Why Tourists Should Be Prepared To Hold Onto Their Trash While In Japan

Japan has become increasingly popular with tourists and it's easy to see why. The country has several destinations that won't break the bank. Of course, Japan's vibrant culture and distinct culinary experiences are another draw. Nevertheless, there are societal differences that visitors should be aware of before they hop on a flight to the Land of the Rising Sun. For instance, you would be considered rude for tipping. Another thing to note: Japan famously has very few public trash cans.


In fact, it's the norm for citizens to carry their trash with them and dispose of it at home. So ingrained is this practice that litter in Japan is essentially non-existent. But given that the country is home to heavily-traveled cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, you might be thinking, "Why the lack of trash bins?" For one, it's said that the high cost of public waste management is to blame. However, there's another sinister reason why trash cans are few and far between.

On March 20, 1995, Tokyo's subway system endured an attack orchestrated by AUM Shinrikyo. The Japanese cult released sarin, an odorless gas that affects the nervous system, on multiple trains. A 2020 study published in the scientific journal Plos One states that 13 people died and thousands of others were injured. As a safety precaution, Japan did away with a majority of their public trash cans shortly after this tragedy. Despite this, tourists should know that Japan is not entirely free of trash cans.


This is where tourists can dispose of their trash in Japan

Whether or not you're a tourist in Japan, it's inevitable to accumulate trash while you're out and about. That said, visitors can often find recycling bins next to vending machines. Note that vending machines are all the rage in Japan so it won't be too hard to stumble across one. The same can be said about convenience stores, which are famed for their superb offerings. 7-Eleven, for example, sells everything from bento boxes to fried chicken. Pop in, grab a delicious snack, and throw away your trash while you're at it. In addition, public parks are also known to have trash cans.


If you visit Japan, chowing down on street food like takoyaki, taiyaki, and more is a must. Make sure to eat your treat onsite at the vendor stall as there will be trash cans available. Keep in mind that it's not commonplace to eat while walking in Japan so it is discouraged to do so. Another word of advice: consider packing dog waste bags and a dispenser. While it might not be ideal, it is convenient. If you can't immediately find a garbage can, you can at least carry your trash mess-free in your bag or backpack until you do. If you don't find one while you're out, your hotel or Airbnb will surely have a trash can.

Trash cans remain a point of contention in Japan

One spot where you likely won't be able to find trash cans in Japan, specifically in Tokyo, are in metro stations. The exception, per Japan News, is stations run by the East Japan Railway Co. Since 2020, several stations have done away with their public garbage cans due to safety concerns. Much to the chagrin of passengers, others, including Seibu Railway, did so because of misuse. Japan sorts waste into different categories and passengers were throwing away items incorrectly. In July 2023, Kyoto locals lamented the lack of trash cans in the Arashiyama district, citing an overflow of trash from tourists.


SoraNews24 reported that trash cans had been removed for this very reason. Rather than helping the issue, locals said the trash situation worsened. Junji Makino from the Arashiyama Hoshokai organization told the outlet that there was a solution to the problem, saying, "So keping Arashiyama clean is probably going to take extra efforts on both sides: more trash cans from the city government, and tourists also being prepared and committed to take what trash they can back with them."

That year, new SmaGO trash cans were introduced in Arashiyama and in Osaka. However, SmaGO is not your ordinary trash can. Amongst its incredible features, it notifies when it needs to be emptied via an app. Are you planning a visit to Japan soon? Check out these gorgeous cities you have to visit that aren't Tokyo.