8:02 PM

The Enlightenment in Trash

People always ask, "What is so different about Japan?" As a sociology major I should be able to draw up a number of intellectual examples. However, for the first trip all I could ever seem to bring to point was the obvious things: their super clean behaviors, their niceties & super over politeness, their simple ways of life, & their impeccable logical abilities with no real example of one over another.


This time however, I have grown to see the true underlying component of Japan that is so different than that of the world I come from, the States. Their sense of responsibility. Yes, you read me: RESPONSIBILITY! Something that Americans have long ran away from & choose to make with a false facade of an ever growing me only society.

It came to light at first with the trash. Their trash system, though seemingly harsh to those Americans accustomed to just throwing away whatever they want on the curb & it disappearing the next day, is the most amazing recycling effort I can witness.

You really never know how much trash you create, even if it does overflow from the trash cans, until you have to literally take one item & dispose of it in 3 different trash components.

For example, a bottle of water. You drank the water & now you have this bottle. In America we complain about having to take the label off, & usually just refuse to do it, tossing it reluctantly into a "recycle" portion of the trash. WRONG! Here in Japan, you first take the label off. If it is paper then it goes in burnable, if it is plastic then it goes in "other plastics" or "non-recyclable plastics". Also, the cap to that water bottle now goes in the "other plastics" or "non-recyclable plastics".

So that is not a big impact, or so you think. Imagine if you drink at least 5-6 bottles of water a day? Then add your soda cans, which have to be rinsed first then tossed. Then add your daily food packaging & personal items. A razor blade is completely a different component all together! And to toss a thing of toothpaste you have to first cut the tube in half, rinse it clean, then throw into the right bin. Etc, etc., etc....

And every day is a different trash pick up, including group collections. Those are the bigger items or the multiple items you might have like cardboard, milk/juice carton (paper kind not plastic), clothes, etc. Oh Yes! You have to break them down, rinse them out, whatever, & then tie them up for disposal as well. There is never a just toss it option.

But the fact that they do this every day & do it well, no complaints, it amazing. Why? Because they each feel that they have a role in their community & in their culture that needs their responsibility.

Same with a driver's licensee. You get one, then you must be a professional driver. There are no excuses for bad driving behavior. None!

They keep their mouths covered even with a common cold or allergies to make sure that they don't spread it to everyone else around them. They wear masks & still go to work. Yes, it looks funny, but would you do that? Do you feel the need to protect everyone else around you from your germs that cause pain? Nope.

When was the last time you let your kindergartner walk 6 blocks home from school? Or trust that your 12 year old made it to school by taking the local public bus or train? Right. You didn't. Here is Japan, they do & everyone else also looks out for them & helps them if they need it. However, they never need it. They already have such a sense of responsibility at such an early age!

It could also be the strict rules & laws, unlike ours that allows for years of imprisonment before the actual term is served. But the fact of the matter is, it keeps everyone feeling like they are a part of a bigger whole rather than a victim of harsh laws & regulations. They work together to create one, like a society is supposed to. It is so amazing!