Why Are There No Trash Cans in Japan? There Are a Few Reasons

Brilliant or just pure rubbish? Here's why there are no trash cans in Japan.

Sarah Kester - Author

Jun. 11 2024, Published 5:10 p.m. ET

If you embark on a trip to Japan, you're bound to see extraordinary things, such as bright lights, vending machines upon vending machines, and some of the best cuisine.

But one thing you won’t see? Trash cans. It’s a stark contrast to Western cultures, such as the United States, Australia, and Canada. There, you will find garbage can galore in high-traffic places, such as on the street, in stores, at public transportation stops, and in bathrooms.

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So, why are there no trash cans in Japan? We’ve got the answer you’ve bin waiting for.

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Reason #1: It’s a cultural norm.

Despite the lack of garbage cans, the streets in Japan are known for being clean. The reason this is possible is deeply rooted in society. It’s a cultural norm for people in Japan to carry around their garbage with them and discard it when they get back home.

This even includes dog poop. According to the Washington Post, dog owners in Japan dispose of dog poop in their toilets.

“Dog owners have to take dog waste home and flush it down the toilet: A paper bag inside a plastic bag makes that an easier prospect,” the article read. “But embark on a road trip and you have a problem. For that, you need a poop bag attached to a magnet, so you can stick it on the outside of your car on the way home.”

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Reason #2: Garbage cans became a safety concern in 1995.

The lack of garbage cans in Japan is nothing new. It has ties that date back to 1995 after the sarin gas attack. During this deadly attack, Aum Shinrikyo cult members released deadly gas on subway trains. As a safety precaution, the Tokyo subway system removed garbage cans so they could no longer be used to hide dangerous items.

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Reason #3: Garbage cans cost a lot to maintain.

Japan’s population is estimated to be 125.1 million people. That’s a lot of people and, consequently, a lot of garbage. This number doesn’t even factor in the number of tourists who visit the country each year. As a result, it reportedly became too expensive to maintain public garbage cans and keep them clean.

If you plan to visit Japan, the lack of trash cans is bound to be an adjustment. In a TikTok video, user Yoni Kintzer (@yonikintzer) warned potential visitors so they wouldn’t be surprised.

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"There are no trash cans, like anywhere,” he stated. One of the exceptions, he says, is that some vending machines have places to discard trash, such as bottles.

Post-Covid, the number of tourists in Japan has dramatically increased. Some cities have begun installing garbage cans in public places to prevent trash from littering the streets. These "smart" garbage cans have instructions available in various languages.

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