What do we do with our trash, Mike? I don’t know where to throw it away?
I get these questions a lot, either at the Tanabe Tourist Information Center or on the trail when I guide.
Visitors chow down on their boxed lunches at the station before they ride the bus and look about for a place to toss their garbage, but they can’t seem to find one anywhere.
Many people comment on how clean Japan is, how the streets (in most areas) seem to have minimal litter and how fastidious Japanese are at sweeping up or washing down the areas in front of their shops. But in reality, you will find very few public trash cans in Japan.
So what do you do with the trash that you accumulate on your trip?
The prevailing idea here is that people take their own garbage home or back to the office, without dumping it in a space used by everyone. It’s about taking personal responsibility not to create an inconvenience for others, an important Japanese value.
Certainly, you have seen the TV footage of Japanese fans at the World Cup or international venues picking up garbage (and not just theirs) after the event. Kids at Japanese schools even have “cleaning time” where they must wipe or sweep or sometimes even run a cloth across the floor. Though it may seem odd or inconvenient, it’s simply a cultural difference.
Pack in, Pack out
So when you visit the Kumano area, keep the hiker’s mantra of “pack in, pack out” close to heart. You are a guest here, and it goes a long way that you demonstrate good manners, or at least try your best to respect Japanese attitudes about personal trash while you are here.
You may notice bins for plastic (PET) bottles and cans next to vending machines along the way, but keep in mind they are NOT for your lunch garbage. Keep your garbage in its plastic bag and take it back with you! Until you reach your next accommodation, you are responsible for whatever you walk out of the store with. We all appreciate your effort in helping to keep this World Heritage environment and the communities that support it litter-free. Thanks!
Consultant & Guide
Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau