Volunteers clean up Hokkaido beach

By Barry Ashworth

At 7 a.m. on a cloudy and wet Sunday morning, the sleepy beachside town of Ishikari, 45 minutes drive north of Sapporo, sprang to life as thousands of volunteers make there way to the 30th annual beach cleanup. People aged 3 to 73 arrive in a steady stream to help clean up discarded trash, not only washed ashore by tidal currents but items left behind by holidaymakers at the end of the summer vacation season.

This year, Hokkaido, with its vast tracks of land and abundance of nature, has seen a dramatic influx in holidaymakers, not only because it is considered one of the most beautiful locations in Japan for camping, but also because rising fuel prices have put usual holiday destinations out of the price range of the average Japanese family.

Increased tourism has also brought with it a dramatic rise in the amount of discarded trash, leaving the normally clean beaches awash in waste of all types, from discarded glass and plastic bottles to CD players, chairs, tents and barbecues. This along with tidal trash from passing marine traffic plus bottles and cans washed ashore from China, Korea and Russia, has not only left the beach looking like a rubbish dump but also made it dangerous for families and fisherman who use it on a regular basis.

"Cleaning up the beach was a lot of fun, but I felt really sad when we first arrived and I saw just how much trash there was," said one student from a local school. With a contemplative look on her face, she said, "People should know better. We have to separate all our trash at home into recycling, combustible and incombustible bins. Why do people think it's OK just to leave it here when they go?"

Ishikari is the largest seaport area in Hokkaido and as a physical distribution point, accounts for more than 90% of freight shipments with Honshu. A local fisherman said: "I know sometimes accidents happen and you lose a net or a float overboard. That's why I'm here. We lost a net earlier this year during bad weather and I just want to do my part."

Japan has a very strict recycling system which is maintained not only at a government level but also by local communities. There is a huge social stigma and shame handed out by residents to those who don't do the right thing and dispose of their trash in the correct manner. Still, not everyone complies with these rules; they use the local convenience stores for small items and areas that are relatively deserted like country lanes or the beach for larger things.

A 73-year-old retired local resident, who has been coming to the event since it started, said, "Over the years we've found everything from household trash to broken TV sets, fridges and other appliances. Sometimes we even find hazardous materials like leaky old car batteries and medical waste."

It took over two hours to clean just a few kilometers of the beach and the trash collected filled two large trucks. After collection, volunteers correctly sorted it into recycling, combustible and incombustible piles before it was taken away for proper disposal.

One of the event organizers, Yuji Niwa, chairman of the Hokkaido Board of Education, and president of the NPO Citizens Environmental Forum, has been an environmentalist for as long as he can remember. "When we started this event, we only had a handful of volunteers. Most of the people here today only get one day off a week. It's great to see so many giving up their free time."

With flowing shoulder length hair and dressed in denim overalls, he was ready for action. "We started this cleanup long before most of the children here where born. It's good to see them taking an interest in environmental issues, but at the same time, I wish that people would be more thoughtful and dispose of their own trash."

Through events like this, Niwa hopes to reinforce awareness about global issues. "I've seen the amount of trash left here growing over the past 30 years. We only have one Earth. If we don't act now, there will be no future for our children. It's up to us as adults to lead the way."

After the clean-up, volunteers were treated to a live concert and a fashion parade, featuring designs made from recycled materials such as bamboo, Japanese washi paper and banana stalks.

© Japan Today

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Great for them, every little effort counts in keeping the place clean.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If they installed garbage cans and ran a municiapal garbage pick up service - as is done is every OTHER developed country - then such one-off, band-aid efforts wouldn't be needed.

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Cleaning up the beaches is a good thing because they are filthy here. For a place that focuses so much on keeping the outside clean and recycling, they sure dont put enough effort into doing this. Tax money should also be alotted for this. The local governments should be ashamed. Most beaches arent just a walk away so the bureaucrats probably feel they aren`t exposed enough to the public so who cares. More trash cans would be a great idea.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Always interested why they do this at this time in Japan, as there are many beach cleanups going on. Yet International Beach Cleanup Day is on the 21st. Cleaning up beaches is always commendable any day of the week, but you'd have thought if they could do it on the Cleanup Day they could get some international publicity for it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yes. Garbage cans would certainly help. It is a strange way of thinking. You are supposed to take your garbage home with you and dispose of it. This system is obviously not working. Not only beaches but parks and roadways are covered with litter. Japan also needs to instill a conscioussness about cleaning up in the school system. Kids too seem to just throw their garbage anywhere and everywhere. Need a little less focus on passing a test and a little more focus on community responsibility.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Shonan beach is the filthiest place I have ever seen, and I've been to Spain!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Shonan beach is the filthiest place I have ever seen

well, you need to get up to Kashima. It's knee deep in everything from fishing nets to building materials and all points in between. In Australia the local councils do beach cleaning in every morning through summer and once a week through winter. They have tractors with sifting machines attached to them. It's a little amusing to watch because whenever the operators hear a coin going through the machine they stop and dig it out. The general lack of respect for the local environment within Japan is very disappointing.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

serindip - Yes - I can only agree - the lack of respect for the local environment is truly disappointing.

My inlaws live in a nice coastal town near the beach and it more often than not resembles a dump. A beautiful outlook, white sand and heaps of rubbish - much of it local.

People regularly burn trash - including plastics & cans - on the beach and the local small fish factory, 20 mtrs from the sea, does the same from time to time. My inlaws say "Oh no, you can't complain", because they'd feel ashamed. So it goes on and on and on.

Unfortunately much stiffer, strongly enforced penalties are required, because the old "shame system" doesn't work as does the slap on the wrist.

I applaud the efforts of volunteers, but we should focus further on the causes of such pollution, and especially if the origins are domestic and act upon it without hesitation.

I wish.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I've heard the argument from Japanese people that the reason that they don't have public bins on the beach is to stop people dumping their household rubbish in them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I gave up volunteering time for beach cleanups over a decade ago. After one very hard day of cleaning and hauling away bags of (mostly Japanese) trash I had the pleasure of watching a fishing boat cruise by on his way to a nearby port. Just as he passed the freshly cleaned beach I saw two large bags of trash tossed overboard. A few days later the beach was back to its former "garbage dump" self!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I've heard the argument from Japanese people that the reason that they don't have public bins on the beach is to stop people dumping their household rubbish in them.

Yeah, classic Japanese logic. It's the same as removing ashtrays from the street, so now they just drop their butts! Let's just say that, in general, the population is disgustingly self-centered and could not give two hoots about anything outside their own little circle of life, all three inches of it!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In Australia we have a 'clean-up Australia' day where citizens form big groups and clean out the rivers,bushland and beaches.I am always gobsmacked at the vile state of beaches here in Kansai.Suma beach is particularly nasty.I used to pick up all the rubbish around my towel when I left and the young Japanese would stare in amazement or say 'gaijin ga erai' but it never went far enough to get them off their arses.I still regularly stuff floating plastic bags into the pockets of my trunks that the Japanese are happy to swim amongst.In Australia we had a 'do the right thing-put it in the bin' ad on TV that was very successful, but that would be hard to promote in a country with literally (litterally) no bins.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

we need fines like in Singapore that will stop the loitering. it is not only the beach, but along the streets also!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The state of this stretch of coast in Hokkaido is deplorable. The adjoining beach, Zenibako Beach, is known as “Gomibako Beach.” Much of it is trash from visitors, but fishing waste is also common. I was at a glorious stretch of shore near Oshamanbe in southern Hokkaido that was littered exclusively with fishing waste. This is a stretch of shore that faces east, so it’s harder to blame it on the Koreans and Chinese. I was sorely disappointed that a prefecture with so much coast and so few people has such miserable waterfronts.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Good for you Hokkaido. I agree with most of the blogs. But garbage bins are not that great because the park authorities do not pick it up. They need more garbage storage areas. A bin will fill up in a matter of hours. But dirty beaches is the tip of the ice berg.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The beaches are nasty. But I live in Saitama where there are no beaches. People throw garbage in rice fields. One street in my area. I call "poo street" because there is so much dog poo. I can't even ride my bicycle.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

strange i allways Tought Japan was clean. True it is hard to find a bin anywhere, since people are expected to clean up in front of there place. I remember once on Tv during Soccer World cup. Japan played the match and so there was lots of japanesse in the staduim. At the end of the match, they all took plastic bags to put all their rubbish in it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

For a country that prides itself on their appreciation of nature, this is a disgrace. Anyone who has climbed Mt Fuji (a so-called national icon) can account for the disregard many Japanese show for nature. You will never find a beach in Australia covered in trash like you do here. BTW, Im not an Aussie, just an observation I made when I was there for 2 years.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Hah - I'm not Australian either but I live there and maybe not trash on the beaches, but I have found syringes. You choose what is worse. That is really sad about the beaches in Japan. I lived for a year in Shimoda next to Kisami beach - never saw any trash at all although come summer the beach was packed. But maybe the local lifeguards did a clean up job along with saving lives?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

But I live in Saitama....

hahaha watch your back

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan has a very strict recycling system which is maintained not only at a government level but also by local communities.

Recycling is a misnomer in Japan. Burnables go out one day, plastics the next but who is to say they don't go to the same place? Call your city office and see what they're doing. Plastics burn at a higher temperature and they like to control that at the incinerator.

Glass is collected where I am but it's crushed going into truck. Clear glass, blue glass, and any refillable bottles picked up are lost too (think beer and 1.8 sake bottles). But that at least is getting recycled.

There is a huge social stigma and shame handed out by residents to those who don’t do the right thing and dispose of their trash in the correct manner.

Really? I haven't seen it. -Here's to wishful thinking!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Closer to topic.. Along the coast of Ehime in the inland sea anywhere there's easy road or trail access beaches are hideous. It is very disheartening because you can see how nice it could be. There are hidden gems tho. Tiny unspoiled coves and sandy beaches but you really have to look for them and be creative often in getting to them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I think the main reason the cleanup so done at a different time to the international cleanup is because of the end of the holiday season.

I am part of a community of artist; photographers, painters, writers, musicians and viewers, that try to inform and educate people on issues like this through freedom of expression, for the full story and pictures on this cleanup please goto;

Little steps like this are good for reminding people and communities that our current way of life is unsustainable, that this is a global issue. If things are this bad in our so called developed countries, think of the devastation mankind is reeking in places that are not so open.

Ignoring it as an issue -- until the panic sets in -- means, more war's for water, food and shelter will be the legacy we leave our children.

This article was also published by the BBC world news service.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Great work! I wish more people in Japan took pride in their country. Isn't it embarrassing when they go to the beach and see foreigners picking up garbage? Get the hint Japanese people! Clean up your beaches and maybe more people will come to enjoy your little island!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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