Lessons from Japan: Resourcefulness

One of the first things you’ll notice in Japan is how small everything is. Apartments, cars, driving lanes, parking spaces – hardly anything takes up more space than it needs to.

Of course, this could just be a survival mechanism for a country that has to fit over 100 million people into a space roughly the size of the US state of Montana (which has just over 1 million people, by comparison).

The joke about how “everything in Japan is small anyway amirite” is practically begging to be made here (or is that just me? It’s probably me).

But now that that’s out of the way, on a real level: I find myself completely in awe of Japanese efficiency and resourcefulness.

It’s in the way lunches are packed, to the way cities are built. It’s more than just a survival mechanism.

It’s a way of life.

Why Are We So Un-Resourceful?

No matter where you’re from, no matter how privileged – or underprivileged – you are…it’s possible that you suffer from the Affliction of Stuff.

Don’t go trying to blame the media now. It’s not Hollywood’s fault. It’s not Facebook either. The uncomfortable – but liberating – truth, is this: it’s you. It’s me. It’s us.


The roots of the Affliction of Stuff lie within our past, and our psychology.

Our desires to accumulate wealth and possessions; our love for extravagance masquerading as beauty – began before we were even born.

Reality check time: My grandmother’s great-grandmother was a slave. Most of us were not born with any silver spoon in our mouths. Most of our parents had to struggle to provide us with the lives we are blessed to live now. And still, poverty and neglect is a real and and present truth in the lives of so many.

But even if you never grew up dirt poor, or even poor at all, most of us have encountered some physical lacking in our past. Some need that wasn’t met; some want that couldn’t be afforded or provided.

And so, we overcompensate.

This video perfectly describes the psychological basis for this phenomenon:

It seems that this extravagance is built-in within the cultures of many places I’ve lived in and visited before.

But here in Japan, students serve their own lunch and clean the entire school building every day – not because they’re poor – but just because…it makes sense for them to do it.

Teachers wear sweatpants and sneakers to school – not because they can’t afford “nice clothes” – but, again, because it makes sense to dress that way.

I think part of the reason I feel so at home here because my own sense of fashion and propriety stems primarily from what makes logical sense to me, not necessarily what’s “fashionable” or deemed “acceptable”. Sometimes the two coincide, but when they don’t, the former usually wins.

But I knew I still had some work to do when my first thought when I set foot into my apartment was…How can it be so small???????

After being here for a few weeks and having that much sought-after contentment spread by way of osmosis from my environment, further into my life, I came to realize: My apartment isn’t “small”. The roads aren’t “narrow.” These things are exactly the size they need to be.

japanese streets

For me, resourcefulness is like minimalism +. It’s not necessarily having less, but genuinely desiring less. It’s truly understanding and embodying that bigger does not always mean better, and that less is actually more.

It’s being able to get rid of things around me that don’t serve me, so I can have the freedom to open myself up to all the new things that will.

And, most importantly, it’s being able to properly identify what really matters, and hold on tight to those things that do.


What do you have that takes up more space than it needs to – whether physically or emotionally? Why are you holding on to it? And what could you learn from letting go?

As always, feel free to comment below! ^^




  1. I really love this.

    1. Thank you for reading Rowena!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *