Japan’s lack of bins are both a security measure and a cultural aversion to littering

Japan’s lack of bins are both a security measure and a cultural aversion to littering

Public waste bins and garbage cans were largely removed from Japanese cities following the 1995 sarin gas attacks, forcing residents to adopt some of the world’s more disciplined waste disposal techniques.

The Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult led a series of coordinated chemical weapon attacks on the Tokyo subway system on March 20, 1995, which left 12 people dead. More than 1,000 were injured by exposure to the toxic agent. The domestic terror attack remains deeply resonant among the Japanese public, in part because of the potent symbolism in targeting the Tokyo subway—a system that carries millions of passengers each day and serves as an emblem of the nation’s economic power and modernity. To attack trains in Japan is to attack more than just run-of-the-mill civic infrastructure.

In mascot-mad Japan, there is also an anti-litter superhero yuru-chara, Mangetsu-man, patrolling the streets of Tokyo.

The huge numbers of foreign visitors—a phenomenon dubbed kankō kōgai, or “tourism pollution,” in local media—has convinced authorities to re-introduce more public waste receptacles to accommodate those unfamiliar with Japanese garbage mores.

But the country’s still-tenuous relationship with trash cans shows the lasting impact of terror attacks, even decades after the event. Worrying about litter is something that Japanese authorities and residents alike aren’t entirely ready to toss out.