Why Do The Japanese Use So Much Plastic?

I find that Japanese people have a an obsession with plastic. They use plastics in so many unnecessary ways that when I thought I’d seen them all, Japan always knew how to surprise me with yet another way of wasting plastic. “Why do the Japanese use so much plastic?” was just one of the many questions I asked myself a lot during my exchange year in Japan.

The Japanese Use Too Much Plastic

In autumn 2016 the price of plastic bags in Switzerland was raised from 0 to 5 cents. As a result plastic bag consumption dropped by 86%. Which means that almost everybody stopped using them. It’s funny that just by making plastic bags cost five cents, you can turn an entire country’s population into environmentalists who’d never use plastic bags. The five cents were also for me just too much. So, just like everybody else, I started being an environmentalist and commited to never using a plastic bag again.

But then I went to Japan…

While in Europe almost everybody thought about the environment and how we could live in a more sustainable way, in Japan nobody seemed to care… There was plastic everywhere. Some supermarkets in Japan also introduced “plastic taxes” but it’s not very effective.

Why Is There A Green Plastic Leaf Between Sushi?

Why do the Japanese use so much plastic?

Just like every other foreigner, I love sushi. The only problem is that sushi is expensive. The only thing I could afford during my stay in Japan was a sushi box from the nearest supermarket. I often went there and after having eaten a fair amount of sushi boxes I noticed that in every box I’d eaten up till then, there was this green plastic leaf.

This green plastic leaf is called “baran” or “haran”. It’s main purpose is making the sushi box look better and “hindering the spread of taste from one sushi to another. The Japanese care a lot about their food and what it looks like. That’s why they use an immense amount of plates, place them in a strict order and also use small plastic cups in their lunch boxes.

At some high-end restaurants you’ll still find a real leaf dividing the sushi. That’s because that’s the traditional way of serving sushi. But of course that would be too expensive to put into every lunch box, so they use the plastic ones.

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Why Do I Have To Wrap My Umbrella In Plastic?

日本人はなんでそんなにプラスチックを使うのか? Why do the Japanese use so much plastic?

As I just told you, I didn’t have the money to go to high-end sushi restaurants and thus had to stick to sushi from the nearest supermarket. One day, I really wanted to eat sushi. The only problem was that it was literally raining cats and dogs. I grabbed my umbrella and made my way to the supermarket despite the rain. When I entered and I saw something that I seemed so unnecesary to me that I couldn’t believe it was there.

There was a sign saying: “Please put your wet umbrella in this plastic bag!” I ignored the sign because I care more about the environment than the supermarket’s floor not getting wet. But that resulted in everybody looking at me first, then my umbrella (which I shook off before entering) and then me again, as if I had just murdered a child.

In those situations I simply pretend not understanding any Japanese. That’s how I avoid getting into trouble.

Why Do The Japanese Wrap Bananas In Plastic?

Why do the Japanese use so much plastic? 日本人はなんでそんなにプラスチックを使うのか?

Because eating sushi every day isn’t quite healthy, I started eating bananas. But when I went to my favourite supermarket to buy some, I was once again shocked. Don’t get me wrong, I like being able to buy single bananas. But why do they have to put them all in a plastic bag? Bananas already have a peel that is there to protect them, don’t they? Well, the Japanese don’t care. They fear that the banana gets dirty if they don’t put them in a plastic bag.

That’s a pattern you often see in Japan. Plastic is somehow regarded as clean and “luxurious”.

The Japanese Use Plastic For Everything


One of the reasons why I often eat sushi is that I’m working out at the gym and need to get enough protein. As I mentioned before I can’t just eat sushi all day, so I implemented chicken into my diet. You also need some fruit but I couldn’t buy bananas since they were wrapped in plastic. So I switched to apples.

Thinking that that day I could avoid using so much plastic, I headed for the cash register with my chicken and apple. I stood in line, paid for my stuff and was about to put everything in the bag I brought with me. But then it hit me. Not only the apple but also the chicken, which was already packaged, were both put inside a small plastic bag and then once again put in an even bigger plastic bag.

I hope that you now get what I mean with the Japanese having an obsession with plastic.

As for why they put the chicken into an extra plastic bag, it seems that the package might leak and let out the juice.

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