The first thing many tourists notice when coming to Japan is too few trash cans in public, making them confused about where to throw them.
Many tourists are surprised when walking the whole street in Japan without seeing a public trash. Many people may be surprised to learn the reason the Japanese have to take the trash so far to throw it away, because it all started with a terrorist incident.
“Why is Japan so clean, even though there aren’t many trash cans on the road?” is a question many foreigners wonder when they first come to the land of the rising sun. Photo: Marcus Low Photography.
Attack with poison gas
On March 20, 1995, 5 people of the Aum Shinrikyo sect released the nerve agent sarin over Tokyo subway stations during the morning rush hour. Attackers use plastic bags wrapped in newspaper to create a mechanism to release the poisonous gas that is colorless, without a smell.
This attack left 13 people dead and thousands injured. Previously, this sect carried out a similar poison gas attack in Matsumoto city, Nagano, killing 8 people and injuring hundreds.
The instigators were arrested, but many Japanese people fear the disaster is recurring and demand the government take action to stop it. One of the security measures taken so far is to get rid of the trash, because it could be a hiding place for many types of terrorist weapons.
The anti-litter superhero Mangetsu-man patrols the streets of Tokyo and reminds the kids to keep clean. Photo: Issei Kato / Reuters.
In general, Japanese streets are clean because the people of the land of the rising sun don’t want to trouble anyone who has to clean up their trash. Most people take home trash bags to spill themselves.
The Japanese said that in the past, there were many trash cans throughout the cities, but at that time there were even more trash scattered on the streets. Since the public trash has decreased, the streets have been cleaner.
Japan Info explains this with the theory of broken windows: if a house has a broken door that is not repaired, passers-by will conclude that nobody cares or is responsible for it. Gradually more windows will be smashed.
Similarly, in case the environmental workers fail to clean up, the trash can overflow, and people will constantly stuff more. What’s worse will happen on windy days, when trash is blown away on the street, some people will throw more trash out on the street.
In addition, non-governmental organizations also aim for an absolute clean environment. Greenbird, an organization operating in many prefectures in Japan, regularly invites residents to participate in cleaning up in busy traffic areas such as train stations. Not only picking up cans of water or wrapping paper, but the volunteers also cleaned up every small piece of paper and cigarette on the street. The organization even has branches in Singapore and Paris.
The Japanese government has also implemented a number of strategies to reduce the amount of waste, such as encouraging people to use personal handkerchiefs instead of paper towels, although hand dryers are increasingly common in toilet in big cities. Passive anti-litter campaigns encourage smokers to carry small personal ashtrays to avoid scattering cigarette butts on the streets.
How tourists should throw away trash
Although there are few public trash, the country of cherry blossoms has many strict regulations on waste. As a rule, the Japanese will keep their trash with them until they find the right place and classify them into flammable substances, non-flammable substances, cans, glass bottles and plastic.
Garbage sorting bin in Japan. Photo: Live Japan.
A tip to keep in mind when looking for public trash in Japan is to go to fixed places such as ticket gates at subway stations, parks, next to vending machines … Trash bins are placed in front of convenience stores but they are private property, so it’s a good idea to buy something before disposing of trash here, according to Live Japan.