OSAKA — Osaka’s annual Tenjin Matsuri festival, held in late July every year, draws tens of thousands of visitors and is considered one of the country’s largest and most popular summer events. But this year, city officials are worried that once the party is over, the streets will look like a rock star’s hotel room the morning after a concert.
That’s because for the past decade, the city has relied on volunteers rather than city sanitation workers to pick up empty cups, bottles, paper plates and other items that can be recycled.
When the city first began the program in 1993, more than 200 people, mostly college students, volunteered to help clean up the streets. But in recent years, the number of those willing to spend two days disposing of the thousands of tons of garbage generated by the event has fallen dramatically.
By the end of June, there were no volunteers at all. This forced the city to set up a special hotline and broaden the call for volunteers to beyond Osaka and into other parts of Kansai. Many who have since responded are college students, while others are local residents.
One week before the event, organizers said they have roughly 300 volunteers to work each day. While they insist that number is sufficient, some in the Tenjin area of Osaka are not so sure.
“If the weather is nice, and the Hanshin Tigers win on either the 24th or the 25th, we can expect a huge number of people celebrating both the festival and the Tigers’ victory,” said Kazuko Hara, who runs a small coffee shop. “That means more garbage than usual.
“For the past several years, store owners in the Tenjin area have had to do a lot of the cleaning up because there weren’t enough volunteers,” she said. “I don’t think 300 is going to be enough and I expect I’ll be busy again this year picking up garbage.
An official of the Tenjin Matsuri organizing committee was only slightly more positive.
“While we think there are enough volunteers right now, it’s possible many could not show up or cancel,” he said. “If it rains, things will be more messy than usual. Thus, we would like to remind visitors that they should dispose of their own garbage, especially trash that can be recycled.”