Where have all the garbage cans gone?

I live in the old “shitamachi (literally means “downtown”)” district of Tokyo, which attract lots of tourists from oversea. One day in my neighborhood, I saw a young tourist, wondering around with a vinyl bag in his hand which may contain some garbage. After looking all around, he threw away the vinyl bag on the corner of residential building, and ran away.

Probably he was looking for a garbage can to throw his garbage away. He thought that there must be garbage can on the street in central Tokyo, but he simply could not find one.

When I returned from NY to Tokyo, I also could not find the garbage can, and thought something is wrong. The disappearance of garbage can had been quietly progressed after the incident in 1995; the Sarin Gas Attack on the Tokyo Subway led by the religious group Aum Shinrikyo. First, only the garbage cans in the subway had been removed, and it has been slowly spread on the ground level, and today, I cannot locate any garbage can on the street of Tokyo.

15 years had been passed after that incident, and people do not wonder why there is no garbage can on the street. Furthermore, the worst thing is, by accepting the removal of these garbage cans, the citizens of Tokyo automatically accept the possibility that their neighbor could be a terrorist.

The possibility of terrorist attack on the old neighborhood of Tokyo can never be zero, but it is quite low. If we could share a community’s garbage can which everyone can use, the benefit is bigger than the one of avoiding possible terrorism. Furthermore, if the residents start to place garbage can in their own will and share the same garbage can, it could break the fear which comes from the result of common illusion, and will create the better community. However, the citizens stop their process of thinking, and just follow the decision of the government.

The history of democracy in Japan is quite new. Current democracy had been “given” by the U.S. during the occupation of Japan after 1945, so the Japanese people take democracy for granted, and does not think that they are the subjective decision makers. The subjective act is necessary, but if you act subjectively, the conservative society of Japan will attack you. Something is wrong in this country. We need to think through these problems, and we should solve it by subjective act.


  1. Watanabe-san, I found you via a comment you left at Mogi-san's blog.

    I have to say that the core of Japan's problems is precisely what you identified here:

    "the Japanese people take democracy for granted, and does not think that they are the subjective decision makers."

    The Japanese are too used to passively expecting that government will solve their problems, when it is precisely government that is responsible for the worst ones.

    This is also a problem in the US and elsewhere, since although people actively complain, they misunderstand how government has already caused the problem (such as our financial crisis and economic problems).

  2. Dear Tokyo-tom san,

    Thank you very much for your comment. I am happy that you have the same opinion, about the passive expectation of Japanese people, and the wrong interpretation of the causes. Let's change this little by little, by continuing our endeavor!