No Litter, No Garbage Cans

Japan was one of the cleanest countries I have seen (and I have traveled to many and lived overseas twice). Despite multitudes of people living in very high densities, the amount of litter I saw was minuscule. Tokyo and Nagoya, two of the largest cities in Japan, were full of people and cars going every which way, but there was nary a stray scrap of paper, a rolling empty can, broken bottle, or plastic bag to see.

Paradoxically, I also saw almost no trash cans, either. This became a bit awkward when I purchased something to eat, consumed it, then could not find a place to discard the wrapper and the bag in which it came. Every so often you will see recycling bins for bottles, cans, and paper, and sometimes you will see an ambiguous slot for “burnables.” Does this include plastic bags, Styrofoam Bento boxes or wrapping paper? I never could be sure.

I was reminded about this odd paradox while listening to the JLPT Bootcamp podcast number 111 “Top 10 Things I wish I had known.”  The host of the podcast, Clayton ‘Mac’ MacKnight, said the absence of trash cans may have come about as a counter-terrorism tactic after the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack. Making trash cans infrequent, it is reasoned, reduces the possible hiding places for bombs.

Whatever the case, plan to pack your trash like a camper. Pack it in, pack it out.


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