If you are from America or Europe, you may have seen trash littering the streets and pedestrian walks. From empty soda cans to used napkins, plastic bags to cigarette butts, you can find just about any kind of trash dirtying your home environment. Being from New York, my hometown was no exception. Simply put, the streets are very dirty, and that is despite the large amount of public trash cans, with one being on virtually every street corner.
Maybe it’s thanks to the Japanese people’s mindset, or their organized trash collection system, or their eating culture, or a combination of all of the above, but there is very little litter on the streets in Japan, even in the most crowded cities.
Japanese people generally frown upon littering, and most people with trash on hand have become used to just carrying it around all the way home, a habit they have been conditioned to do since young.
Japanese cities have very few trash cans. There used to be many in public parks and random places, but people would take their household trash and throw it away in these public bins in order to avoid paying for disposal fees or for trash bags, which can be expensive. Now, most trash cans are located outside or inside convenience stores, or other heavily monitored places where sneakily throwing away trash is impossible. Japanese people generally tend to accept the lack of public trash cans and just resolve themselves to carrying it on them.
The eating culture is also one that greatly decreases trash from food wrappers. Have you ever been to New York? People can be seen eating fast food on the go on their way home or to work. Those foods will come in a paper bag and be wrapped in something, and all this has a higher likelihood of being thrown on the ground in the absence of an available trash can. Japan quite frowns upon eating while on the go. Most Japanese people will eat convenience store food right outside the store, standing while eating and then throw their trash away at the trash cans available there. The same is true with drinks purchased from vending machines. There is usually a special trash can for cans and bottles next to every outdoor vending machine, and you can throw away your bottles after drinking.
Finally there is the trash disposal system. Every neighborhood has its own schedule for throwing away trash, and you can usually only throw away one or two kinds of trash each day of the week. People are more trash conscious because of this make more responsible decisions when throwing away their litter. The guilt one feels from throwing away trash on the floor outweighs the trouble you would save yourself by discreetly throwing away trash in such a way.
When you come to Japan, the most common type of litter you will see may actually be cigarette butts. Smokers will often walk and smoke, which is not to say it is acceptable, because it definitely is NOT, and even Japanese people shun the behavior. However, there are people who do it and throw away their cigarette butts on the ground or down storm drains. Just don’t do it yourself. It’s not appropriate behavior. Wherever you live, you should be conscious of the environmental impact your trash could have, and be careful not to litter.