Taking out the trash may not come to mind as one of the more difficult things about adjusting to life in Japan. However, it can be tricky if you aren’t aware that
- Japan is fairly strict about the rules for separating your household garbage and
- Garbage collection is handled at the municipal level, which means that the guidelines for sorting garbage vary by city and even by ward.
Each of Tokyo’s 23 Wards has its own set of rules for how you should sort and dispose of household trash and the frequency with which each type of garbage is collected.
The general rules for separating garbage are straightforward. Household garbage in Japan can be divided into four main categories:
- Combustible (Burnable)
- Non-combustible (Non-burnable)
- Large-sized garbage
The image below shows the official rules for Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, and gives a good overview of what things are considered combustible, non-combustible, and recyclable.
How often is garbage collected?
The first three types of garbage are picked up on a regular schedule, usually two or three times a week for combustible, once or twice a month for non-combustible, and once a week for recyclable items.
The actual schedule varies depending on the city or ward. The garbage collection schedule is usually posted on the first floor of apartment buildings and near garbage collection points. Or scroll to the middle this article for links to PDFs of the official rules and schedule for each of Tokyo’s 23 Wards.
Large-sized garbage (called sodai gomi in Japanese), such as futon, bicycles, household appliances, and furniture (in general, items that are over 30-cm in length) are only picked up by appointment. For these items, you have to call ahead to make an appointment and pay a fee for them to be picked up.
To get rid of large-sized garbage:
- Look up the sodai gomi center for your ward.
- Make an appointment (either by phone or internet) for a pick-up date.
- Buy the appropriate sodai gomi seal(s) at a convenience store.
- Write your name on the seals and attach them to your garbage.
- Place your items in the designated pick-up location before 8am of the pick-up date.
List of garbage collection rules by ward
The links will take you to the English version of the information if possible, but in cases where the English version was not available online or couldn’t be found, the Japanese version will be linked to.
*Meguro Ward has chosen to provide each page of their garbage collection information sheet as a separate PDF file, totaling 16 links. It’s just easier to head to their site and click through to find the information.
In general, the wards will update their garbage pick-up schedules each year at the turn of the start of the Japanese fiscal year (April 1).
English-Japanese garbage term list
While you most likely will be able to find information about your neighborhood’s trash schedule and sorting rules at your ward office (city hall, 区役所), here is a quick rundown of some terms in Japanese that might make it easy to ask for help regarding certain types of garbage.
|English||Japanese pronunciation (hiragana)||Japanese (kanji/katakana)|
|Garbage sorting||gomiwakekata ごみわけかた||ゴミ分け方|
|Burnable/combustible garbage||moerugomi もえるごみ
|Non-combustible garbage||moenaigomi もえないごみ
|Plastic bottle||pettobotoru ぺっとぼとる||ペットボトル|
|Aluminum can||kan かん||缶|
|Oversized trash||sodaigomi そだいごみ||粗大ゴミ|
|Garbage room||gomiokiba ごみおきば||ゴミ置場|
|Garbage collection area||gomishushubasho ごみしゅうしゅうばしょ||ゴミ収集場所|
Here are a few handy tips to keep in mind for sorting and disposing of household garbage.
- Some apartment buildings have garbage rooms or “private” garbage collection areas meant only for the building’s residents. If your building has this feature, you can dispose of your garbage whenever you want (not just on garbage days).
- If your building doesn’t have its own garbage area, take a short walk around your block and look for a garbage collection point. There will be a sign posted nearby with the collection schedule.
- Double check if your neighborhood requires any special garbage bags. For example, Koganei City, Musashino City, and Mitaka City all require residents to throw away their trash in special garbage bags. The reason behind making residents purchase special bags is so the city can offset the cost of having to transport the waste to be incinerated.
- Put your garbage out on time. When in doubt, do as your neighbors do. But in general you can put out the appropriate garbage the night before it is scheduled to be picked up.
- Remember to use string (easily purchased at a 100 yen shop) to tie up bundles of papers to be thrown away. It’s a good practice to tie up multiple empty cardboard boxes as well.
- Empty pizza boxes with food scraps in them area NOT to be thrown away with regular cardboard boxes. They become burnable trash.
- Sometimes you’ll see plastic netting placed near a garbage collection point. Place your garbage under the netting, which is meant to discourage animals (especially crows!) from getting into the trash.
Lead photo: iStock stock photography
Rules for separating garbage in Japan can be confusing until you get used to them! Play along with Valentina to learn how to correctly separate garbage into the various categories.