Readers tackle the 'Japan clean, yet beach covered in crap' enigma

Some emails received in response to Roberto De Vido’s Foreign Agenda column:

Roberto De Vido makes a good point. I’ve often wondered about the contrast between clean streets and the unwarranted dumping of rubbish and domestic items in rivers or the countryside.

Previously I ascribed it to the uchi-soto [inside-outside] nature of Japanese culture: You don’t despoil your own surrounds, but you can do as you like in places unconnected to you, such as in nature.

Roberto, however, makes a strong case for shame as the motivating criterion, which is based on his personal observation. It makes good sense. It was a central concept of Ruth Benedict’s influential book “The Crysanthemum and the Sword” and Lafcadio Hearn said much the same thing in “Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation.” I think Shusaku Endo was getting at a similar point in one of his short stories, where he considers how Japanese soldiers could have indulged in vivisection and cannibalism in the Second World War. His writing was inspired by the notion that because of the Confucian sense of “the collective,” Japanese were likely to be motivated by situational rather than absolute ethics.

If Roberto is right in his thesis, as I believe he is, it behooves the rest of us to speak out and shame unacceptable behavior, whether it be littering, sexual harassment or cruelty to animals. Just because we are “outsiders” does not mean we should be invisible. Indeed, gaiatsu [outside pressure] can be all the more effective because of the stigma of losing face. Thumbs up to Roberto!


A very well-written article. I’ve experienced the same shock and dismay walking around the Miura Peninsula, along the Tama River, and at many places in Chichibu, etc. From time to time, municipalities put up small (1 foot high) torii gates along roadsides to discourage littering. Actually, in rural areas, sōdai gomi [large trash] dumps are a real problem. The proverb “tabi no haji wa kakisute” (“the traveler leaves his shame at home”) is apt and time-tested.

I look forward to more articles by Roberto-san.


This article reminded me of the need to clean up all the trash left behind by hikers on Mout Fuji. While neither is appropriate, I found it all the more so in the case of Mount Fuji, given its unique position in Japanese culture.

Hartsdale, New York

Precisely! Why are folks dumping garbage on the beach or around the base of iconic Mount Fuji? Why do so many Japanese motorists drive so recklessly, so fast on the nation’s toll roads, as if speed-limit laws only applied to chumps and the “paper license” crowd? What of the pushing, shoving, sometimes fighting on crowded subway cars and/or molesting of anyone in a short skirt? Is it because “no one is looking”?

Why is it that everyone acts so very polite in private meetings but thinks nothing of getting falling-down drunk at a yearend party and puking all over the train platform — or worse, inside the train itself? Come on, what gives?

Please, Japan, clean up your nation’s beaches. Visit Oregon sometime and see how this is done. There simply is no litter or garbage along the Oregon coastline. Japan should do the same.

There are specially designed sanitation trucks in California that have a large mechanical sifting device mounted on the front of the truck. On cleaning days, the truck is slowly driven along the beach and any litter left on the beach is swept up onto the sand sifter and then tossed into the bed of the truck, where’s its then compacted and taken to a landfill or recycling center. Why isn’t Japan using such technology on its own sandy beaches?

Never, ever visit the coastline just north of Hakodate here in Hokkaido. It will bring tears of sorrow to the eyes of any nature-loving fool. The beaches there look almost like a city dump with bottles, cans and plastic containers strewn all over the place as far as the eye can see. Makes me wish I’d visited Japan in the early Meiji Era instead. It must have been oh so beautiful and unspoiled back then. Greed and modern industrialization spoiled so much beauty.

If Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is serious about reclaiming his “Beautiful Japan,” he should start by cleaning up Japan’s badly littered coast and woodlands. and by strictly enforcing laws against littering and illegal garbage dumping. Oh, and by teaching everyone that “This land is your land, this land is my land . . .”

Otaru, Hokkaido

It may help to snap photos of these ignorant trash-littering fools and post them on some site where they may be recognized. This could be a form of social pressure. If it works like I have heard it does in other arenas, you could post it under Mother Nature’s name. Respect the mama!


As a longtime volunteer, I have been picking up trash along the riverbank in our neighborhood. Many people, it seems to me, are thoughtless and insensitive.

The other day, I saw several young people barbecuing on the bank. At the time, I was certain that they would leave their garbage; however, they took it home! And I met some junior high school kids that brought a pack of fireworks. I asked them to take the used fireworks home, but sure enough, they hid them in the grass!

Statistically speaking, a group forms a normal curve, so some are sensitive to garbage but others are not, I try to tell myself. I cannot forget the clean beach I saw near San Luis Obispo, California, 40 years ago!

The Miura Peninsula was given by Tokugawa Iyeyasu to Miura Anjin (“Pilot of Miura” William Adams), adviser to the first Tokugawa Shogunate. I do hope that Anjin will be happy to know that his own land is clean.


Mr. De Vido has simply shown that the Japanese — like people in most of the rest of the world — are hypocrites. Everything is “nice” when others are watching.

When they aren’t, anything goes. That’s why people protect their privacy and scream bloody murder when their secrets are revealed online: Their true selves are there on display for anyone to see and hear.

Mr. De Vido should install a webcam at “his” beach and upload its images online.

Los Gatos, California

Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

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