The Japanese love of organization, compartmentalization, and perhaps most press-it-to-your-heart-and-sigh-ingly, of unity (homogeneity?) is no secret. The flood of black-suited workers to the cities every morning, the uniformly uniformed students who greet the line of teachers waiting before the schools’ entrances, even the cookie cutter layouts and substance of every city seem to betray a reverence for similitude rarely seen elsewhere. With this said, it should come as no surprise that the disposing of one’s garbage would be a task almost Herculean in its exactitude and nearly reaching the tremendous heights of annoyance achieved by J-Pop singers. But who would have thought it’d be so well policed?
My section of my neighborhood has its refuse pick-up point about two blocks from my apartment. It is a rudimentary but sturdy metal box with grated sides that would comfortably fit about eight standing adults. (perhaps 5 if they were American) The regular collection dates are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. The former and the latter are for burnables-of which I have a very specific list-and Wednesday is for plastics. Other items have separate collection dates once a month. Were I a newspaper subscriber I would only be able to rid myself of the spent print once a month. Same goes for bottles, jars, and cans. What if you are out of town that one day? Then you have a couple of bags of paper sitting in a corner in your kitchen. And if you then miss it again, and again, and two more times after that you likely have a kitchen that looks similar to mine.
I take my recyclables and trash to the collection site on my way to school-approximately 7:30-as it remains locked the night before. One might think that by this point it would be easy, that I would simply sling the bags from my bike’s handlebars and leave them in their place. Well it surely would be, were it not for the vigilant morning-trash-volunteer who waits, with possible sadistic glee, to reprimand me every collection day.
The first scolding I got occurred when, after running out of the designated burnables bags, I had resorted to using the recyclable materials bag instead. I was promptly turned away, bags in hand. I was also turned away later for trying to skate by with grocery bags. My thoughts were being that everything there was trash, and that all the neighborhood was doing trash, the truck would only be carrying trash leaving little possibility for confusion. This reasoning is beyond my grasp of Japanese and I had to leave it with a skeptical look.
The next time was perhaps a manifestation of the importance of respect in Japanese culture, perhaps just that of my trash-volunteer’s growing fondness for the subject of his free time. Either way, I was chastised for brazenly letting the bags fall from my hands to the piles of other trash bags rather than gentle setting them upon their kin-for which I was given a tutorial.
After that I was informed I needed to be writing my name and address on my bags in case they contained contraband.
Last Tueday, after gently positioning my named, address, and properly bagged trash atop the pile, I was feeling pretty confident. Trash volunteer, however, not to be deterred, looked at my bicycle and asserted cheerily, “You have no light on your bike. Very dangerous.”