Remember that entry I wrote about Gomi Stress, way back in August? I was brand-spankin-new here in Japan, and was stressing -- like the other 127 million people in this tiny island country -- about how to properly dispose of my trash. How to sort my papers and glass and empty Diet Coke bottles and tuna cans. Which color bags are appropriate for which kind of recyclables. How to label my trash bags with my name, address and phone number. What kind of stuff I can actually throw away on "regular" trash days without my very observant, well-meaning neighbors returning it to me on my doorstep.
Stress, stress, stress.
Well, times have changed. I've gotten the whole "gomi" system down pat since August, but on Saturday, my friends and I suffered a different kind of Gomi Stress: namely, we weren't able to actually find any garbage.
I will preface this story with a blatant plug on behalf of some dear, dear Fukui friends who are organizing a two-month-long bike ride through Japan to raise awareness of environmental issues. It's called the BEE Ride (Bicycle for Everyone's Earth) and it's pretty darn awesome. Mad respect, A, C and C.
On Saturday, they organized a 60-kilometer "mini" pre-BEE Ride through the rice paddies, over the mountains, and to a little town called Mikuni, right on the Sea of Japan. Our mission: to pick up garbage on up usually-filthy beaches that dot the coast there.
As a hippie-dippie, environmentally-aware kinda gal who once caused holiday drama in her family by protesting the use of live trees for Christmas decorations, I felt compelled to participate. So, I joined the dozen or so riders that chugged along the two-hour route to Mikuni, armed with garbage bags and green dreams, only to arrive at the beach and find that there was...
ABSOLUTELY NO TRASH.
Not even a stray cigarette butt. We cycled further up the coast, desperately seeking the garbage-filled stretches of sand we'd grown so accustomed to, but sadly, still found zero gomi.
Now isn't that ironic?
Turns out that the previous weekend, a group of like-minded folks -- Japanese employees from local businesses -- had volunteered their time and cleaned all of the beaches in the area. Apparently, the old habits learned from years and years of compulsory o-soji, or school cleaning -- time spent on hands and knees, scrubbing down the floors and bookshelves and toilets of Japanese elementary, junior high and high schools -- die hard. In fact, the employees were mirroring a thrice-yearly phenomenon called chiiki seiso (neighborhood clean-up), where hordes of school children, armed with brooms and dustpans and matching white cotton gloves, emerge from the schools to clean their communities. (On the last chiiki seiso day at Sakai JHS, our suit-and-tie-clad principal was outside with the kids, chopping away at some road-side plants with a weed whacker. Talk about hands-on.)
Can you imagine all of this going down in America? Me neither.
Only in Japan.
Our beach clean-up work already done for us, we found ourselves with some extra time on our hands, so my pal "A" and I snapped the bad-ass picture above.
Keep those green dreams alive, Miss A.