed it last month, I have a great recipe for all-natural (and actually effective) sweat-absorbing deodorant. It’s awesome. Give it a shot!

5. Unplug your appliances. Most people nowadays know that power cords, even when their appliances are powered off, continue to draw energy from their outlets if left plugged in. But perhaps most of us don’t consider the heat that those stray cords also produce. To reduce the amount of heat you create in your apartment, unplug every unnecessary appliance when not in use.

6. Get a small dehumidifier. Sure, it’s another appliance that creates heat, but pulling the moisture out of the air in your apartment will make it feel cooler, and keep bugs and mold away. Also, if you spill something on your tatami, placing the dehumidifier next to the spill will make sure mold doesn’t grow on that spot.

7. Encourage a cross breeze. If you open windows on two different sides of your apartment and put a fan between them, on many days, the breeze it creates is pleasant enough that you won’t feel the need for air conditioning. Even if you are desperate for icy air when you come home, creating a cross breeze for 10 minutes before turning the A/C on to flush out all of the hot air that has accumulated throughout the day means that your A/C won’t have to work nearly as hard to cool your apartment, thus saving energy.

8. Store produce properly. Have you noticed produce, even in the fridge, starts to rot much faster than usual now that it’s summer? The plastic bags that they come in are not necessarily made for storing them and each plant likes to be stored in a different manner.  Furthermore, you can rescue some of your sad-looking produce! Leafy greens already wilted? Try putting them in a bowl of ice and water for about an hour; many of them will perk right up.

9. Buy a freezer pillow. With a truly cold pillow and a cross breeze, I can sleep like a log on a warm night with no A/C. Some drugstores have awesome non-gel cool pillows that somehow don’t gather condensation as they lose their cool. With this 800 yen investment, you’ll save thousands in energy costs.

10. Use your air conditioner in “dry” mode instead of “cool” mode. Even for me, there are days that are ungodly hot, and I am compelled to use the air con. But I don’t especially like the feeling of artificial cold as a replacement for the heat…. thus, on the most ferocious of hot days, I use the “dry” setting on my A/C. The “dry” setting is intended for dehumidification, but it also has a temperature control. The effects are not nearly as strong as cool mode, but that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

 

Part 2: Departures and Arrivals

As for those of you that are leaving Japan, I’m sure that you are busy cleaning and making important choices of what to throw away. For those of you whose successors will inherit your apartment, my biggest piece of advice is this: Give your successor a clean slate. Less is more. I figured that giving this advice would be smart to do now since you have a month left in Japan, and you will be able to throw stuff away on the appropriate recycling day.

It may seem counterintuitive that I, as someone concerned with the environment, am asking you to throw things away. The big reason for this is that clutter is often a huge obstacle when you’re trying to cut down on waste. Having a lot of excess things tricks our minds into thinking that we need more than we actually do. I’ve found that filling my home with few, simple, classic, aesthetically beautiful items is more peaceful, and leaves me feeling less and less of a need to shop. Furthermore, your extra stuff need not go to the landfill.

Get rid of unnecessary duplicates. Do you have more than 4 pieces of any piece of dinnerware? Chances are good that you successor won’t need the excess. Reduce your stock and free up space. Then, if more people show up for a party, you can ask them to bring their own dinner set… it’s really not that inconvenient!

The same goes for bedding; reduce your stock to only the pieces you and guests have used in the last year, but throw out ones that are clearly stained, or if you have no idea how many people have slept on them. If your own futon is questionable, perhaps you can ask your successor if you might buy a new one on their behalf, and they can pay you back. If they are already buying things off of you, this shouldn’t be too hard, and it will be wonderful for them to sleep in a truly clean bed their first night here.

If you don’t plan to or can’t sell your unwanted items, dispose of them in the least impactful way possible. Here’s a good order of operations to go by: (1) Ask around to see if anyone you know could use them. (2) Join Kansai Freecycle, and send a mass email to many potential takers (they really need more active users!). (3) Take your unwanted items to a recycle shop for resale. You may get a little money for them, but don’t expect it. (4) Disassemble the item into recyclable parts (for example, wire, nails and screws, even forks, can be saved and recycled on metal pickup day). (5) If all else fails, throw your unwanted items out with bulk.

Reduce unnecessary paper for your successor. Scan and name important documents like manuals and building information and recycle the paper. That way, your successor can peruse them before they come, and never need to worry about losing them. Also, put a sign on your mailbox that says something along the lines of: チラシなどは要らないです (I don’t need flyers, etc) to prevent them getting unnecessary mail.

If you’re on the fence about an item, ask! Soon you will be in contact with your successor, and they’ll probably have a lot of questions for you. What a prime opportunity for you to ask about what they truly need! Don’t assume that your successor needs or wants that tennis racquet that your predecessor left behind after using it twice and you have never touched, but have kept around just in case. Ask if he or she thinks they might use certain items. Good luck on your departure from Japan!

And that’s all I have to say about that. In addition, I have two people to thank this month. First, (this is a little late but) thank you and congratulations to former Himeji City JET Jaclyn Threadgill, winner of the “Combini-Free Week” challenge. Jaclyn has won a bokashi starter kit! Here’s what she had to say about her experience.

“I made an effort not to shop at conbinis for a week, and also to try and avoid buying single-serving packaged foods at the grocery store. The conbini part wasn’t so difficult. I don’t shop at conbinis very often, and when I do, it’s generally for small purchases (ice cream, nikuman, late-night milk or eggs). Sometimes I like to stop at the conbini on the way to work for a between-class snack or a coffee. In my conbini-free week, I took fruit instead. I left a jar of my favorite instant coffee at work. It wasn’t so hard to change my routine, and it saved me a little money, too.

But applying the mindfulness about single-serving packaged foods to my grocery store trips was harder. So many times, I just wanted to grab a little tray of nigiri sushi at the grocery store on my way home from work. Or a sandwich. Or an onigiri. I can’t clearly recall, but I maaaay have fallen off the wagon once. Just once. I swear. But really, the egg sandwiches and onigiri are pretty easy to make at home (and not very time consuming), so I have no excuse.

Anyway, I’ll definitely try to avoid buying single-serving packaged foods in the future… but I imagine this will get much harder in the summer, when it’s particularly difficult to ignore those seductive 7-11 Black Thunder ice cream bars.”

Finally, a big, warm thank you to the outgoing HT editor, Imogen, for not only helping bring Miso Green to life this year, but for being supportive and understanding despite the fact that I have NEVER turned an article in on time. Thanks for everything.