Excuse me, where do I put my trash?

One of the first things everyone notices when they visit Japan is how clean it is, then they notice how hard it is to find a rubbish bin! Then add the fact that Japan is known for having tons of vending machines everywhere you go. It begs the question why is it so hard to find rubbish bins in Japan?

Excuse me, where do I put my trash?

One of the first things everyone notices when they visit Japan is how clean it is, then they notice how hard it is to find a rubbish bin! Then add the fact that Japan is known for having tons of vending machines everywhere you go. It begs the question why is it so hard to find rubbish bins in Japan?

Asahara Shoko

Well, it all started with one man known as Asahara Shoko. He was born on March 2, 1955, in Kumamoto prefecture of Japan as Matsumoto Chizuo. After graduating in 1975 from a school for the blind as he was born partially blind, he ended up studying acupuncture and pharmacology, specialization in traditional Chinese medicine. This led to him establishing a Chinese medicine shop but in 1982, he was briefly imprisoned for selling drugs without a pharmacist license. During this period, his interest in religions like Buddhism, and Christianity reportedly started. Then between 1984 and 1987, Asahara made several pilgrimages to India, where he claimed that he achieved enlightenment through yoga and other teachings he came across.

AUM Shinrikyo

Also, in 1984, he formed a new religious group, that went by the name of AUM Shinrikyo. Then in 1989, the Tokyo metropolitan government granted AUM Shinrikyo legal status as a religious organization which led Asahara to start calling himself names like "The Lamb of God" and "The Christ”. Eventually, in 1990, Asahara founded his own political party with the goal of him becoming prime minister which was said to be one of his lifetime goals from childhood. But the 25 candidates from his party for the Diet (the Japanese parliament) were rejected by the electorate. This was the turning point for both Asahara and his religion as the religion turned into a doomsday cult with Asahara prophesing World War 3 involving nuclear warfare between America and Japan.

AUM's incidents

The Diet wasn't the first case of controversy around AUM, just before Asahara founded his political party, an anti-cult lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto organized an anti-AUM public relations campaign in the hope of demonstrating AUM members were being lured in by deception and then were being held against their will by threats and manipulations. Therefore, his ultimate goal was to bankrupt AUM, which would have weakened or even destroyed the group. Sakamoto started to look for evidence to help his suit and ended up successfully persuading Asahara to submit blood for a blood test to test for the special powers that Asahara claimed he had. Sakamoto found no sign of anything unusual and therefore disclosing the results could have been potentially embarrassing or damaging to Asahara.

During the same time, Sakamoto was interviewed about his efforts but this eventually led to his murder as it turned out the network secretly showed a video of the interview to AUM members without Sakamoto's knowledge. At first, AUM officials attempted to pressure the network to cancel the broadcast of the interview. But at 3 AM on November 3, 1989, Sakamoto and his family were murder by several AUM Shinrikyo members in his house. Their remains were then hidden in three separate rural areas in three different prefectures: Niigata, Toyama, and Nagano.

Sakamoto was not the first run-in with the law for AUM, the next key incident was the Matsumoto sarin attack, which was targeted at three judges who were expected to rule against the cult in a lawsuit concerning a real estate dispute. Their original plan was to release aerosol into the Matsumoto courthouse but it was altered because the cult members arrived in the city after the courthouse had closed, so they targeted a three-story apartment building where the city's judges resided. At 10:40 pm, a converted refrigerator truck was used to release a cloud of sarin was turned into an aerosol by a heating contraption. This incident ended up having a total of 274 people being treated and 8 deaths. But this is also a key turning point, as it led to the worst terrorist attack ever to happen in Japan.

Tokyo subway sarin attack 1995

During the peak of the morning rush hour on Monday, 20 March 1995, five members of AUM Shinrikyo launched a chemical attack on the Tokyo subway (Hibiya Line, Marunouchi Line, and Chiyoda Line). The chemical used was liquid sarin contained in plastic bags wrapped in newspaper. The attackers carried their packets of sarin and umbrellas with sharpened tips onto their appointed trains. Then the packets were dropped and punctured several times with the sharpened tip of the umbrella. Each attacker left their train while the sarin from their packets leaked into the carriages and stations. As sarin is the most volatile of the nerve agents, it meant the liquid quickly started to vaporize and spread as the trains continued along their lines.

The aftermath

The attack resulted in 278 hospitals seeing 5,510 patients on the day. The death toll on the day of the attack was eight, with four more dying consequently after. The long-term consequences from the attack were many have chronic eyestrain and many are still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, mainly based around being insecure when on a train. Fortunately, Asahara and the members involved in the attack were tracked down and captured. They eventually were sentenced to life sentences or sentenced to death. Fun fact: Japan still has the death penalty! They were all executed in July 2018. But how did this result in there being very few rubbish bins?

Well, the public ended up demanding for the government to do something to protect them from future attacks so the Japanese government decided to remove rubbish bins as historically they have been used in similar attacks around the world. Therefore, rubbish bins were removed from areas with high levels of traffic. Although rubbish bins are slowly returning to public spaces. For example, in 2006 rail operator JR East began re-introducing trash containers onboard its Narita Express airport line. The impact on security is still embedded in Japan's society, for example, whenever American presidents like Obama have visited Japan, most rubbish bins were locked up and sealed shut. Another clear security impact is most bins are now designed to have transparent walls with clear bags inside so the bins can quickly be inspected.

How does Japan keep clean?

But surely fewer rubbish bins equals more litter on the streets. Well, that isn't the case with Japan, it turned out to have a counter-intuitive effect. And this can be shown in the actions of the Japanese around the world. For example, just look at the Japanese football supporters who amazed the world in 2018 at Russia's World Cup football tournament, by staying behind to pick up rubbish from the stadium. Japan's cultural obsession with cleanliness stems from Japanese children being taught to be responsible for their own mess. You probably have seen articles about Japanese school children cleaning their classrooms and other places in their schools. In the western world, cleaning is seen as a chore by most people to the point that some people see what Japan schools are doing as child abuse. But let me make this clear, this is not government-mandated! Schools still follow this practice as it is seen to help develop the children into more responsible citizens. Plus, Japanese students view the practice of keeping their school clean as a part of their life so they don't detest the work.

Outside of schools, this practice is continuing in the form of citizens cleaning their local areas like streets and parks. Sometimes there are regular clean up schedules which locals are asked to join regularly. There have been cases of people cleaning their neighbourhood instead of going for a run before they go to work. A lot of the time, I have seen groups of elderly citizens all focused on tidying up whole areas with some people doing maintenance like cutting grass. But this doesn't fix the root problem of littering.

Well, it does actually because of a theory known as the broken windows theory. The logic of this theory is if there is a broken window of a house, people are more likely to break the window even more or break another window of the house. So in terms of littering, people are more likely to litter in a place that already has a lot of rubbish there as the feeling of guilt is missing due to the thought process of "there is already rubbish here so it won't matter if I add more". But as the Japanese keep everywhere clean all the time, the guilt of littering remains so the chance of someone leaving rubbish is reduced. And this leads to the norm of taking your own rubbish back home or to find a bin.


First thing, don't panic! There are places with bins in Japan: Airports, convenient stores, supermarkets, food stands, parks, vending machines. But if you still are worried about carrying around your rubbish in your bag, then my tip is to take a plastic bag with you to put your rubbish in. And don't worry, you will get tons of chances to get plastic bags. I will be doing a blog on Japan and its obsession with wrapping up everything. So, it is time to say a big thank you to everyone reading this week's blog. In terms of next week, I have not thought about it yet, so it will be a surprise. So, until next week, arigatou gozaimasu and sayōnara!