Day 5 – Cultural Values Extension – The Meaning of “Mottainai”

The Big Idea

A Japanese cultural value underpins Japanese people’s effort to make their lifestyle more sustainable. It is tied to a mindset of gratitude for the gifts of nature, regret for anything wasted, a respectful awareness interdependence, and striving to make the most of everything that comes to hand.


  • Give examples of how “mottainai” is used.
  • Tell how Japanese awareness of “mottainai” is the same and different from familiar American values of thriftiness and self-sufficiency



  1. Match the students with partners. View the video and take notes. One partner should write down what she hears about the definition of “mottainai.” The other partner should jot down examples of the way Japanese people use the word. Pair share.
  2. Have the class brainstorm ways in which the “mottainai” concept in Japanese culture has helped the people deal with the environmental challenges of living on densely populated volcanic islands.
  3. Write a paragraph to answer the following question:
    • We have the adage “Waste not, want not,” which is advice that if you use a resource carefully, without extravagance, you will never be in need. Americans, especially frontier settlers, valued thriftiness. “Mottainai” thinking seems to be in accord with those traditional American values, but it goes further. How is an awareness of “mottainai” different from the individualistic American pride in self-sufficiency?