Saturday, 30 January 2010

The Anal Banality of Japanese Garbage

What I am about to tell you will never make you curse your blue box sorting again. As with everything in Japan the garbage is under a rigourous system that it is best not to think about because it will warp your mind. The garbage people do not go door to door here, each street or crescent (called a dai in Japanese) has a cement platform with cement sides and a net with poles that covers the garbage, this is placed over only when there is garbage in it. Luckily or unluckily our cement garbage platform is right across from our house.
Forget putting your garbage out the night before; here, you are not allowed to put your garbage out before 7:00 am and the truck comes around 8:30 - 9:00 am so one can see this leaves only a small margin for error. The truck comes playing happy music, everything here comes playing happy music (but this happy music, bells and whistles is entirely another blog entry).
The sorting system is nothing short of completely anal, Josh has no head for this sort of thing , so it has been me; Jackie the garbage sorting superhero who has taken on the task. I am happy to say that the whole thing is colour coded otherwise I would be at a complete loss.
Get ready! Here comes the sorting system:
Burnable garbage (your basic garbage, including paper for some reason that we cannot figure out) goes out in the blue bags on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Non-burnables (metal cans and other things like light bulbs, shoes, and extraneous odds and ends) goes out in the green bags on the first and third Wednesday of each month.
PET 1 Bottles (the hard plastic bottles used for pop) go out in the red bags on the third Thursday of each month. The caps must be taken off, they need to be rinsed and the labels cut off.
Glass Bottles get put in one of four what look like blue oil drums on our cement platform. The corks and lids must be taken off and there is a perfectly logical explanation for the four drums. Green bottles go in one drum, the brown ones in another and the clear ones get two drums as there are usually more of these. This was supposed to happen on the third Friday of each month but it appears to be moved up to the second Friday, good thing I was already out there with my burnable garbage in its blue bag to see other people sorting their bottles.
If you are wondering how one obtains all these coloured bags; the answer is you have to buy them from the store for extortionist rates.
If you were wondering where cartons, trays and other things go, that to the Canadian mind are not burnable garbage.... well.... we have to go down to the grocery store which has its own sorting system for everything and I mean everything. They even have little bins for different coloured caps from your PET1 bottles.
On to further craziness, the cement platform needs to be cleaned after each garbage removal. In Canada this would be some one's minimum wage job, not in Japan. There are two folders that go around the neighbourhood each in opposing circular directions, each household takes its turn cleaning the cement garbage platform. We received the burnables clipboard the week after we arrived. I went out on Tuesday and Friday and swept the platform and splashed water on it (the water seems only to be splashed to show the neighbourhood that it has been cleaned). Just when I thought we were out of the woods... we received the non-burnables clipboard from our nice neighbour to the right of our house. I went out the next Wednesday and swept and splashed the water. This was the easy part.
Yesterday I had to hand the non-burnables clipboard over to our not so nice neighbour to the left who has been spying on us through his curtains for the last month. Boy, did I not want to go and ring his doorbell. We signed the sheet and checked the map that shows the route the clipboard should take (all these things are included on the clipboard), I summoned up all my courage and rang the neighbour's doorbell.
I smile said 'konnichiwa' and gave him the board, he smiled and refused to accept it. At a loss, I went home. I checked the clipboard route and got a empty can formerly holding tomatoes and went back over and rang the door bell, I showed him the route and the tomato can (clearly indicating it was the non-burnable garbage clipboard) and said my house was 17 and his 1 so it was clearly his turn. He pointed at the signature and smiled and refused to accept it. I said 'Arigato Gozaimas' thank-you and returned to the house. Not five minutes later he rang our doorbell. I refused to deal with him and fed Josh to him. Apparently we had written the date under the signature. This was wrong... you are to write your house number under the signature. He could not deal with this breach of protocol and refused to deal with the clipboard until we had changed the 20 to a 17. He sat down with Josh and explained every detail I have told you about garbage in Japanese to Josh. Josh changed the 20 to a 17 and this time he did not refuse to take the clipboard. After a long session of deep bows and apologies we went our separate ways, we are sure he will continue to spy on us.
As you can see, the Japanese are highly efficient and systematic, but one little thing will throw them for a complete loop. It is sometimes (toki doki) like you are on an airplane that is crashing but the plane is on autopilot and will not deviate from its flight plan. So welcome to the algebraic equation that is Japanese garbage day.

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