Garbage disposal may seem like something that has nothing to do with anthropology. In fact, it seems downright boring. Really, trash is trash is trash. Nothing to see here, move it along. However, interestingly enough, rubbish can tell us something about cultures, nations and people. In short, it is in fact relevant to anthropology. One good example of how garbage is relevant to anthropology is the usage of very old, even ancient refuse to learn about civilizations long since dead and gone. However, today’s photo and story isn’t about ancient trash heaps, as interesting as those may be. Maybe today’s topic of trash does seem a little domestic, but it is still interesting nonetheless.
The photo you see here is a photo of one of the many garbage collection points in my neighborhood in Tokorozawa City in Saitama Prefecture Japan. Trash collection is of course, not the same in every place in Japan. However, much of it is similar in many regards. These cages, where everyone brings their garbage, are quite common. Some places encourage much more recycling than others, and some places make it very easy to not care about recycling. One way they promote recycling in some places I have lived in Japan is by making recycling free, that is the bags or containers you put out the recycling in (in the cage area of course) are free, while normal, throw away honest to goodness trash bags are costly. Here in Saitama it seems a bit cheaper, as you don’t have to buy the special taxed garbage bags. I think the way this is done in Japan would seem a bit out of the norm for most Americans who expect the garbage man to come by once a week and pick up their individual garbage from in front of their house. Another interesting thing about collective garbage disposal in Japan is that you don’t want to mess up the garbage. You will annoy someone greatly, and they will make sure that you are aware of their annoyance. Perhaps the first thing they should tell newcomers to Japan when they step off the plane is “Here’s a chart on how garbage works in Japan” because to be honest, the Japanese way of doing garbage does really take some getting used to.