What gomi problem?

by Amy Chavez

There is a growing concern in Japan about gomi yashiki, or trash houses, created by people who hoard useless stuff. Eventually, their collections start overflowing from their houses onto the streets. Such people often have more feline friends than human. I never realized that cats shared this same predilection for junk.

We have some of these gomi yashiki on our island. But the difference is that here, there is plenty of room to spread out, so people can collect an infinite amount of junk. Luckily, these keen collectors are not very good gardeners, so the grasses and weeds grow up over the junk and disguise it — as green piles of vines with the hint of something lurking underneath.

Some day people will uncover lost treasures preserved in people’s back yards in piles of vines. Things thought lost forever will be found: ninja, the Ainu culture, and gold bars with the imperial stamp on them.

The gomi yashiki problem is bound to get worse with Japan’s aging population. Because the older people get, the more of tight wads they become. Wealthy people are no exception to the ever increasing fear of not having enough. The older they get, the more fearful they get and the more they hoard things, including money.

Even perpetual money hoarders can never hoard enough, and people thus feel they must economize in order to save more money to hoard. After all, why spend money on something like new clothes, when your closets are full of completely inappropriate things you can wear instead?

The Japanese government, which has thoroughly researched the non-spending habits of old people, is very aware of the Hoarding Factor which is why the inheritance tax is so high in Japan. Sure, money can be given away in smaller increments to avoid a tax, but old people don’t give away their money, even in small increments. And the government knows this. They also know that the old folks are secretly playing the lottery and pachinko, and probably winning.

After having money hoarding tied up with the inheritance tax, the government is now looking at people who hoard garbage. One ward is considering fining people ¥50,000 or so for having too much junk. I’m not sure this is the right thing to do though. I mean, it would cost far more money to pay someone to come in and remove the stuff than it would to pay a fine for being able to keep it. And who would the money paid in fines go to? Probably not towards the problem or the inconvenienced neighbors.

On my planet, the United States, we have garage sales and moving sales. Perhaps the authorities in Japan should distribute free “Garage Sale” signs, and “Not Moving Sale” signs. At least the stuff would have a chance of moving on to someone else’s gomi yashiki and each owner could turn some kind of profit on it.

One thing that helps contain the problem on our island is that people here do not have access to vast amounts of garbage to pilfer from the way people do in the cities, where millions of residents throw out sodai gomi (big garbage) on special days of the year. The hoarders probably make special sodai gomi calendars, marking the days with big red pens as if they are national holidays: No need to shop for socks for another 4 years!

On the other hand, with a population of just 665 people, there is a much smaller number of trash heaps to pick here, so you have to watch your own trash very carefully. I’m convinced this is the real reason for the garbage police, the neighbors who stand guard at the garbage pile on certain days of the week. They’re making sure no one steals it. Or redistributes it. Like good citizens, the neighbors are seeing off the garbage.

When my ex-landlord finally moved all his stuff out of my house, he had bags and bags of garbage to throw out, as most people do when they move. But as we placed it outside the house, we noticed that it started disappearing, a bag here, a bag there. We finally caught the culprit — a neighborhood lady quietly carrying each bag back to her house.

People often wonder why old people hoard. Well, why not? They have nothing to lose, except the pathway to get inside their house.