Mysteries of the Trash Can Revealed: How to separate and put out trash in Japan

One of the many things that baffle and bewilder foreigners who are new to Japan is the process of putting out trash. Unlike other countries Japan takes disposal of trash and recycling very seriously. How seriously you ask? Well. . . . here in Japan there are approximately 9 categories of trash. Each type of trash needs to be cared for differently and is collected on a different day (which varies based on where you live).

Although it sounds confusing the process of cleaning, sorting and disposing of trash is really rather simple. In today’s post we’re going to cover all of the bases and talk about everything you need to know to get your trash picked up!

Trash Bags 

There are two main types of trash bags used in Japan. The first is your city-designated trash bag. This is a bag that can be purchased from local convenience stores and supermarkets which is printed with a design and logo indicating what city the trash bags are designated for. These trash bags come in 3 different sizes (small, medium and large) which can be used to dispose of most types of trash.

The second type of trash bag is a simple clear bag. These can also be found at convenience stores and supermarkets in your area. These clear trash bags are used for recyclable items such as cans, bottles, plant materials and so on. These bags come in a wide variety of sizes.

You will notice that only clear trash bags are used in Japan. This is to prevent confusion and insure that the appropriate trash is being thrown out on the appropriate day. White and black trash bags are not considered acceptable in Japan and therefore will not be collected.

Pickup Schedule 

To ensure that trash is picked up in the most efficient way possible each city has designated pickup schedules. These schedules can be found on some city websites or can be inquired about at your local city/town office.

Although schedules vary based on your location trash tends to be picked up anywhere from 4 to 5 times a week. This includes 2 days for combustable trash, 1 to2 days for recyclables, 1 day for non-combustable trash and another day for plant materials.

Combustable Waste

The most common type of waste is combustable waste. Combustable waste is, much like the name suggest, trash that can be burned. This includes kitchen garbage, vinyl/plastic items, styrofoam trays, rubber/leather items, paper scraps, clothes, CDs and other similar items.

Combustable trash, which is usually picked up 2 times each week, must be disposed of using city-designated trash bags. These bags should have the ability to close securely. It is also important to note that you cannot exceed the number of trash bags designated for your area for one collection day. For example in my city the number of trash bags per collection day cannot exceed 6.

Non-Combustable Waste 

Trash that does not burn is considered non-combustable and needs to be separated from other combustable trash. These items include cups, dishes, broken bottles, kettles, umbrellas, metal products, small-sized electrical appliances, batteries, incandescent bulbs, hangers and other similer items.

Non-combustable trash needs to be disposed os using city-designated trash bags.These bags should have the ability to close securely. It is also important to note that you cannot exceed the number of bags designated for your each for one collection day. For example in my city the number of trash bags per collection day cannot exceed 6. Unlike combustable trash which is picked up twice a week non-combustable trash is only picked up every other week.

Plant Waste 

Any type of trash that consists of plant material such as grass, leaves, small twigs and logs is considered plant waste. There are two ways to dispose of plant waste. The first is to gather it up into clear plastic bags. The second is to bundle it. If you are bundling your plant waste it should be no more than 1m in length and properly secured.

It is important to keep in mind that wood which has been coated with preservatives, such as plywood or any other treated wood, is not considered recyclable and should be treated as combustable or large-sized waste. Like other types of trash you cannot exceed the designated number of bags per collection day.

Can/Bottle/Paper/Harmful Waste

Collected once each week are a variety of items to include what is known as harmful waste and also recyclables. Each of these items needs to be cared for and disposed of differently.

Cans made of aluminum or steel are to be rinsed out and put into a clear plastic bag. The same process is required for unbroken glass bottles.

Paper items are divided up into 5 separate categories including magazines, newspapers, cardboard, milk cartons and paper waste. Magazines, newspapers (including circulars) and cardboard are to be stacked and bundled using twine. Milk cartons (including cartons used for tea, juice and various types of sake) must be rinsed, dried, cut so that they are flat (instructions for this can be found on each carton). Once they are clean and dry then can be bundled. Finally is paper waste. This consists of paper used to make cake boxes, envelopes or packing paper. It is important to note that paper waste will not be collected on rainy days.

Finally is the category known as harmful waste. This consists of florescent tubes, mercury thermometers and lighters. These items should also be bagged separately in a clear plastic bag.

PET Bottles 

PET bottles, also known as plastic bottles, are a type of plastic bottle used widely throughout Japan. They have the familiar “recycle” logo with a number 1 and the letters PET located on the bottle. These PET bottles can be put in a clear plastic bag (either crushed or not) and are collected once every other week.

Large-sized Waste

Trash that is too bag for a city-designated trash bag or falls into a certain category is considered large-sized waste. These items require special attention and additional cost to dispose of. This includes items such as furniture, electronic pianos, bikes, window shades, tatami, carpet, futons, sheets, iron dumbbells, stoves, and oil heaters. 

To dispose of these items you will need to purchase special disposal tickets. These tickets can be purchased from convenience stores and supermarkets. Once the appropriate number of tickets has been purchased a reservation needs to be made to have your item picked up. This can be done by visiting your city office. Once the reservation date has been set ensure that you have your large item out on the curb by 8:00 (or the time designated by your city) on the collection day.

Items That Can’t Be Collected 

Like is the case anywhere else Japan also has a list of items that cannot be collected. These items include chemicals, fire extinguishers, compressed gas tanks, water tanks, motorcycles, tires, car batteries, pianos, automotive waste, TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, and personal computers. To have these items collected you will need to contact a private collection company.

Taking time to separate trash can sometimes seem very tedious. However, with a little bit of practice and this guide you should be a pro in no time! Also do not forget to visit your local city office for more detailed information about separating trash and trash collection schedules in your area.

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Mysteries of the Hair Salon Revealed

Over the years I have noticed that a lot of people new to Japan have a HUGE amount of anxiety when doing simple things that they probably wouldn’t give a second thought in the US. For example some people won’t purchase produce or food unless it comes from the military bases or even go to a hair salon out in town. Naturally I try to take the mystery out of some of these things with my blog and video so today, since I went to the hair salon, I figured I would give you the scoop of hair salons here in Okinawa.

First lets start with a little background about me. Up until about 4 years after I moved to Japan I hated going to the salon. Every time I went in to a place where some type of cutting implement was taken to my locks I would come out $100.00 poorer and hate the way I looked. When I got to Japan I basically gave up. It wasn’t that I didn’t have faith in the Japanese salons or that I was afraid of them but I just was fed up with paying money to have my hair hacked off. Then one day I thought to myself that it might be a good idea to get a trim and why not go to an American person (there was a small American salon at the time with “licensed” stylists) because it was just a trim, how hard could that be? Not to mention the shop was close by so win win right? I will never forget it. My appointment was at 11:00 and at 11:05 she said “ok, you’re done”. I looked in the mirror and was blown away. The right side of my hair was 2 inches shorter then the left side. One side was angled the other side straight. . . . . goodness knows what the back looked like. Being as polite as a person possibly can be I asked her to fix it to which she responded “fix what”.  Again as polite as possible I proceeded to explain that I intended to have even hair that was somewhat the same on the right as the left. One more slice of the shears on the already short side of my hair and I was done. Off came the cape and out of the chair I flew. . . there was no way I was returning to my bowl cut days. As I walked away she said to me “where’s my tip” to which I responded that her tip would go towards the bill to get my hack job fixed as would the amount of money she expected me to pay. I walked out at 11:11.

Looking like the Barbie of a 5 year old with safety scissors it was clear that something needed to be done because this surely wasn’t going to grow out on its own. Knowing that things couldn’t possibly get any worse I showed up at a Japanese salon and haven’t looked back since.

In general Japanese hair salons (at least here in Okinawa) are very similar to American hair salons. There is a front counter, work stations and wash stations. You can get all your favorite services (or “Menu” ) as well. From a perm that will bring you back to your fanny pack days to something to cover those pesky grays you’ll find whatever you’re looking for. Naturally there are also items that are unique to Japan such as hair manicures (it’s not what you think) and other treatments. This varies from salon to salon but nevertheless there are a lot of options to choose from.

There are also some things here in Japan which are very different from American salons. For example when washing your hair you will most likely have a towel put over your eyes and receive a scalp massage. You may also be covered with a blanket while you’re in the hair washing station. It’s also common to receive a short massage after your hair is washed or once your hair has been styled. It’s also common place to be served tea (with all the fixings). My salon in particular serves up a glass of tea and candies while you wait for your hair to set.

Right about now you’re probably worried about language. How on earth would you communicate harithat you want to get this or that done without knowing Japanese (or knowing a small amount). First let’s get making an appointment squared away. Your best bet is to visit the salon you want to go to in person. (Doing things in person is always easier when you have limited language skills then over the phone.) It’s important to know what you want to have done so you can communicate this to the staff. In most cases salons in the cities are likely to have someone who knows at least a little bit of English and if they don’t it’s OK because many basic hair style terms in Japanese are borrowed from English. For example a cut is “kah-to”, trim is “tu-ri-mu”, color is “ka-ra-rin-gu” and so on. Couple these basic terms with a photo of what you want (which is always a good idea no matter where you are) and you’re golden. (As with anything else over time you will learn more language stills and communicating will be much easier.)

With all the nitty gritty covered let’s go over some of the methods and practices that I have noticed to be different here in Japan compared to America. The most noticeable thing that I have IMG_0539experienced at the salons I have visited (although it may vary based on where you go) is the amount of people who work on you during any one visit. For example at my salon I have my stylist, his assistant, the person or people who blow dry my hair and the person who washes my hair. All are different and rotate depending on what I need done at a particular time. There is also a good chance that you could have more then one person working on your hair at a given time.

As with everything there are limitations. Here in Japan dark black or brown relatively straight hair is common and this is reflected in the standard color choice and the way your hair may be styled when at the salon. This does not mean that you can’t have other color options (just look at my hair) but it does mean that you will have to work with your salon to get what you want. I for example came with various pictures of the color I wanted and because it was so strange and outlandish (at least for Japan) there was some trial and error but at the end of it all it worked out and now it is on my record for successful results again and again.

Speaking of record one of the many great things about Japanese hair salons is that they keep IMG_0543record of you so that regardless if you have a different stylist the next time you visit they know just want to do. They even go so far to contact your last salon to get your records if you switch. This prevents color combinations that don’t come out the way you expect. (Bye bye bright orange hair) This has been especially helpful for me when my hair stylist landed in the hospital and was out for months. It didn’t change anything because everyone knew what had to be done.

The best part is the price. Although there are a lot of people out there who complain about the high price of Japanese hair salons I have yet to understand why. When I was back in the states I spent an average of $150.00 each time I visited the salon for a cut, color and style (which apparently warranted extra cost) but here I find myself spending an average of about ¥5500 for the same service. Not bad when you factor in the tea, massages and amazing customer service. Of course with all other places in Japan (aside from the few here in Okinawa which have adapted the “tip jar” system to get some extra cash from American patrons) tips are not necessary and so I walk out of there feeling and looking great for only a small amount of cash.

Japanese hair salons are not for everyone but I can confidently say that if you find yourself needing or wanting to go to one you don’t have anything to worry about. Just sit back, relax and enjoy being pampered.