One thing you should know about Japan: They take their garbage seriously. It makes sense; given that they’re an island nation, they don’t exactly have the space to dump millions of tons of garbage into a hole and bury it. We separate our garbage into at least 8 different categories just for day-to-day trash, and then you can add in “special” categories.
When we moved into our new house, the realtor gave a huge flier explaining all the different categories and on which day each is thrown away. (I’m gonna add pictures of this in the comments.) (And I promptly threw away the right trash on the right day in the wrong trash receptacle.) He explained that our neighborhood has semi-annual cleaning days where we all unite to make things look nice—sweeping up leaves, snagging any stray litter, the like.
“Aw, that’s sweet. What a community feeling!” I thought.
Four days after we moved in, our neighbor—who is also our landlady—caught us outside at the same time that a Japanese friend also happened to be in our driveway, and rapid-fire explained all the rules about trash in our neighborhood.
“We all take turns keeping the trash receptacle clean and in order,” she explained. “You’ll unlock the receptacle on Monday morning and make sure people are throwing their trash away in the right manner on the right days, and at the end of the week you’ll take out any trash that’s left, keep it at your house until the correct day, and then clean the receptacle and lock it up again.”
“Wow,” I thought. “This is new. A little bit of a hassle, but we can do that. I’ll get the kids involved and it’ll build character.” The perverse side of me that puts way too much stock in what I perceive others to be thinking of me saw the value in this proving what a good neighbor I am.
On day 6 of being in Japan, our neighbor on the other side rang our bell. “It’s your week to man the trash,” he told me. “Check it every day and pass it on to the next person on Saturday.”
“Baptism by fire!” we joked. My inner people-pleaser jumped at the chance to prove ourselves so quickly.
I ran into the landlady the next day and she asked how things are going. I told her it’s our week to do the trash and asked what time I needed to unlock it on Monday morning (6:30), and told her, “If I mess anything up, please teach me.”
Today our doorbell rang, and it was the landlady. “Do you have a minute?” she asked. Sure. She took me out to the trash receptacle and asked if I’d seen the trash in there. I had, in fact. Though I hadn’t looked very closely. Someone threw two big bags of trash away on the wrong day, I had thought.
Someone threw two big bags of trash allllll mixed together in our receptacle. “This never happens!” the landlady told me. “But when it does, we have to sort it.”
So we pulled those two bags out, pried their tied tops open, and started digging and sorting. (MERCIFULLY she ran inside to grab plastic gloves.)
You guys, it was AWFUL. If you have ever been around me when I’ve brushed my teeth, you know how terrible my gag reflex is. Oh it was comically AWFUL! I was gagging and digging and gagging and walking away for fresh air and she kept asking, “Are you okay?” and I kept just laughing and assuring her, “Yes, I’m fine,” because WHAT ELSE COULD I DO? Bless her for doing it with me when it wasn’t her week.
We finally finished and put the now-decent-and-orderly bags back into the receptacle and walked away to cleanse ourselves.
“Hey, it was good practice for me!” I joked with her.
On the plus side, I for sure secured my place in our community.
Update: When I shared this story on my facebook page, a missionary friend passed on to me something another missionary passed on to him:
“We share Jesus and shine light here by the way we take care of our own garbage and help with the rotation as much as we do when we open our Bibles. People watch.”
I prayed thanks to God for giving us this unique ministry the next week when the kids and I cleaned.