What to do with rubbish? A guide for the visitor to Japan

While you’re travelling, it’s easy to produce some rubbish that you want to dispose of. This could be luggage labels, brochures, fruit peels, food wrappings and containers, or something else. It’s also easy to assume that when you want to dispose of them, you just throw them into a bin, except in Japan it’s not always that easy.

Many visitors to Japan have difficulty in finding rubbish bins in the street and other public places. After the Tokyo subway gas attacks in the 1990s, many public rubbish bins were removed. It’s normal for Japanese people to take their rubbish with them until they can dispose of it properly.

You may also find that the amount of rubbish you produce is higher than you expect. When you buy food at a bakery, convenience store, or other food outlet, there can be a lot of packaging. The individual items will be in plastic bags or boxes, and then put into a larger bag.

These factors in combination can be frustrating. Here’s a guide to help you know what to expect and how to deal with rubbish.

Finding rubbish bins

Look for rubbish bins in the following places when you’re out and about.

  • Vending machines are ubiquitous in Japan, found even in small towns and rural areas. Many of them have bins next to them, generally with openings sized for PET bottles and cans.
  • Conbinis (convenience stores) have large bins, sometimes near the door, or else convenient to the seating area. Often you are expected to sort rubbish by type.
  • Food and snack shops in general may or may not have bins, however you can give any wrappers to staff once you’ve finished eating. They will accept these from customers for disposal.
  • Parks and tourist attractions may have bins, often found by a rest area with seats. These frequently come as a set where you are expected to separate rubbish into different categories. Sometimes English translations are provided, other times there will be pictures on the bins indicating the categories.
  • Railway carriages for intercity trains have bins in the lobby at the end of certain carriages. There are usually bins at stations, but they can be hard to spot.
Rubbish bin by vending machine
Vending machines often have a rubbish bin nearby.

If all else fails, take your rubbish back to the hotel with you, and put in the bin in your room. The hotel may have separate bins for combustible and non-combustible items

Reducing waste

Another way to deal with rubbish is not to acquire so much of it.

Bringing along your own water bottle will cut down on buying drinks from vending machines. Tap water in Japan is safe to drink, so filling up your own water bottle each day will save both money and plastic bottles.

In shops, you can decline excess packaging. Having a shopping bag handy as the staff are wrapping your purchases is an easy way to indicate that you don’t want a plastic bag. I haven’t had anyone refuse to put items in my own shopping bag, and on my recent trip to Japan, I was asked in a couple of stores if I needed a plastic bag.

If you keep these tips in mind, disposing of rubbish is less likely to be a source of frustration when travelling in Japan. Whatever you do, do not litter. Dispose of rubbish in the correct bins when you’re out and about, or take it back to your hotel.

Do you have any questions about travelling around Japan? Please feel free to contact me.

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For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, and other stores.