Tokyo – A Clean City?

Last Friday night, a friend came over for dinner. He’s been living in Tokyo for several years, this being his second stint here. He has also lived in Hong Kong for many years. He claimed that Tokyo is the “filthiest city” in Asia and in comparison with the time he spent here in the 80s, the situation had deteriorated considerably.

This comment took us a bit by surprise, as Tokyo is generally a very clean city. Compared with any major metropolis in the world, and considering the fact Tokyo is home to more than ten million residents (only in Tokyo, not including the suburbs), it is remarkable how clean it is. A lot of this can be attributed to the Japanese sense of cleanness, aesthetics and hygiene. I also heard there is a law that the public area in front of your home is your responsibility, and this is why every morning I see the old ladies from neighbouring houses busy cleaning the pavement and the street and picking up every stray leaf. It is very rare to see someone dropping litter in the street or throwing something out of a driving car.

But there is one area where the Japanese, at least in Tokyo, seem to forget their manners completely: cigarette butts. They seem to be everywhere. In certain areas, most noticeably nearby train stations, the pavements are littered with hunderds of them. Here, I agree with my friend: stricter fines should be imposed on people who litter the streets, especially with “small litter” like cigarette butts. If a person had to pay 20,000 yen (about $200) if caught littering, I’m sure this would do a lot to improve things. Perhaps it is not time yet to enact Singapore-like laws here, but if the authorities do not halt this trend now, it may quickly evolve to become a major problem.

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