For every one of its meticulously sculptured Zen gardens, Japan has a disproportionate number of refuse-ridden residences. Writing in Shukan Shincho (May 5-12), Masumi Fukuda notes that Japan is not only home to the odious "gomi yashiki" (houses overflowing with junk), it also boasts "gomi-beya," apartments and condominiums crammed with clutter from floor to ceiling.
And while males may have a reputation for being slovenly, the ratio of customers at cleanup services shows that females account for an overwhelming 70% of the business.
"Occupation-wise, nurses are head and shoulders over the others," says Hisashi Sasaki, president of Mago-no-Te, a cleanup service based in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward. "We get lots of doctors too. And likewise licensed care providers and care managers as well. I'd say about 40% of all our business comes from the medical services sector.
"They don't want their neighbors to know of their slovenly habits, and request the cleanup firm to help them keep up their image. For such customers, instead of refuse bags, we remove the trash using cardboard boxes, as if we were a moving service," Sasaki explains. "On average, a job like that will run between 300,000 and 400,000 yen. But in some cases our charges have exceeded 1 million yen."
In more than a few jobs of this magnitude, the volume of rubbish has been known to fill a 4-ton truck.
The reasons why people today accumulate so much rubbish, Fukuda writes, are almost too numerous to mention. One is that they are simply too busy to engage in cleanups. When some young people start their first jobs, the unfamiliar work causes them to build up a lot of stress, and they just don't have the stamina to perform household chores. Some may suffer from a recognizable condition, such as ADHD. Others, after moving into a new place, have trouble familiarizing themselves with the local rules for discarding trash. If someone complains about them putting out their "gomi" on the wrong day, their reaction is to stop throwing stuff away. People suffering depression due to divorce, the death of a family member, etc. may also be so distracted they allow waste to pile up.
In one extreme case, Hideaki Sakata, president of Eco Friendly, had been summoned to a company dormitory by its manager, and was led to a room reeking of a strong, ammonia-like odor.
"In the cabinets, in a drawer under the bed and in the refrigerator, 2-liter PET bottles -- about 500 of them -- had been crammed into every nook and cranny," Sakata recalls. "We're talking about an estimated total weight of about one ton."
The bottles were filled with human waste. Apparently the occupant had developed "hikikomori" -- acute social withdrawal. And since the dormitory rooms did not have their own sanitary facilities, he used those PET bottles as a substitute for the toilet.
"After work, people come back to tiny one-room 'manshons,'" explains Daitetsu Fujioka of Adachi Ward-based Dust.com. "In many cases they have no companions, and never receive guests. They spend whatever free time they have completely immersed in a world of their own, such as virtual relationships on SNSs. They feel no need for real people, and inhabit a place where nobody ever comes."
One source that's been blamed for the buildup of clutter is convenience stores, from which people obtain their "bento" (boxed meals), newspapers, magazines, beer, PET bottles and others. It should be obvious, but an environment in which merchandise can be procured on a round-the-clock basis makes the accumulation of clutter that much easier.
"Once I was called by a woman named Kaoru, who held a regular job by day and performed as a stripper by night," relates the spouse of the aforementioned Sasaki, who operates her own cleanup service. "She told me she wanted us to clean up her place, but 'only had about 200,000 yen.' Well, I went to have a look, and the ceiling light was broken, so I had to use a flashlight.
"She had money scattered all over the place," she shuddered in recollection. "I saw several 10,000 yen notes floating in the broth left over from a bowl of instant noodles. She'd washed bills in the washroom sink and stuck them on the wall to dry out. We collected it and all together the total came to about 4 million yen. I urged Kaoru to deposit the money in the bank. For some reason the ATM wouldn't accept the bills, so she took them to the counter. The teller had an expression of repugnance while counting it."
Mago-no-Te's Sasaki choses to take a positive view of his customers.
"'Gomi-beya' are a part of the human drama," he asserts. "For me, it's exciting to think about the next chapter in the story."© Japan Today