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Saturday, February 07, 2015

Cleaning up Litter in the Tokyo Neighborhood

ゴミ拾い 東京

Tokyo is a pretty clean city. Garbage collection is regular and frequent, and shops and houses generally keep the sidewalk in front of them free of litter.

Corner of Edo-dori and Kuramae-dori, Taito ward, Tokyo.

However, there are inevitably spots that no one feels responsible for. Furthermore, disposing of big trash (sodaigomi) such as coffee tables, microwaves, bookshelves, bicycles and the like costs money. You have to pay for it to come and be collected. So the cheap way out is to dump such objects in spots no one feels responsible for, such as by an isolated strip of roadside, behind bushes in a park, or down an embankment.


We have lived in Taito ward, eastern Tokyo, for almost five years now. Last year we made the purchase of an apartment in Tokyo and, at the same time, got naturalized in Japan. We therefore feel doubly rooted in Japan compared to how we felt while we were still officially foreigners and renting. Our Taito ward address is now our official address, the address in our koseki, or family registry. The koseki in Japan is more than just the address where you live. It represents the piece of land that your family identifies with and that is a crucial element in identifying you and your family--even if, as, say, in the case of a son or daughter gone to seek his or her fortune, you don't happen to live there anymore.

As such, with naturalization, our neighborhood suddenly became more than just where we live in Japan. It become our native plot. We therefore take a greater interest in it than before. One way we have taken to expressing that is by periodically going trash collecting--usually along the Sumida River promenade.


However, coming back from the post office this morning, I noticed how filthy the street corner was that commemorates the old Asakusa Observatory on Kuramae 1-chome intersection. It is a designated smoking corner, so is naturally covered in cigarette butts, but had several months', if not years', worth of all other kinds of rubbish, too. (No sodaigomi here, though: too public.)

Cigarette butts

So I went home, grabbed a trash bag and the tongs, and spent an hour and a half of my Saturday afternoon cleaning the corner up. Small though the area was, the variety was surprising: not just cans, bottles and cigarette butts, but calenders, receipts, an umbrella, thumbtacks, rubber bands, sweet wrappers, chewing gum, an ICOCA card, used tissues, hand towels--and no end of toothpicks.

Because it was by busy Edo-dori Street, no one stopped and talked like people often do beside the river. However, the sight of a gaijin (albeit a naturalized one) picking up trash doesn't go unnoticed, and I caught way more than my fair share of long looks, all the way from the majority reaction of outright approving ("Should give him some tea," I overheard) to the sometimes slightly bewildered--even to, in one old guy's case, apparently suspicious ("Is this foreigner trying to show us Japanese up as dirty?")--and with a lot of non-reactions in between.

"After": an hour-and-a-half's worth of trash

Anyway, it stretched my legs--and, even more, my back, and, best of all, provided that trusty sense of satisfaction on comparing the "after" with the "before." Let's see how long the "after" lasts.

UPDATE: October 2016
It's well over a year and a half since this clean-up and the corner is still much, much cleaner than it was before. I cycle past it about once or twice a week and always take note, and besides a few inevitable cigarettes scattered around the main cigarette receptacle, the rest of the lawn is still remarkably trash-free.

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