Geographical and Historical Background

Japan is very densely populated, with a population of about 125 million, whereas the domestic stock of natural resources is not sufficient and its exploitation to sustain this population is costly. Therefore Japanese material flows should not be discussed without considering international trade flows. The history of international trade in Japan has an interesting profile. The Edo era, when Japan was closed to foreigners and international trade, is often referred to as a model environmentally sustainable society because of its self-sufficiency in resources. In contrast, the present Japanese economy heavily depends on international trade, both imports and exports. Without a tremendous amount of imported natural resources, such as fossil fuels and metal ores, the Japanese economy cannot be sustained. The growing export of products by raw material industries and assembly industries has been a major driving force of rapid economic growth.

In the following sections, Japanese material flows will be characterized, on the basis of a database recently compiled through participation in the international joint project on MFA (Adriaanse et al., 1997, Matthews et al. 2000; see also Chapter 8). In this joint study, in addition to direct material inflows and outflows, hidden flows (originally named 'ecological rucksacks' in Germany) were quantified. They refer to ancillary material and excavated and/or disturbed material flow, along with the desired material.

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