Municipalities are scratching their heads over how to deal with an increasing number of “gomi yashiki” (garbage mansions), where residents, usually elderly, collect junk until it becomes a public nuisance.
In many cases, seniors living along amass piles of old items until they overflow their property and extend onto public thoroughfares.
Mental experts suggest some of these apparent pack rats are trying to offset their loneliness, and their lack of communication with the community may be aggravating the problem.
In Gyoda, Saitama Prefecture, old bicycles and numerous cardboard boxes are piling up inside and outside a two-story house to the point that the overflow is obstructing the street out front.
“This was the usual scene here for 20 years,” said a man in his 30s who grew up in the neighborhood.
It was only last October that police finally took action. The owner of the house, an elderly man who lives alone, was arrested for violating the Road Traffic Law.
After being fined in January, however, he did not stop the practice and still keeps collecting junk.
“No matter how many times I asked him to stop, he won’t. This is almost like his hobby,” a local housewife said.
Gyoda Deputy Police Chief Mitsuo Kaneta confessed that there is little public authorities can do because the reams of trash are essentially private property and thus the owners must resolve the problem.
“This problem is not something that a law can deal with,” Kaneta said.
A land ministry survey conducted in January and February on municipalities nationwide found that nearly 250 were plagued by pack rats, with problems including foul odors and obstructions to road traffic.
But most cities said it is difficult to invoke a law to get the junk removed. Even if collectors are fined, they only briefly desist.
Dr. Shigeru Masuko, an expert on mental care for the elderly, pointed out that forcible removal is not the solution.
“Some elderly people start collecting garbage after they suffer a recognition disorder,” Masuko said.