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Review: Just Enough by Azby Brown

9784770030740L.jpgSustainability was fashionable way before modern-day threats of climate change and pollution, according to Azby Brown, the director of KIT Future Design Institute in Tokyo and the author of Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green From Traditional Japan.

The book is about late Edo period Japan (1603-1868), before the industry of the West made its way to the Asian country.  The Edo period saw a large population boom in Japan, from about 12 million at the beginning to 30 million by the end.

Because Japan is an archipelago, and the society of the time rarely ventured beyond the islands, the country had to make due with the natural resources on the islands alone, which were beginning to be experience depletion through deforestation, erosion, and decreased agricultural production. 

Brown credits a number of factors, including government intervention, technological advances, and design (he is an architectural design professor, after all) with helping reverse the environmental damage.  But he credits the  attitude of the time–an attitude that “encouraged humility, considered waste taboo, suggested cooperative solutions, and found meaning and satisfaction in a beautiful life in which the individual took just enough from the world and not more,”–with being the biggest reason behind the reversal of Japan’s environmental fortunes.

Brown takes a look at three classes of Japanese society that existed during the Edo period and explains a day in the life of a person in that class (peasants, merchants, and ruling samurai).  He focuses especially on the design of everyday tools, living quarters, and land use. After each chapter is a section on how the previously introduced concepts can be applied to modern life. 

The book suggests a historical approach, rather than a technological approach, to solving resource and pollution problems.  When we (or at least I) think of solutions to strained resources and pollution, new scientific discoveries to sequester carbon, filter water, grow more environmentally friendly crops, or produce clean energy come to mind.  But Brown sees the solutions that come from the past as being the most efficient and ecologically sound. 

Fans of design, architecture, and history will probably enjoy this book. Everyday users may be able to use the book to inform some decisions, but may not have the means or motivation to change things like farm irrigation, building design, city planning, or environmental management.

Read on.  

–James Robertson

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    July 5, 2010, 1:15 am

    Guess this one is gonna hit the market. I wish this should also be published as e-books in order to control paper consumption which is again a green technique.
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  5. robert_jenkins
    June 2, 2010, 11:47 am

    What a wonderful philosophy- taking only from nature what you need. I think that it only goes to show that we modern people can live a similar lifestyle- not of wanton disregard for our planet but sustainable living

  6. Linda
    May 28, 2010, 5:47 am

    A kinda nice summary James!! Good work!! I am sure I would get a copy of the book soon. The concept is again different. The historical approach to reduce pollution. Very curious to know more details regarding it.
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