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Why are there no trash cans in Japan?

Trash boxes in Sapporo, Japan

I hate that there are not enough trash cans here!!

In an “advanced” country like this, it’s rather shocking that trash cans (or rubbish bins, or whatever you call them in your country) are so far and few between. There are almost no trash cans in Japan! Sometimes you get lucky, and there are trash cans at the train station or in a park (SOME times), but usually you’re left holding on to your garbage until you can find a proper place to put it – unless you’re one of those people who leaves their empty drink containers, wrappers, etc. in the public toilets… yes it does happen. I have seen it with my own eyes, but NEVER done it (wink, wink). Trashy people…

So why are there no trash cans in Japan?

Some gassy history

First of all, there used to be more trash cans in Japan, but there was a ridiculously huge overreaction to these sarin terrorist attacks back in 1995 (sarin is a gas that can kill people – I had to look it up).

The terrorists were from some cult, and the attacks were on the trains where people were trapped and couldn’t escape the gas. Some people died, which is unfortunate, but that does not justify what happened next (in the world of garbage and convenience).

Emergency personnel respond to the Tokyo subway sarin attack – Public Domain Image

Someone in the government decided that terrorists might use trash receptacles in the future as a place to put weapons like gases or bombs. Apparently the trash containers were in some way a part of the terrorist attack. So of COURSE, Japan decided to just get rid of trash cans almost all together!

… some flawed logic

I hate this sort of logic – and it doesn’t only happen in Japan. For example, San Francisco, CA canceled its annual Halloween festival over a shooting. What kind of thinking is this? Isn’t it the same as if we stopped allowing airplane travel because of one plane crash?

I think people (usually in the government) using this sort of logic have other agendas that were conveniently able to be pushed along due to a scary event. I’m guessing it’s really about saving money somehow. Less trashcans, for example, less people to pay to dispose of the trash, right?

A bit about how trash cans in Japan work

Anyway, I just realized you might not actually understand how Japanese garbage cans work! Japanese trash receptacles are usually not just one single bin – they are usually sets of receptacles.

For example, there is often one section in the trash for cans, one for bottles and another for “other garbage.” Often that “other” garbage is separated into “burnable” and “not burnable.”

Good luck figuring that out if you aren’t familiar with Japanese trash rules – but the point is – you have to separate it. Unless, again, you are one of those “trashy” people who doesn’t care and puts trash in whatever bin you want…

This trash container is divided into combustibles, cans/bottles/pet bottles and newspapers and magazines.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons by Hyeonyoung Lee 21

Note: Some places (like Harajuku, at the time of this posting) have really nice, modern trashcans with doors that open and close. Harajuku has a lot of them on one of the main streets with all the designer clothing shops.

So, where CAN you put your trash?

So yeah, if you’re not on a really awesome and very rare street with lots of trashcans, where CAN you put your trash? There are places, but, it’s still a pain in the behind. Let me list them in order of the likelihood of you actually finding them:

  • Convenience stores (konbini, in Japanese) – this is the best option – USUALLY – but sometimes they don’t have trash bins at all. And sometimes (lately) they are somehow taped shut because of COVID! (give me a break – another overreaction) Oh, and you might feel the need to buy something if you go inside…
  • Near drink vending machines – this one is for bottles and cans only. You can see them beside most vending machines (but again – SURPRISE – not ALL vending machines have them)
  • Train stations – Well, this one you just never know these days, but some stations do have trash bins. For example, in Tokyo, the same train line (Chuo/Sobu) has garbage receptacles at one station, but not the next station. I have no idea why. Roll the dice.
  • On the street (random locations) – Yeah, if you’re lucky, there might just be trash receptacles on the street where you find yourself, but you would be very lucky these days to find one. I almost never see them.
  • Public restrooms – Sometimes they have trash cans inside, but it’s not something you can count on. I’m a male though, so I don’t know how it is in the female restrooms.

In conclusion

I hope this gave you a better understanding of the trash can situation in Japan. It’s not ideal, but it’s manageable once you get used to it.

If you’re in Japan long enough, you’ll figure out where the trash cans are in your area. If you’re visiting for a short time, you might just have to carry a little bag with you for your personal garbage until you find a place to get rid of it.