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Streets That…Clean Themselves?

Ah! Snag!

I’m walking down the little shopping street in my neighborhood on my way to catch the train and I see something weird in the gutter up ahead. What is that, strewn all over the street? I get closer. It’s cigarette butts. Terrible! Like someone tossed  their car ashtray on the fly! In the otherwise pristine street, it really stands out. Oh well, I figure the street sweeper will take care of the mess when it comes on…wait, what day does the street sweeper come to Toritsu-daigaku?

And suddenly I realize, the answer is: NEVER! There are no street sweeping days in my Japanese neighborhood!

But how can that be? Every morning, the streets are so clean, the sudden appearance of a pile of cigarette butts was weird enough to jolt me out of zombie sardine mode. So I started asking around. It turns out that there’s an unspoken social compact that everybody is responsible for the stretch of sidewalk and street in front of their own home and business. But what about the old people? The blind, the sick, the lame? What about the scofflaws? Naturally, compassionate neighborliness and heaps of shame are employed (respectively). The amazing thing is…it really works!

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Tokyo

When Detective Kenji Nakamura’s phone rings with the news that his mother’s death wasn’t an accident, his life begins to unravel…read more

Jonelle Patrick View All

Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!

14 thoughts on “Streets That…Clean Themselves? Leave a comment

  1. Hi Jonelle,
    I loved your post on the clean streets. The first time I visited Japan, I saw the neighborhoods come to life in the morning with mom’s sending the small ones to school with their bookbags in their fresh uniforms, and then they would all clean the section of their street, visit, and wish one another a good day. I was in Kyoto that time and just loved it. Our love and Hau’oli makahiki hou from our house to yours, uncle Dave and Aunty Nat

    • Aunty Nat! I love that you came to Japan and noticed things like that! It’s the little daily things that make us love a place, don’t you think? From my island to yours, lots of love and happy new year! ♪(´ε` )

  2. The name of the street above says “Sakae dori” I have a friend called Sakae (it’s a nickname) — do you know where this is? I’d love to tell her about it.

    • It’s a little street right across from the Takadanobaba train station in Tokyo. I walk down this street every morning to my Japanese school, and one day I was a little late, so I saw the local shopkeepers doing their morning cleaning. I always envisioned this being done by old-fashioned grandparent-ish types, but you should see the fashionable street cleaners outside the beauty salons!

      • Oh wow I really want to see this, I am saving money to visit Japan so if you have any suggestion where should I visit first so I can see people doing this please let me know.

  3. I believe this happens all around Japan, that’s why all the cities in Japan are so clean, I am cleaning my block for the last two years, this give me plesure to keep my block clean, no one else does this, I was told for the regular American person to clean the street is a punishment, for me is logical,I hope more American start doing the same, my town is very dirty and we have not a cleaning services at all the town is very poor and we just dont have the Cleaning Services anymore, I hope we all start taking a broom more often here in AMerica.

    • I agree – it would be so nice if everybody did a little, so nobody has to do it all! The amazing thing is, Tokyo streets are much cleaner than San Francisco streets, even though San Francisco has regular professional street cleaning. Everybody here cleans in front of their house or office every day!

      And I’m so excited that you’re thinking of visiting Japan and looking below the surface at how people really work and live! This street is near my school by Takadanobaba station in Tokyo, but if you walk around any neighborhood before 9:00 in the morning, you will see people cleaning. If you’d like to walk around a few of my favorite neighborhoods, go to my website, The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had and find a few that look interesting!

      • I think you are outstanding person, I do admire Japan and their people, my aunt is Japanese by race and culture but she was borned in Cuba, her father had a huge garden there, and he was selling vegetables and plants, and he also had a huge japanese garden , I loved to go with my aunt to her father’s garden, while I was a kid, her younger brother I believe he is still in Cuba, but they lost contact. My aunt is amazing she is 83 years old and she still does her cleaning at home and her own hygine, and she is very independent. I told her about your article and she told me she spent several years in Japan (some years ago) and she always did her street cleaning while she was there, she stated “this is expected”. They are amazing people.

  4. I wonder if you are going to post more pictures of Japanese people cleaning the street for some reazon I love them.

    • I’m always watching for interesting things, and street cleaning is no exception! I never know what I might see every day, so it’s entirely possible there will be more pictures of things like this on my blog.

      And I have to agree with you – Japanese people ARE amazing. Your aunt sounds like no exception! One thing I notice here in Tokyo is that lots of people who are over 80 are still living their daily lives independently and energetically. One of the reasons, I think, is that they are able to take care of their daily needs (shopping for food etc.) without driving, and they walk a lot and climb a lot of stairs every day without thinking about it. But also I think they stay active and independent because they are still needed. For one thing, they know that everybody counts on them to clean the street in front of their house!

  5. Well my aunt refuse to take an elevator, ( I need the exercise) she always states, her apartment is in the 4th floor and she take the stairs, she does her shoping around herself because she is living in Miami Beach and the enviorment is like Japan everything is around and close to her apartment, She does a lot of gardening around her apartment and keep the area clean, there something with taking care of your enviorment that help with your health, my mother was younger than her and she is dead at this point and she never did any of these activities, and my aunt is still going she is a greatgrandmother now. She is fluent in Japanese, English, and Spanish, she is a 100% Cuban American and 100% Japanese, I Joke with her a lot and I tell her “you are the only person in the world eating black beans and white rice ( and staple in the Cuban cusine) with sushi. She always smile, but I bet she combine meals from both cusines. LOL. Thanks for your blog, I love it and I enjoy it…

    • And thank YOU for writing and telling me about your aunt! Black beans & rice and sushi sounds like a great combination. I wish both of you long and happy lives! (^O^☆♪

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