Picking Through Someone Else’s Rubbish

There are 15 families in our neighborhood, and we rotate the twice-weekly task of unlocking the “gomi” station before 6am, then coming back, cleaning it out and locking it after the garbage men come at 8am. The rules couldn’t be simpler – put out your burnable rubbish between those hours in a designated city rubbish bag. There are different days and places for disposing of plastics, cans, glass, cardboard and any other rubbish listed in the “instructions” distributed to all the households.

This week is our turn on “gomi duty”, and today, there was one bag leftover. It really is potluck whether the garbage men take everything or not and unfortunately on this occasion, they didn’t. Normally if there is rubbish left behind (usually because the transparent bags give away any attempts to hide unburnables) I would take the bag up to the incinerator and let the professionals sort it out for me. Of course, since the country is on holiday for New Year, I donned some gloves and picked through the rubbish myself.

Air freshener containers, plastic bottles, cardboard, job-hunting magazines, used makeup stuff, balls of hair, potato peels, generally really gross leftovers from dinner… and half an envelope! BUSTED!!! 😛

Wait a minute! This woman, Hiromi, isn’t one of our group! In fact, not only has she broken all the rules of rubbish etiquette, but she’s put out her rubbish in the wrong gomi station!

Here’s the thing: Hiromi’s apartment block is right in front of our gomi station, but due to some geographical misfortune where the line dividing neighborhoods runs right between our gomi station and Hiromi’s apartment block, she would have to walk for 10 minutes, hauling her bag of rubbish to her designated gomi station.

Not that I have any sympathy for her. I went straight to her apartment and rang the doorbell, wondering what her reaction would be to a pissed-off foreigner returning her bag of rubbish. Fortunately for her, she wasn’t in, so I left the bag on her doorstep with the envelope fastened to it so she would know she was caught out. Don’t worry, I have photographic evidence in case she dumps the bag somewhere else – after all, because of New year, the next rubbish day isn’t for another week!

If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!

21 thoughts on “Picking Through Someone Else’s Rubbish

    1. What goes around comes around eh Nick? Remember that time when those ladies wondered into your house in the middle of the night or early morning with your garbage? Anyway for any other readers out there search for Nick’s “Oh My Gomi” posts(1 and 2) for the story. It surely is an LC.com classic!

  1. Wow, Nick, your gomi sounds much more intense than ours – I can’t help but picture you as the block’s “Queen Bee” though lol! Pity she wasn’t home!

  2. That is so awful. When we used to live in house in the relative countryside we had old people who used to do the garbage rotation. Every single bag that was not picked up was left on our doorstep, because apparently it must be the foreign wife’s problem. For the record, not one ever belonged to me. I just returned it to the trash area and let it sit. We were rarely able to throw our garbage out there anyway, since it was only open from 7 to 9 and we left for work before that. I am glad to get away from there and those awful neighbours.

      1. Interesting that they actually leave some of the bags behind. I wonder if they count the bags and if there are too many for the number of people who use that station they just leave any extra behind?

  3. I found it. That is a funny blog. I feel so sorry for you having to do the garbage. We don’t have systems like that here.

  4. I never obeyed trash rules. I was always the bad gaijin, because believe it or not it doesn’t matter whether you obey the rules.

    1. Clearly, in this case, it does matter.

      Obey the rules -> your rubbish is taken away.
      Disobey the rules -> your rubbish sits on your doorstep.

    1. Good question. Moving in with a girlfriend, then moving out again, moving up to a bigger place, then moving away for work, all different reasons really. I’m now on the 8th place – my own house – so I don’t think I’ll be moving again soon, thank goodness.

  5. Let her use your garbage spot. Who’s it hurting?

    I’m actually amazed that you have to go through the garbage though. Isn’t that the garbagemen’s job???

    1. Brad, you’re the second person to say to that. But I’m scratching my head because I thought I made it clear that the garbage men didn’t take her rubbish away. You don’t expect us to just leave it there forever, do you?

      The garbagemen’s job in Japan is to carry the rubbish away and dispose of it. The residents are responsible for sorting their own rubbish and putting it out in the right place on the right day. If someone screws up, it’s up to the person responsible for cleaning the area to deal with it – which is exactly what I did.

      I thought you lived in Japan? Your neighbors must hate you if you don’t sort your trash! 😯

    1. Response? No idea. All I can say is that the bag I dumped on her doorstep is no longer there. Maybe it’s in her flat, on her balcony, or lost in the mountains somewhere.

  6. I don’t get it. Are you saying the garbage men already went through her garbage, found the same envelope you did, scanned the registry, discovered she wasn’t allowed to dump garbage there, and therefore left it in the garbage box for you to come along and follow the same process, and then pass the trash back on to her?

    I rather doubt that happened. I imagine they just passed on the bag cos they randomly passed on it. So why not just leave the bag and they’ll get it the next time. Or perhaps you think they- like you- have taken a photograph of the bag and it is on their black list, and so they’ll never pick it up?

    Going through the trash- I don’t know if there are laws against this- but it seems like a pretty invasive thing to do. Likewise returning the bag with a doorbell ring- pretty unpleasant. Why not just throw your hands in the air, say ‘shoganai’, and let it go?

    1. The bags are transparent. They can see all the plastic, cardboard and glass in it. That’s why they don’t take it. Simple. Aren’t all rubbish bags in Japan see-through? We aren’t talking hundreds of bags here, Michael, and they are thrown in a tiny room about 1.5 meters squared. We pass the key from house to house each week and take turns opening it up, cleaning it out, using the cleaning stuff in the next room (also locked) to wash it all down before locking it again. Everyone knows who’s on rubbish duty. Everyone knows who has the key. Everyone knows who the last person was and who the next person will be. Japanese neighborhoods require membership. The neighborhood leader (hancho) collects fees from each person in the group and passes that money onto the “housing estate leader” (who also changes annually) and he passes that money onto City Hall who use it for rubbish collection and other services. I’m hancho this year which means I’m the one they call to complain to.

      You want me to just leave her shit there forever? Hell no! Give me a break! Do you think I enjoy going through the rubbish? You expect me and my neighbors to do it every week? No way! Her rubbish is her responsibility, not mine. That’s why I gave it back to her. Wow, I can’t believe you’re giving me a hard time about something Japanese neighborhood customs require me to do. Jesus Christ. Don’t make me out to be the bad guy here, Michael. 🙄

  7. Wao! I d have never imagine that a blog post about trash could have been so popular! 🙂 After 2 years living at the same place, our neighbor said (recently) to my girlfriend that we should be part of this local “gomi duty”. She waited 2 years to ask us! I did not even know about that as I leave home much before the garbage men come in the morning…

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