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Eastern promise fulfilled

22 October 2019

Some of you may have seen the recent TV series on BBC where comedian Sue Perkins travels to Japan. In the first episode, she mentions more than once just how clean, tidy and orderly Japan is, with no litter or grime visible in public places.

Having recently returned from a holiday to Japan myself, I too found myself wondering at the litter-free streets – especially as there are very few litter bins about. 

When I asked a tour guide about this, they told me that public waste bins were largely removed from Japanese cities following the Tokyo subway sarin attack in 1995. The attack was an act of domestic terrorism that killed 13 people and injured thousands more.

Since then, the lack of bins has forced residents to adopt some of the world's more disciplined waste disposal techniques.

For example, in accordance with modern Japanese custom I soon got used to taking a plastic bag out with me, filling it with my rubbish throughout the day, and taking it home to dispose of it.

According to the tour guide, the lack of bins actually helps to keep the cities clean as, if there were bins, they would probably become overfull, and overflow into the streets.

Aside from its clean streets, Japan is probably better known worldwide for its cleanliness and hygiene when it comes to hi-tech toilets. The toilets I’m talking about have bidet functions, heated toilet seats, privacy music, wipes and gel for sanitising the seats, and more, all controllable from a panel on the toilet. But perhaps the most interesting thing that struck me was that these toilets were not just to be found in five star hotels and restaurants. They were in many public toilets in train stations, shopping malls and on regular streets.

And another thing – Japan has a lot of public toilets. Coming from the UK, where we’ve been witnessing the widespread closure of public toilets for years, it was refreshing to find them everywhere and not have to hunt around for one – whether you were halfway up Mount Fuji, in the middle of a beautiful bamboo grove in Kyoto, shopping in downtown Tokyo or using the efficient public transport system.

It certainly helped to make a jam-packed holiday of travelling around the country stress-free. And not only that, the public conveniences really do contribute to making you feel welcome in a country known for its hospitality and considerate nature – attributes that will no doubt bring Japan many more fans of its own as it hosts the Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics.