As you may know, Japan has lower per capita carbon emissions than any Western European country. For that reason, I asked my friend, Sean Saskamoto, who recently moved to Japan and who blogs at I’d Rather Be In Japan, to check in with us every so often. I thought we might be able to learn a little something about “happier planet, happlier people” lifestyles from Sean’s experience there.
Here is Sean’s latest dispatch:
A few years ago, a friend of mine who works in the New York City Public School system described his students’ idea of how to deal with trash.
“They ate junk food all day and tossed the wrappers on the floor. Anytime I asked them to put their garbage in the can, they just shrugged and said that’s what the janitor was for. By the end of the day the classroom was ankle deep in trash.”
The idea that the trash is someone else’s problem, someone else who gets paid to deal with it, really struck me. In one sense, it’s true that there are folks who get paid to clean up after us. But does that relieve us of the responsibility of cleaning up after ourselves? Are we really that compartmentalized?
One of the first things visitors to Japan notice is how incredibly clean the subway stations and streets are. It’s even more surprising, considering how difficult it is to find a trash can. There are very, very few public trash cans. Often, people carry their trash with them until they get home. Even at home, the trash situation is complicated to say the least.
We sort out trash into several different clear plastic bags. We even put our names on our trash bag, and if there’s anything in there that doesn’t belong, the garbage men return the bag for us to resort. It’s a pain, and the system is far from perfect, but what really amazes me is that everyone actually adheres to it. There is a deep rooted sense of personal responsibility.
As a teacher in a Japanese school, and the parent of a first grader, I see first hand how this value is imparted. Every student and every teacher has to help clean the school for 30 minutes a day in the cleaning time. Each classroom has a small closet with brooms, dustpans, and cleaner.
Once a day, we sweep the floors, take out the trash, clean the toilets, wash the windows, scrub graffiti off the desks, you name it. We do all those things that the janitors did in the schools back home. Even the principal and the vice principals get out the dust rags and the vacuum cleaners and clean up their assigned areas.
It’s a lot harder to throw your trash on the floor when you and your friends will be picking it back up in a few hours anyway.