Have you ever heard of the term mottainai? Over the past few years, this Japanese term has become familiar to some people in other countries. In Japan, mottainai is used in everyday conversation to express the regret when something that could still be used is not, or when something is thrown away or otherwise wasted. Mottainai is like the English word wasteful, but what makes it different is its overtones of respect and affection toward nature and the objects around us.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—and Respect
International interest in mottainai was sparked by a visit to Japan in 2005 by Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmental activist who was the first person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for achievement in this field.
Maathai was deeply impressed when she heard about mottainai and decided to spread the word to the rest of the world. She felt that this single word neatly expressed the basic concept of the environmental conservation movement: "reduce, reuse, recycle." She also thought that it encompassed a fourth important element: respect for the earth’s limited resources.
Following her visit to Japan, Maathai addressed the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and called on people to make it their rallying cry, holding a T-shirt emblazoned with "Mottainai."
Then Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro also made an appeal to make mottainai an internationally recognized expression during the Group of Eight summit of industrialized countries in Britain in 2005.
Propelled by the activities of Maathai, a campaign to spread the word about mottainai began, and the term gradually gained international currency. In Japan, meanwhile, a song titled "Mottainai" was released in 2007 and has been a hit among children.
Mottainai can be our rallying cry as we do our best to maintain a spirit of respect for the earth.