The absence of rubbish bins on Japan’s streets is a bit of a mystery to many tourists. There are numerous posts on online forums asking about it and Tripadvisor even highlights the fact visitors may struggle to dispose of their trash.
There is, of course, a reason for this dearth of dustbins.
With Japan’s rapid industrialization in the post-war years, waste started to become a major problem. Tokyo in particular was throwing out so much that it was running out of landfill space.
A series of waste management laws in the 1990s targeted the problem, introducing strict recycling laws and clamping down on what could go into landfill.
Not littering has become part of Japan’s culture: most Japanese people will take their rubbish home with them rather than dispose of it when out and about.
Don’t walk and eat
Another cultural quirk has an impact too: the Japanese don’t walk and eat. The country has something of a love affair with vending machines, resulting in a mind-boggling array of food on offer. Street food is also popular, and most people will stand still and eat food where they bought it.
There are often rubbish bins near vending machines and it’s not unusual to hand your packaging back to the street-food seller.
But don’t be fooled into thinking this means Japan has an aversion to dustbins – far from it. At home, they form an important part of the domestic routine.
The Japanese are the kings and queens of recycling, with much of their trash divided and subdivided into different types. “Gomi guides” for each town outline what can be recycled where and when, and can run to tens of pages.
Japan recycles about 77% of its plastics, according to its Plastic Waste Management Institute, almost double the level of Britain, and well above the 20% currently managed in the United States.
In fact one small town has embraced recycling to such an extent that it has become a minor tourist attraction.
Kamikatsu, which has a population of just over 1,700, is aiming to become a “zero waste” town by 2020.
Careful recycling means the town is already saving 80% of its non-organic waste from landfill, with people separating their rubbish into over 40 different categories.
And, as you would imagine, on the streets of Kamikatsu there’s hardly any litter at all.