Gaijin and Garbage

A couple of days ago Joseph Coleman wrote in the Japan Times about the Japanese-Brazilian population in Gunma Prefecture. Several years ago, in response to a labor shortage, the Japanese government allowed descendants of Japanese immigrants to Brazil to come and work in this country. I guess the thinking was that if they looked Japanese and had Japanese blood running through their veins, they must be okay. Well, as it turns out, those raised in Brazil are a little bit different. According to the Japanese-Japanese residents of Gunma, those Brazilians play their music too loud, don’t file tax returns, and – this is mentioned more than once – don’t sort their garbage properly.

My mother-in-law says the same thing about me. When we moved in here, she took it upon herself to take out our garbage. She is the keeper of the complicated garbage calendar,which tells you which two days of the month you can put out your plastic trash, etc. I figured that since she has nothing to do but hang out and take down our laundry, I would leave the task to her. (Besides, when I did take the initiative and dump the trash myself in order to avoid her constant complaints about my garbage sorting, she told me to leave the job to her.) Also, it’s a safe way for her to pick on me. I don’t get all riled up when she points out some mistake I’ve made in trash disposal, as I do when she criticizes my child-rearing, for example. The other day, my mother-in-law who is in reasonably good health and has no life-threatening diseases, told me that I need to learn how to sort garbage properly so that I will be able to do it after she dies! Little does she know that her son, the Japanese guy, is the one who tosses plastic bottles and rotten vegetables into the combustibles.

So anyway, the overwhelming stereotype is that foreigners don’t sort garbage properly. Sorting burnables from non-burnables and recyclable from non-recyclable is good and all, but I doubt that most Japanese who complain are thinking about the environment. After all, this is a country where people leave their empty cars running while they run into a shop to buy a pack of cigarettes or whatever. And there is garbage all over Mt. Fuji, which is supposedly a sacred mountain. I think it is just a sign of pettiness, an easy way to complain about foreigners.

Hisashi Toshioka of the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau said, ” Everybody, I think, is agreed on one thing: We want to attract the ‘good’ foreigners, and keep out the ‘bad’ ones.”

Meanwhile, the mayor of Oizumi, Gunma, says, “We want people to learn our rules before coming here.”

So to all you persecuted Somali Bantus out there who are thinking of coming to Japan:
Learn how to sort the garbage!


6 thoughts on “Gaijin and Garbage

  1. Thanks for making my day with this funny post! I fondly remember the “big gomi days” in Sapporo when I found all sorts of wonderful second hand furniture, stereos, tvs, etc. in the garbage that my Japanese neighbors put out on the street. It was definitely a cost-effective and eclectic way to furnish an apartment! Do those days still exist in Japan?

  2. I really like your point about the garbage thing not actually having anything to do with environmental concern. Had never thought about it before but it’s so true. So what in the heck is it all about?? It’s not just a foreigner/Japanese issue, it’s more like the essential law that must be obeyed in everyone’s mind for society to run smoothly. Not following the garbage rules is like giving the finger to the rest of society, saying you are choosing to live outside of its rules. Slip up on that and next thing you know there’ll be total anarchy in the streets…

  3. Actually, my mother-in-law makes the mistakes and the garbage men ring the bell for us to come get the bag. They are nice about it, but they probably assume that it’s my fault.
    I’m more worried than embarrassed.

    First about her (she’s “taken care of” me for years) and because there is a problem with putting plastic in the combustibles.

    I heard on the news a few years ago that people living near garbage incinerators were poisoned by the gases from burning plastic. Hopefully, the incinerators have been improved over the years. But after hearing that, I am extra careful.

  4. Oooh we get that here in the mountain West…meaning, only the “good” ones can move in, the ones who follow local traditions and customs. We call it the “shut the gate behind me” mentality; meaning it’s okay for ME to be new here, but no one else can come in after me!

  5. Yes, Liz, you can still find stuff in the garbage, although second-hand stores ahve become quite popular since the economy took a nose-dive, so a lot of people sell their stuff now.

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