If you give a Japanese kid a carton of milk…

… he will imbue it with meaning and value.

Contrary to the popular children’s story If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, “he is going to ask for a glass of milk”, if you give a Japanese kid a carton of milk, he won’t ask for other goods and services. He will create wonders out of it and recreate his world in a highly imaginative way.

The seeds of conservation and preservation in Japan take root early in life. Since their early childhood, Japanese children are being taught the art of living with the environment in mind. Through literature and modeling, the very concept of respect, for each other and the environment, is gracefully being embedded in the architecture of the Japanese culture.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

At local restaurants, customers are encouraged not to leave any food behind. They are expected to finish their plate to show gratitude for the meal they have the opportunity to enjoy.“Mottainai Grandma” is a Japanese picture storybook by Mariko Shinju who popularized the Japanese word mottainai (“waste not!”) in her strive to help children cherish the gift from nature and learn to give new life to used things. Through her book, she aspires to teach children to recognize wasteful activities and to reuse the things they are about to throw away in a different form. This word, filled with compassion, gratitude, and respect for nature and everything in it, comprehensively encompasses the principle of the 3 Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The sense of respect found in Japanese culture is what binds the 3R loop and drives the change.


The word mottainai is said to express the grief one feels when an object ceases to be the way it should. In certain cultures, it is believed that cats have multiple lives. In Japan, the same holds for trash. People are encouraged to “waste not” and to put the true value of an item fully to effect. That’s precisely how used materials, recycled through the imagination of children, are transformed into new, useful, and meaningful items. So, one can see how the endeavor of Japanese people to find a second use for everything gracefully creates a culture of creativity and resourcefulness.

In Japan, where every man’s trash is every man’s treasure (takaramono), there is one specific item that wins the first place in the category of “the most broadly re-used” recyclable. And that is – the milk carton. From small bags to cameras, from airplanes to umbrellas, and from motorbikes to ‘dancing cow’ toys, the milk carton proves to be the most multifunctional craft item on the ‘market’. However, it does not boil down to merely using any carton of any milk. It’s the carton of Yamabe milk that kids’ imagination devours in the process of creation. 


Surrounded by rich culture and tradition, the people of Yamagata are incredibly sensitive and loyal to local brands and manufacturers and tend to have a preference for food grown and produced on a local rather than a national scale. Consuming food produced locally is just another ordinary way of respecting and protecting the environment.

With a marketing eye on newsworthy opportunities, I recognized this occasion as a testament to Yamabe’s success in winning the hearts of parents and the minds of children. After the milk is consumed and the milk carton is transformed into a new creation, the minds and bodies of the little learners, undergoing a series of healthful exercises, are fully nourished.

That’s the real meaning of a natural/organic experiential marketing tactic, formed with no such intention.

On a final note, let me ‘throw’ out an idea on how you can promote and emphasize the value of sustainability and creativity among your students. Launch the “If you give a kid a ______” campaign and see how your little ones can find a myriad of ways to transform a seemingly simple thing into a piece of art and design that faithfully serves a higher purpose.

As a native Bulgarian, I couldn’t resist the temptation of gifting my students with a couple of Meiji Bulgaria Yogurt containers which took on the form of cute bags and games. From that moment on, the kid bringing a Meiji Bulgaria Yogurt for desert enjoys the treat as much as the packaging.

7 thoughts on “If you give a Japanese kid a carton of milk…

  1. I, too, am very familiar with the Reuse concept. I remember my grandmothers putting aside brown paper bags which found new life as book covers. Outgrown dresses were handstitched into bags or pillow covers and so on. This was not due to necessity but out of a respect for things we used. Enjoyed your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Jaya, I really appreciate it when you share your experience and uncover how the the same issue/topic ‘appears’ in another corner of the world. I love learning about cultural nuances and differences.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s