Clean Japan, Clean Conscience

New york, trash, clean, Japan

Trash is one of the most uncontrollable elements of our modernized world. Not just trash on the street or in our homes, but trash where we can’t see it, in the ocean, under the ground, incinerated and sent into the atmosphere. “Waste” is inevitable, but we have to do all we can to not let our every day lives become overrun. Everyone has different tolerance levels and definitions for trash, but one thing that all will agree on is that there is a breaking point, and trash is something that can’t go unattended forever.

The issue goes deeper than just physical trash like snack wrappers and tire treads however. As human beings living so close to one another, we are, or ought to be, concerned about the effect our activities and consumption have on the cleanliness and comfort of those around us. Eating sunflower seeds and leaving the shells strewn about, discarding cigarette butts on public walkways, even talking loudly or using make up and hair products in close proximity of others is something to be conscious of.

This is where the notoriously clean image of Japan begins. People are very concerned what effect their actions have on others as well as what others think of them.


trash, China, Japan, CleanImagine, that all the trash in the world disappeared, and all countries around the world had a clean start. The primary determining factor in just how much trash missed the trashcans and made its way onto the street would be cultural habits. Perhaps Americans or Chinese to some extent wouldn’t mind being seen as ‘that guy’ who littered. Maybe others would litter secretly, so as not to attract attention and shame. Japan however, has a very pronounced cultural mindset of awareness of and sensitivity to one’s surroundings, and moreover respect for the public harmony. In a word, because other people aren’t littering, you won’t litter either. It is a common habit of humans to seek justification in the actions of others for an action they know is inherently wrong: look to see if others are doing it first, then somehow it becomes ‘ok’. It only takes a few to start a trend, and from there it’s a downhill spiral that could take generations to correct, or quite possibly be irreparable altogether. Japan has fortunately managed to not allow the littering trend to begin, and thanks to Japanese peoples’ (at times excessive) concern and awareness for public harmony, even the busy streets of Tokyo are clean.

trash, Japan, plastic, lunchbox

It’s not as though Japan doesn’t generate any trash. It seems that at times Japanese snacks and products use an excess of plastic. Lunch boxes from convenience stores leave you with a half full stomach and a large empty tray and wooden chopsticks, and a plastic bag of course. On top of this, there are basically little to no public trash cans aside from convenience stores and grocery stores, and sparsely in major train stations.

So what to do with the trash? It may seem troublesome, but you need to figure out a system to manage your trash until you can dispose of it properly. Crush cans, combine bags and trays into one unit, put it all in your backpack, find a convenience store. There are many options, but being in such a clean environment, there is one thing that is absolutely not an option: littering. If you have been to Japan, and even if you yourself are the type to let a bit of litter slide every now and then, you will be compelled to keep Japan clean. And also, sort and recycle. It’s not only common sense, it’s also very easy, and one of the first habits you should have when living in an urban environment.

Clean Japan, Clean Conscience-konbini trashcan
Glass bottles, Plastic bottles, Cans, Plastics, Newspaper/cardboard, Paper/wood