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

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