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Review: Just Enough by Azby Brown

Sustainability 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...

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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Meet the Author

David Max Braun
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn