(☞ﾟヮﾟ)☞ What is this?
A beautiful city with a pure soul.
The reason Tokyo is so clean is because the Japanese people tend to have a strong sense of moral obligation to treat other people, and things, with respect. They seek the attainment of perfection with the understanding they will never reach it but strive to nonetheless.
Obviously this isn’t every Japanese person. But on average, the level of “care” to respect other people, their belongings, and the space we live in is strong.
“The Japanese principle of respecting your possessions and appreciating their artistry/functionality without having too much, though challenged by postwar consumerism, informs both Marie Kondo’s tidying method and the Japanese attitude towards cleanliness.” (hotelzen.jp)
Shinto and Buddhist Traditions
Perhaps in some ways, it’s the Shinto and Buddhist traditions that are embedded in the daily lives of Japanese people. The average person wouldn’t say they are religious. It’s not like they dedicate their lives to religion.
It’s more like Shintoism and Buddhism are subtly a part of many traditions and holidays in Japan.
For instance, on New Year the Japanese will gather at local temples to pray, read their fortunes, and buy protective trinkets.
There is even a fountain specifically for washing your hands before entering the temple grounds. It’s literally meant as “cleaning the dirt from your spirit.” A practice held throughout Shinto and thankfully still going strong to this day at Shinto shrines throughout Japan.
“In fact, in the Zen version of Buddhism, which came to Japan from China in the 12th and 13th Centuries, daily tasks like cleaning and cooking are considered spiritual exercises, no different from meditating. “In Zen, all daily life activities, including having meals and cleaning the space, must be regarded as an opportunity to practice Buddhism.” (bbc.com)
In daily practice, Japanese people don’t tend to act in ways that are purely individual. They care about the social consequences of poor actions and the effect it would have on their honor.
Almost as if a sense of duty. Every person plays an important role in taking care of the public spaces around them. If only by not doing things that would disrupt the typical order of things: littering, graffiti, etc.
In some sense, the average Japanese person won’t be “lazy” and neglect their moral duty to keep the space they use in the world clean.
That’s doesn’t mean you won’t see trash though. Tokyo does have a little litter and some graffiti too.
“While Japanese people tend to be reserved, they have a collectivist approach to living, and there is a huge focus on the ‘group’ as opposed to the ‘individual’.” (japanjunky.com)
Japanese Schools Instill Duty
From a young age, Japanese children are taught to keep their school clean. Parents enforce cleanliness at home. The sense of purity and cleanliness is simply ingrained from the moment children are school age.
And the kids enjoy it.
I know it may seem strange to say vending machines play a role in the cleanliness of Tokyo, but they do. Since vending machines are found pretty much every 10 steps in Tokyo, there’s always a handy drink available.
It’s a small can or plastic bottle and the Japanese recycle almost everything.
Behind many vending machines, or sometimes to the side, you’ll see a small can with holes to put your finished drink cans and bottles into.
This keeps them off the Tokyo city streets and improves the amount of garbage recycled.
“Japan recycles about 77% of its plastics, according to its Plastic Waste Management Institute, almost double the level of Britain, and well above the 20% currently managed in the United States.” (weforum.org)
Carry Plastic Bags
When Japanese people are out and about, they often have small plastic bags on them (perhaps in a purse or shoulder bag). As you may have noticed, there often aren’t any trash cans around.
Instead, the Japanese will collect their trash into a small plastic bag and bring it home with them if they cannot find a trash can. Where they will separate it for recycling.
Regimented Cleaning Practices
For major things like offices, parks, government buildings, trains, especially the Shinkansen bullet trains, the Japanese have very regimented cleaning practices. For example, this 7-minute cleaning ritual.
If you’re up early enough you might even see a gathering of locals in parks walking around to pick up trash, rake leaves, trim bushes, etc. It is common for the neighborhood to clean up the parks in their area.
People will clean the roads in front of their house. Staff will clean their shops and the sidewalk in front of the shop. Put simply, as a whole, the Japanese people take care of their cities.
“The popularity of Marie Kondo has further hastened the myth that Japanese are orderly because many readers think she is preaching a Japanese method of tidiness when she’s actually proselytizing her own KonMari Method.” (japantimes.co.jp)
Tip: Many Convenience Stores Have Trash Cans
Before we close out this guide there’s one more thing I want you to know. Convenience stores are actually convenient (most of the time).
Some will have trash cans, some won’t. The more downtown you are the fewer convenience stores have trash cans it seems — but it’s worth checking.
“Most convenience stores originally had the garbage cans outside of the store but had to move them because too many people would throw things away there making it problematic.” (livejapan.com)
When you’re in the western suburbs most convenience stores will. If you do not see the trash cans out in front of the store, check inside. Some have begun putting the trash cans inside and centralizing them with other amenities such as coffee machines, hot water, microwaves, and even charging stations for your mobile devices.
And while you’re there, why not check out everything else convenience stores have to offer.
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