Note: Gomi is Japanese for garbage.

It's hard to describe just how aptly the lryics to this Shonen Knife song describes the mind-boggling level of importance attached to Japanese gomi life.

In Japan, gomi is collected from gomi stations, which in my town consist of a wire cage about 1.5 m x 1.5 m x 1.5 m. There is one gomi station for every 10-20 houses. You must use the gomi station that is assigned to your house - it is forbidden, and usually impossible, to use a different gomi station.

Impossible? The gomi station has a combination lock (some areas use keys) and the combination is known only to those householders who have permission to use that station.

Gomi must be sorted into two main categories; burnable, and non-burnable. Just about everything is burnable, except for polystyrene, cans, metal, paper (!), batteries, and PET bottles. Different days of the week are reserved for different types of gomi. There will be two days for burnables, and a day for newspapers, a day for cans, and a day for PET bottles. There will be one day a month for batteries, and one day a month for metal.

If you are overwhelmed by your gomi responsibilities and become a little slipshod with your sorting or timetabling, you may find that your gomi is returned to your front door by the neighbourhood person who is responsible for ensuring correct gomi disposal. This person (I call them the gomi nazi) is appointed by the neighbourhood group on a rotating basis.

The job of the gomi nazi is made easier by a couple of other gomi rules; firstly, that gomi must be disposed of in clear, see-through bags (of a specified thickness), and secondly, that you must write your name on each bag. This is how it is possible for errant gomi to be returned to your door.

Japan is a very small country with a very large population, and therefore has a serious problem with gomi. This problem is exacerbated by the Japanese custom of overpackaging. The complex gomi rules, and the regime of surveillance required to enforce them, are certainly annoying to just about everybody, but they are at least an attempt to contain a very serious environmental problem.

Amusing story: One day, a gaijin friend of mine failed to write his name on his gomi, which was returned to his front door later that evening. The gomi nazi explained that he couldn't accept gomi that didn't have a name written on it. My friend asked how, if there was no name on the gomi, they had known to return it to him?

The answer: "It had English things in it".

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