You can tell a lot about a culture from how it disposes of waste. Especially in a place like Japan which is so fastidious where garbage is concerned. Apparently, you can also tell a lot about a person by what they throw out. While working on my book Modern Japanese House (check out this link to learn more), I interviewed a Tokyo-homeowner who lives in a niseitaijutaku (two-generation home) with her in-laws. They live downstairs while the woman, her husband and their son call the upper floors home — not an uncommon arrangement. In response to a question about the privacy pitfalls of such proximate quarters she said “There is privacy even in garbage.” Enough said.
This post is not actually about trash per se but rather about some very special trash cans that Pippi and I zeroed in on during a recent walk. Riddled with cracks, these blue barrels might have been destined for the closest landfill but, fortunately, some industrious soul saved them from that fate. Instead of using their damaged condition as an excuse for giving them the heave ho, this person meticulously punched holes in the plastic and laced the jagged fissures back together with plastic rope — quite possibly a discard in its own right.
While I applaud the thrift, I am equally in awe of the care that was taken to put these once broken goods back in the line of duty. With a repair like that, they are practically as good as new.
Is there any country that knows how to throw stuff out like Japan? After a lengthy visit to the US, I was awestruck once again by the orderly disposal I witness here weekly. Let’s take recycling. On designated days, city-run trucks make the rounds and gather in the glass, metal, plastic and paper for re-use. In preparation, everyone places their contributions in separate, plastic bins set out near the street. The chaos caused by combining everything in one large vessel, as is the practice in parts of the US, is conspicuously absent. Just look at how carefully my neighbors discard their empties!
Neatly arranged in rows, these spent tins are practically a work of art. While metal cans must be placed in the blue bins supplied by the city, glass bottles go in the yellow ones.
Newspapers are a whole other animal. They must be properly bundled and tied with string. This iconic image was the inspiration for Bind, Satoshi Umeno’s clever end table. Featured in my book, “Made in Japan: 100 New Products” (check out this link to learn more), it consists of a simple, glass top wrapped with steel strips reminiscent of rope. As the designer pointed out to me, this table makes a pile of paper, neat or messy, look great!
Recently, I accompanied Abby to her final voice lesson with her teacher here in Tokyo. This entailed traveling by train to Higashi-Kurume Station which is located in a kind of suburban netherland between Tokyo and Saitama. Abby’s singing was absolutely exquisite. In fact, her breathtakingly beautiful rendition of Mozart’s operatic aria ‘Un Marito, Donne Care’ made me cry. But her translation of the libretto made me laugh! Mozart and his cronies definitely had a sense of humor.
On our way back to the station, we snapped these photos of a bike parking lot. In Tokyo, where many people commute to stations on two wheels, bike lots of various types are common. What caught my eye this time is the cute, little gate — the same type used for car parking lots in miniature! It almost looked like a toy.
Located near the gate, the above sign indicates that there are empty spaces for both bikes (above) and motorbikes (below).
As you can see in the photo at the end of this post, there are separate sections for the two types of cycles. But both areas are remarkably neat and orderly.
I meant to post about these apples in January but, alas, I did not. Better late than never, right? Intended as gifts, each apple is tenderly cradled in its own styrofoam net and adorned with “2013” and a kind of cartoony serpentine creature, this being the Year of the Snake. I am not exactly sure how these apples are grown but my guess is that a stencil is applied and as the apple ripens the motif appears. Alternately, the skin is sprayed red (yuck!), leaving the seasonal motif in its wake. At Y6000 for the six-pack (approximately seventy bucks at the then exchange rate), they should have been flying out of the store.