Photo: SoraNews24

Japan needs more public trash cans; Japanese reporter sympathizes, though he doesn’t agree

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

SoraNews24 reporter Seiji Nakazawa is always keen to hear what overseas visitors to Japan think of his home country, and so even when he doesn’t have a chance to talk with them directly, he like to look online to see what they have to say. Recently, he came across a common complaint from the international travel community: Japanese cities don’t have enough trash cans.

This isn’t something that exclusively irks tourists. Though you’ll see very few trash cans while out and about in Japan, they used to be more common. Though receptacles on street corners have never been all that prevalent, when Seiji was still a kid in Osaka you used to be able to reliably find trash cans throughout Japanese train and subway stations, and even he sometimes finds himself missing that convenience.

So when, and why, did station trash cans start becoming hard to find? Seiji has heard theories that many were removed in reaction to the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995, which would mesh with his timeline of them becoming less common sometime between his childhood and when he became a young adult However, trash cans still weren’t all that hard to find on station platforms in Tokyo even in the early 2000s, but a new round of removals in Japan’s capital followed the Madrid train terrorist bombings in 2004.

Even this wasn’t a clean sweep, though. Instead, it’s been a sustained but gradual disappearance of station trash cans, with the same happening for on-the-street containers, bringing us to the current conditions where they’ve become rarities.


Seiji can see how this might feel like a tremendous inconvenience. He’s seen online comments from overseas travelers calling the relative lack of public trash cans in Japan “a stupid decision” and “a reason for people to litter,” and he can sympathize how it can feel like a hassle to get off an international flight and suddenly have to transition from your home country where trash cans are common to a society where they’re definitely not.

And yet, as someone living in Japan, he doesn’t feel like the lack of trash cans really causes him, or most residents, all that many problems. The major reason why is that while it can be hard to find trash cans in Japan, you usually can find them in places that are likely to generate trash.


Convenience stores and supermarkets pretty much always have trash cans. If you buy a cup of instant ramen, pack of melon bread, or some other item and consume it either in front of the store of inside its eat-in area, the store sees it as its responsibility to give you a place to throw away your trash. Likewise, at sports venues, concerts, outdoor festivals, and other events where vendors are selling food and drinks from stalls, the organizers set up trash cans too. No one is expecting you to haul your trash all the way home from the Tokyo Game Show food court, for example.

Adding in my own observations, the no-trash-cans, no-problem attitude of many Japanese people is also tied into Japanese eating etiquette. It’s generally considered poor manners to eat while walking or riding the train, so the vast majority of Japanese people will wait until they’re back at their home, office, or hotel to eat any takeout food they’ve picked up, and once they’re at one of those places, they don’t need a public trash can.

Drinking a beverage while on the move is usually acceptable, but in this case Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines come to the rescue. Similar to convenience stores, vending machines are trash generators, so most operators also set up a can/bottle recycling box next to their machine, and you’re never all that far from a vending machine in a Japanese city. The general attitude is that it’s OK to throw away a container from a drink you bought at one machine in another machine’s recycling box. Dumping in a bunch of empty cans you brought from home is a no-no, but for a single incidental can here and there, the logic seems to be that the deposits will all more or less balance out.


Another factor that can’t be ignored is the fact that pretty much everyone in Japan, men and women, young and old, carries a bag of some sort when they go out, whether a purse, backpack, messenger bag, or some other style. Since they’re carrying these as part of their daily routine, most people pick a bag that’s large enough to carry their essentials without being stuffed to bursting, which leaves them with enough space to put a candy wrapper, empty drink bottle, or whatever other incidental trash they’ve accumulated until either they do eventually come across a trash can or they’re back home for the day. That does still leave the potential problem of what to do with sticky or otherwise dirty trash that you don’t want soiling the inside of your bag. For most Japanese people, though, this isn’t an issue, going back to the idea that you shouldn’t be walking around eating messy foodstuffs in the first place.

All that said, if you’re not adhering 100-percent to local customs, you might find yourself with something like a sauce-stained takoyaki tray or sweet bean paste-smeared taiyaki wrapper from a snacking-while-walking session. Having succumbed to such temptations myself, I’ve gotten in the habit of always keeping a few plastic sandwich bags inside my bag when I’m going out. They weigh practically nothing and take up a negligible amount of space, and if you’re visiting from overseas and forgot to pack some, you can buy them, cheaply, in just about any convenience store or 100 yen shop. Any dirty trash I end up with when there’s no trash can around gets put into a sandwich bag, tied shut, and tossed into my bag to take home.

I’ll admit it’s a hassle, but it’s a very, very tiny hassle, and totally worth it to solve one of the most common complaints about traveling in Japan.

Photos ©SoraNews24

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Why do Japanese recycle bins have two openings but dump everything into the same compartment?

-- “Recycling in Japan” or “Reasons to get it right and avoid eternal shame”

-- Japanese company designs fashionable pouch to keep scraps of trash in

© SoraNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Convenience stores and supermarkets pretty much always have trash cans. 

What this article doesn't mention, J Govt especially local one like this trash removal because they can save lot of budget and let the convenience store do J Govt responsibility.

-6 ( +21 / -27 )

So what is the policy on using convenience store and supermarket trash cans for outside garbage without paying for anything? If it is anything less than "go ahead" there is something seriously wrong with this picture.

8 ( +12 / -4 )

Simple solution is to charge people for throwing their trash away as a drink vending machine charges consumers for drinks

-19 ( +1 / -20 )

Another problem is the volume. Bento boxes are not small. The ground around my once lovely park is piled with bento boxes after lunch every day; volunteers clean them up.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

It's all down to saving money. They're too tight yput them out. The railways got rid of a whole lot of station cleaners when they removed the rubbish bins.

0 ( +12 / -12 )

This has come up a few times before.

Generally I agree with the articles sentiments - life pretty much goes on smoothly here without trash cans - for locals anyway.

But the article misses out on 1 Big reason why they disappeared - well in my prefecture / city.

People (locals) used them as dumping places. Often the cans were spilling over with tons of garbage and people also used to pile it up around the cans/bins/boxes.

My local cemetery has a cage for depositing old flowers, offerings etc.

Lacking in sense people still use it as a general dump, throwing away unsorted household garbage.

So yes, particular eating/drinking habits of folks here in Japan reduces the need for receptacles, there's no shortage of those who don't give a stuff.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

There is always the callous culture and customes excuses to justify everything.

Actually the answer is very simple. We don't have garbage bins because of the huge amount of money savings in the garbage collecting.

That makes you wonder then, why are we still paying for the over inflated city tax, resident tax, on top of all the other taxes, when the government is basically never offering anything in return to the tax paying class...

-4 ( +9 / -13 )

Convenience stores and supermarkets pretty much always have trash cans

Small stores in big cities frequently skip making the trash cans available, even automatic vending machines end up without having anything close to throw away the bottles, specially in places like train stations where you can see a dozen vending machines and a couple of convenience stores without a single trash can available.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

“life pretty much goes on smoothly here without trash cans”

Not in this Tokyo’s resident’s experience. It’s a major hassle. To cite just one example, my friends used to have a big fun hanami party in Koganei Koen every year. But then the authorities removed all the trash containers several years ago, after which the logistics of hauling loads of garbage on foot over many kilometers became basically impossible, particularly after all that drinking. The parties ended thereafter.  

Whenever I go overseas, I relish the convenience of not having to stuff my pockets and bags with garbage, particularly food. Yuck.

“they can save lot of budget” 

I think you’ll find the budgets didn’t shrink after the services were cut. The real intention is to lessen the work and responsibility of the people involved. I’ve seen this tendency so often in Japanese organizations. It largely explains why Japan’s labor productivity is on par with Greece.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

Bring your trash home with you.

1 ( +8 / -7 )

I think you’ll find the budgets didn’t shrink after the services were cut.

When public trash budget were diluted, overall budget won't shrink, it will immediately "allocated" to something else. Many local govt refused to be more transparency for some reason.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

Sounds like reinventing the wheel. Look, when I was young everywhere were sufficient benches for a rest or eating and drinking, and just nearby, you guess it, there was a trash can too. Now if lacks of trash cans and benches almost completely, and that's even under consideration of aging society and more food or drinks on-the-go? Unbelievable, buy maybe the obvious solution will be reinvented. And the anti-terror argument is also quite strange, because a potential terrorist has plenty of possibilities to place something, therefore it's making no sense to take only one small option away. that option now massively hinders people and tourists from relaxing and eating and getting rid of garbage.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

People in Japan do thro stuff out.

I furnished a house in Osaka this way.

Trash cans attract trash...of any description.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

The parks have no trash cans, so trash everywhere. Come ON, Japan, spend that money on bins. It is the civic responsibility of cities around the world, and somehow Japan cannot return to civility with them? More benches would be very nice, too.

9 ( +14 / -5 )

We lived in Machida City, Tokyo 2003 to 2012, and Kagoshima City after that. It was great to have many parks to take our children to, and there were trash cans always available. Then, sometime around '06 or '07 suddenly the trash cans were removed from parks, and slowly from many other public places. We began to see more litter on the ground and piles in bins outside of convenience stores. Anyhow, it was a very frustrating experience to see that kind of result. As taxpayers, that should be a basic provision to the public.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I have been to Oxford city many time and it is always clean. I do not count the trash cans but they are all around the streets. Also, I always see street cleaners working there.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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