I’m living in the largest city in the world and surprisingly trash is not an issue. The streets are very clean and if there’s an empty bottle on a train, someone probably left it by accident.
However, the amount of public trash cans is staggeringly low. In fact, Tokyo has removed virtually all public trash cans since 1995. The reason why is fascinating: terrorism.
On March 20th 1995, members of a religious cult carried out five coordinated attacks by releasing sarin gas on the Tokyo subway. The attack occurred during rush hour and the liquid sarin was contained in plastic bags which were punctured using the sharpened point of an umbrella. The liquid quickly became a gas and caused havoc during the busiest time of the day. Thirteen people died and over 6,000 others were injured.
The public demanded answers from their government so Tokyo, and much of Japan, decided to remove trash cans for security purposes – even though the bags were left on trains instead of placed in trash cans.
Today, trash cans are still identified with Japan’s most serious terrorism attack of 20 years ago. If you do find a trash can in a Tokyo station, it likely looks like this:
Whether banning trash cans has made a difference has yet to be seen. Similar to the United State’s knee jerk reaction after 9/11, many think removing trash cans provides a false sense of security. Awareness has probably helped more than anything as people are more conscious of their surroundings.
In the meantime, everyone carries their trash with them. It’s not as bad as you would think, but can surprise a lot of visitors. My garbage at my apartment is a different story, but that deserves its own post – more on that later.