Living In Japan: Recycling is an Everyday Thing

By Donald Ash | Articles

Seeing and experiencing the richness of another culture is one of many benefits of living in Japan. I am so amazed sometimes at how different the daily routine is between the American and Japanese cultures . Of course I am fascinated by the smaller living spaces, the safety, and the food, just to name a few things. But, oddly enough, one thing that I find quite thought-provoking is that recycling is a completely normal routine. I wonder how on Earth this country is able to get the vast majority of it’s people to recycle.

I think this mentality exists for a few reasons. Number one, Japan is a small country with lots of people. As a result, I think many Japanese are used to living in smaller spaces and are used to being more mindful about how they consume. There is a Japanese saying that I hear many of my adult students use the phrase “もったいない” or “Mottai nai” which means wasteful. If someone were to do something like throwing trash on a train floor, driving to a store that’s a three-minute walk away, or anything similar, you might hear this phrase.

The second reason I believe may have something to do with World War II. Many of my older students say that essentials were quite scarce in post war Japan. Several students mentioned that getting good toilet paper was difficult (Why toilet paper? I don’t really know exactly). Anyway, living in conditions of scarcity can sometimes have a major effect on a person’s value system. Having to want for things can make you more appreciative of what you have…when you actually get it (this theory can also work in reverse). Japan now has one of the strongest economies in the world, but it’s one of the most humble, most conservative, most economical societies that I’ve ever seen.

I remember trying to recycle in my hometown, and people would literally laugh at me…so I stopped doing it. It’s just not the case here. I don’t consider myself to be “green” by any stretch of the imagination, but I recycle everyday…just like my neighbors do. There’s really no thinking involve; you know which days to set out which trash items, and you just do it. One of the first items I received when I moved to Ibaraki, was a trash schedule:

Current trash schedule

As you can see, it’s details which items are to be thrown out on which days. Occasionally you do find the wrong garbage sitting out on the wrong day, but trash people will actually leave it right there until it’s proper pickup day comes around. It’s pretty different from what I’m used to.

Honestly, I find it so refreshing to live in a place where people have such a respect for the environment around them. It’s definitely having an effect on me…but I think it’s a good thing.

Donald Ash

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • Habeaus

    Hahahahaha you do trash recycling LMAO!! In Atlanta? Hahahaha man you so square it ain’t even funny. Na it’s all good though brother I’m glad there are ppl lookings out for the environmentals and stuff.

  • Rosco Down Under

    Isn’t it marvellous? The weekly coloured trays that are cleared at the vacant lot at the end of the street is great but the massive piles of heavy plastic bags that ‘disappear’ overnight in the cities are equally amazing.
    But wouldn’t it be better to reduce the amount in the first place? The Japanese are brilliant with their wrapping and packing but pretty ‘over the top’ so often.

    • Donald Ash

      Have to agree with that over-the-top with the packaging, lol. I just had to tie up my cardboard boxes with twine the other day. It looks cool, but I wonder if it’s necessary, lol.

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