My visit to Japan

By Abid Qaiyum Suleri
Sustainable Development Policy Institute Executive Director
April 10, 2023
Japan and Pakistan have had diplomatic relations since 1952. Japan has always remained a household name in Pakistan. Japan is one of the first love of Pakistani film viewers, thanks to the famous Pakistani song of the 70s, “Gurrya Japani” (beautiful as a Japanese doll). There was a time when the Nashonaru (National) brand Japanese home appliances, especially their radio transistors and dry irons, and Japanese textile fabrics were a must-have in Pakistani houses. Likewise, the Japanese car industry has dominated Pakistan’s roads for decades. Japanese cuisine, particularly Sushi and Sashimi, are the new hallmark of Japan in Pakistan.
My visit to Japan Photo
Japan is a major economic, development, and investment partner of Pakistan. There is a lot that Pakistan can learn from Japan in the field of disaster preparedness, conservation of water and land, and energy efficiency, including the production of energy from solid waste. Japan is also promoting sustainable transportation by developing electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and other advanced transportation technologies. Being one of the major users of Japanese vehicles, Pakistan can quickly be part of Japan’s sustainable transportation initiatives if such technology is exported to Pakistan. Pakistan can also boost its blue economy by replicating the best practices that Japan has adopted to promote sustainable fisheries and marine conservation through various initiatives, including establishing marine protected areas.

Recognizing the menace of plastic pollution on the environment, Pakistan is gradually trying to phase out single-use plastic bags. Laws are being introduced to ban plastic bags in major cities of Pakistan. Here too, Pakistan can learn from the Japanese experience. Japan has been taking steps to reduce plastic pollution both domestically and internationally. In 2018, the Japanese government announced a plan to reduce the amount of plastic waste generated by 30% by 2025 and to recycle or properly dispose of all plastic waste by 2040. In 2019, Japan implemented a new law that requires retailers to charge customers for plastic shopping bags. Japan is also working to improve the recycling rate of plastic waste by investing in advanced recycling technologies and promoting the use of recycled plastics in products. It has also been supporting other countries in their efforts to reduce plastic pollution through official development assistance (ODA) and other initiatives, such as the "Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund" and the "Japan-Mekong Connectivity Initiative." Pakistan can seek Japan’s technical support to make its phasing-out plastic initiative successful.

Solid waste management is one of the major challenges for an “energy-thirsty” Pakistan. Japan has the ideal solution for Pakistan’s dual menace, sustainable solid waste management and production of affordable energy. It has been actively promoting waste-to-energy (WtE) projects. It has developed a number of advanced technologies for WtE, including incineration and gasification. These technologies are used to generate electricity and heat from waste, as well as to recover valuable resources such as metals and chemicals. Many municipalities in Japan have built WtE facilities to manage their own waste. These facilities are typically large-scale, high-tech plants that use advanced technologies to generate electricity and heat from waste. Japan has also promoted WtE projects in other countries. For example, Japan has provided financial and technical assistance for constructing WtE facilities in Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia and Vietnam. Japan also has been promoting the technology of advanced thermal treatment, which is a method to treat the waste with high heat in a short time to reduce the waste volume and recover resources. Pakistan has braved quite a few disasters in quick succession. The deadly earthquake of 2005, floods of 2010, 2012, and 2022, reoccurring droughts, and glacier melting are some of the disasters that Pakistan has faced more lately.

Japan is one of the world's most disaster-prone countries, and as such, it has a lot of experience and expertise in disaster management. Japan has been actively supporting disaster management efforts in developing countries. It pledged US$ 88 million in the recently held Geneva conference for the flood victims of Pakistan. Besides financial support for the disaster-resilient infrastructure, it has been supporting developing countries in disaster management in a comprehensive manner, aiming to provide technical assistance and capacity building to help the countries to prevent, prepare and respond to disasters in a better way. As a practitioner and advocate of sustainable development, I always cherish visiting Japan to keep track of its sustainable development initiatives. This was precisely why I never had to think twice about accepting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Japan’s invitation for a visit to Japan. In fact, it was more than a mere visit. During the four days, I connected with the most important organizations and institutes that could support sustainable development in Pakistan. Hearing practical examples of water management, climate-smart rice farming, and WtE generation from Asia’s renowned natural resources expert Dr. Naoya Tsukamoto was a treat.

The focus of discussion at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) was emerging geopolitical and geo-economic alignments, especially after Russia Ukraine war. I was pleasantly surprised to note that food security is an important area of work at JIIA, and there was a keen interest among its team members to learn how to support developing countries in tackling food insecurity. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has a deep footprint in Pakistan. Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI, the Pakistani think tank that I represent) and JICA are old partners. It was nice to be greeted by JICA South Asia Division at JICA Head Quarter and give faces to familiar names with whom we were in touch over email. JICA’s priority areas for South Asia are “Improvement of quality and access of education; Securing basic health services; Enhancing economic empowerment of women and youth; Securing access to safe water and sanitation; Agriculture and rural development; Securing resilience against natural disasters; Ensuring economic stability; Achieving stable power supply; and Peacebuilding and governance enhancement. My South Asian readers would agree that each one of these themes is extremely relevant to our region. International cooperation becomes more effective when the supply and demand side matches; a case in point is JICA’s priority themes for South Asia.

Integrated Sustainability Center (IGES) is a premier organization among sustainability circles worldwide. During our bilateral discussion, we discussed the possibility of joint research on the circular economy (sustainable production and consumption), disaster risk reduction, and renewable energy. At MOFA, a discussion on bilateral and regional issues vis-à-vis Japanese foreign policy was quite enlightening. It was heartening to note that Japan does not view Pakistan from any third country’s lens. Japan and Pakistan’s bilateral relations are independent of any “qualifiers” and are strengthening day by day. Visiting NHK world service and getting interviewed for its Urdu transmission was not that of a surprise. Multilingual broadcasting services have expertise in foreign languages. The pleasant surprise and the best memory of my trip was interaction with Urdu and Hindi undergraduate students at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Students were well-versed in global affairs and quite keen to know about initiatives for sustainable development in Pakistan. Both of the professors there were trained in Pakistan and were fluent in Urdu and the provincial languages of Pakistan as well. SDPI offers summer internships, and I offered the students to avail of that so that they could hone their Urdu language skills in Pakistan.

Visiting Shintu and Buddha shrines in Kyoto and enjoying freshly made Sushi and Sashimi was a topping and a bonus of my trip.
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