Editorial Feature

How Japan is Tackling Pollution

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Japan began tackling its pollution problem back in the 1970s when particulate matter levels in the air (PM2.5) reached dangerously high levels around all the major cities. The problems can be traced back to the rapid industrialization of Japan that began during the Meiji period in the 19th century.

Coal, wood and gas became the primary fuels that drove Japan to become one of the most technologically advanced countries by the late 20th century.

However, successive governments traditionally turned a blind eye to air and waste pollution, instead choosing to focus on the needs of businesses who were major contributors to electoral campaigns. But in 1968, the Basic Law for Environment Pollution Control was enacted, in part because of pollution-related diseases including the deadly Minamata disease and Yokkaichi asthma wreaking havoc across the country.

Since then, Japan has focused its efforts on tackling pollution in the following ways:

  • A modal shift in national policy allowing local government leeway to tighten standards beyond national requirements
  • Incentivizing business to adopt environmentally friendly technology and policy
  • Modernizing older and inefficient power stations and factories
  • Investing in pollution control technology
  • Educating both the public and business communities

One of the great challenges in reducing air and waste pollution came in convincing business to adapt. The so-called ‘Pollution Diet of 1970’ introduced 14 laws designed to enforce recognition of the issue and begin changes. While these laws did not solve the overall problem, they did represent the start of Japan’s journey to where it is today. A new approach was adopted to convince both the scientific and business communities of the huge profit potential in resolving environmental problems.  

Pollution Tackling Technology in Japan

Japan is a leading contributor to the G7 group in renewable energy and pollution beating technology. In the 1960s, the city of Kitakyushu was still a driving force of Japan’s economic growth but it relied heavily on the Imperial (Yawata) Steel Works.

Over the years, chemical and other materials including plastics contaminated the local bay, causing severe water pollution. When locals nicknamed the bay ‘the sea of death’ both municipal and national government recognized the need for change. Kitakyushu is now a leading city in the field of renewable energies.

Working with the private sector, the city reduced the emissions of soot and other harmful substances by investing in renewable technologies. Wind farms can now be seen on land and offshore, enabling the city to take advantage of the heavy winds around the coast. However, perhaps one of the biggest ways the city has tackled pollution lies in its adoption of hydrogen power.

Japan Believes Hydrogen Is The Way

In partnership with the Research Association of Hydrogen Supply & Utilization Technology, the local government created ‘Hydrogen Town’. Part of Fukuoka prefecture’s ‘hydrogen strategy’, Kitakyushu Hydrogen Town supplies hydrogen power to residential and industrial areas, using fuel cells to deliver power directly through pipelines. The strategy has been so successful that Kitakyushu now advises and supports other countries including China, Cambodia and Vietnam in exploring ways to tackle pollution.

One of its greatest successes has been ‘the miracle of Phnom Penh’ where it collaborated with the Cambodian government in renewing the city’s water infrastructure, building filters and providing Phnom Penh with 24-hour drinkable water.

Education has also been a key factor of success, with Kitakyushu investing heavily in educating workers, communities and companies on the benefits and practicalities of implementing the new technologies.

Kitakyushu is not alone in delivering pollution-battling technology. Kawasaki city built the largest solar power plant in Japan on top of an industrial landfill near Tokyo Haneda airport, transforming the area and turning recycling waste into a business.

The 11-hectare Ukishima plant has 37,926 solar panels and, because of its location away from high skyscrapers, can take full advantage of the sunlight. A joint project between Kawasaki city and a private company, Tepco, the two entities also run another solar plant on the man-made Ogishima Island. Combined, the two plants generate 20,000 kilowatts of energy for Tokyo and have been a major contributor in the clean-up Tokyo’s air pollution by reducing the city’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The Future

Despite the move away from fossil fuels, Tokyo and other cities still rely on them to provide much of their energy. Even with the marked improvement in air quality, the city is all too aware of the dangers.

With the Olympics approaching in 2020, Tokyo continues to monitor its air quality closely, utilizing stations positioned strategically around the city. With PM2.5 levels averaging at 13.8 (moderate) and below, the government is confident it can cut emissions even lower.  

Hydrogen power remains high on Japan’s agenda with the government aiming to reduce its greenhouse emissions to almost nil by 2050. In October 2018, the environment ministry also produced a draft proposal to reduce plastic waste by focusing more heavily on recycling and cutting out single-use products. The aim is to reduce disposable plastic by 25% by 2030.  

Whether or not Japan can achieve these targets remains to be seen, but as one of the leading countries in tackling pollution and investing in renewable energy, the outlook is bright.


The Japan Times – Reading the air: Tokyo still has work to do air pollution


The Lancet – Estimate and 25 year trends of the global burden of disease attributable to ambient air pollution: an analysis of data from the Global Burden of Diseases Study 2015


Fortune – Japan’s green energy evolution


Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan – Japan’s pollution experience


Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan – Japans regulations and environmental law


Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan – Outcomes of the G20 ministerial meeting on energy transitions and global environment for sustainable growth June 2019


Eco Business - How Japanese technology is cleaning myanmars polluted waterways


CNBC – How Toyota is helping Japan with its multi-billion-dollar push to create a hydrogen fuelled society


Financial Times – Japan’s Hydrogen Dream: Game changer or hot air?


Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association – Japan fuel cell developments


The Journal of the Institute of Electrical Engineers Japan – Kitakyushu Hydrogen Town


Japan Times – Leading the way to new energy


Engineering.com – Japan sees big future in hydrogen cars


The New York Times – How did Japan curb air pollution


Business World India – Dealing with air pollution the Japanese way


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

John Allen

Written by

John Allen

John is an award-winning writer and speaker. He holds a BA Hons. in Theological Studies from the University of Exeter as well as diplomas from the London School of Journalism and the Open University. John has worked in both the healthcare and digital sectors researching and writing about the latest developments in life sciences, robotics, space exploration, and nanotechnology.


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