One of the things that struck me on my first visit to Tokyo was the surprising lack of public trash cans. I’m not saying there aren’t that many around. I’m saying there are absolutely none to be found. If you’re looking for somewhere to toss that chocolate wrapper, apple core, or used tissue, you can expect to be holding until you get back to your hotel. (Also, shame on you. Eating and blowing your nose in public are frowned upon in Japan).
Why is this? Why is this major metropolis devoid of public receptacles?
The answer lies in the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, an act of domestic terrorism by a doomsday cult that killed 12, seriously injured 50, and left thousands of others with temporary vision problems. The government’s immediate response was to remove all public trash receptacles that could be used as drop-off points for future attacks. These future attacks never manifested, but the no trash receptacle policy was never reversed. And it has remained in place ever since.
And yet, for all this, Tokyo is an exceptionally clean city. Why? Because Japanese citizens are socially conscious. They see the logic in making small sacrifices (ie. holding on to your trash until you get home) for the greater good.
Can you imagine what would happen if public trash cans were removed in North American cities? The sidewalks and parks would be deluged with garbage. I mean, many North Americans can’t even be bothered to wear a mask to save a stranger’s life. Do you think these same people would give two shits about keeping their city clean?
In Japan, social responsibility has kept garbage off the streets AND the coronavirus in check. Mask-wearing was adopted way before this pandemic started because it was naturally assumed that taking small precautionary measures – like, say, wearing a mask to protect other people from catching YOUR cold or flu – would be a good thing.
It became part of the national psyche. So when the coronavirus hit, the widespread adoption of mask occurred with little fanfare. There was no need to cite articles establishing their efficacy. It wasn’t necessary to convince people that mask requirements weren’t an assault on their inalienable rights as freedom-loving citizens. They just did it because it was the right thing to do.
And how’d that work out? Well, let’s check the stats (as of June 26, 2020)
Total cases: 18,110
Total deaths: 980
Total cases: 2,547,093
Total deaths: 127,361
How does a country with less than a third the population of the U.S. see 130 times fewer deaths? Is it their well-marbled wagyu? Their automated toilets? Or maybe…
Could it be…
We hadn’t thought of?
Or is it that the Japanese actually give a damn about others?