By Sarah Anne Nakamura
While living in Japan for a month, I did not get sick once, which I believe is because Japan is the cleanest place I have ever traveled to. There is no garbage on the streets, no gum on the sidewalks, very few door handles to touch, sanitary wipes before every meal, and no outdoor shoes inside the rooms. This is a reflection of the Japanese culture itself. Japan is very efficient and organized, and cleanliness is one aspect through which these qualities are reflected.
While staying at Sakura Hotel in Tokyo, I remember eating breakfast in the lobby one morning when the staff started putting away the postcards on display. I thought they were replacing them, but it turns out they were just preparing to wipe down the postcard stand. After meticulously cleaning every section of the stand, they placed all the postcards back in their original positions. I thought this was very interesting and something you would never find in the United States. The hotel also washes its doors and windows almost every day, as well as clean the showers and restrooms. The hotel we stayed at was very clean, but so was the country we stayed in.
Our first weekend in Japan, we traveled to Yamanaka Lake with 20 Meiji student supporters. During our retreat, we stayed at a gasshuku, which is a term used for Japanese retreat facilities. It was very traditional, so we were asked to turn in our outdoor shoes and exchange them for indoor slippers. In addition to wearing indoor slippers, we were asked to take off our shoes before entering our own rooms because, while staying at the gasshuku, we slept on tatami mats. One thing I noticed about Yamanaka Lake right away was the lack of hand soap in the bathroom. I later learned that it is quite common to not have soap in bathrooms in Japan.
Even though there were many places with soap in Japan, I always had the opportunity to wash my hands before eating a meal because almost every food establishment provides oshibori, or Japanese pre-moistened hand towels. In the United States, I wash my hands before every meal, so having a personal hand towel was amazing. In the winter they give out warm towels, and in the summer they give our cool towels. Even at convenient stores, they would provide a free moist towel, even if you were just buying a single container of yogurt.
Although Japan is very clean, I was very surprised by the lack of garbage cans in Tokyo as well as Kyoto. I would find myself carrying around my garbage in my backpack until returning to the hotel at night. Yet, you never see garbage on the streets or in the train stations. While riding the public train every day, I never saw one piece of garbage left behind, or graffiti on the seats. The trains were spotless, which is something you would never see in America.
While in Tokyo, we had the opportunity to go see a baseball game at Tokyo Dome. The stadium was indoors, which was unique, but something else I noticed was the lack of garbage present both during and after the game. Before fans left the dome, they gathered up all their garbage, as well as any stray flyers and tickets. Nothing was left behind, which is very different from baseball games in the United States. That is one thing that I really respect about the Japanese people. It reminded me of the World Cup when Japan lost, yet the fans still cleaned up after themselves. This was a very respectful and honorable move on their part, and also a reflection of Japanese culture in general.