Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Garbage Hug

Garbage Collection point in Omachi, Kamakura, Japan
I found myself crying over the garbage this morning. A neighbor and I exchanged, "Ohioguzimas." She then asked me where I lived. I pointed to my house understanding her question but unable to respond verbally to her Japanese. She then took this as the launching point for how this garbage spot is for neighborhood number six where as I live in number three- I must live on the line. I picked up my bags and walked to the other garbage collection spot. This is the Japanese way to tell someone they are wrong- greet them and then explain the rules. I don't know exactly what she said, but I got the point. After four plus years in Japan, it is yet another, "you're doing it wrong" moment. These moments always seem to catch me by surprise. Here I thought she was being friendly.

I want to do it right, but I would have to have been told in the first place to do that. No one has every told me where to take the garbage. I pay the bills, it is all the same trucks, so it never occurred to me I was doing it wrong. The first time I took out the garbage, I went for what was close or what was nearest to where I was going.

When we moved here I was given several booklets, one was about the garbage. I ended up getting out a pad of paper to keep straight the voluminous, confusing instructions in English. Two days a week you can put this out, one day a week this, no more than five bags, once a month you can put this out, etc., but there was no mention on the location. Garbage is a graduate degree around here. I've heard that Kamakura city has a very high rate of recycling even for Japan. I have always happily participated and tried from the beginning to get the garbage right.

At the "my" garbage collection point, an English speaking neighbor, let's call him the Professor, was recycling his household items. I blurted out, "I've been using the wrong garbage spot." He has been in Japan for many years and immediately understood my frustration. In thirty plus years of being a foreigner, he knows a lot about doing it wrong, the rules, and being in the information black hole. He's been there. He gave me a spontaneous hug and encouraged me. It was then that I burst into tears, thanks to his kindness and his understanding. As I sat over my bag of glass bottles, metal caps, and cans crying, he bent down and took my bag and began sorting the items for me. As I calmed down, he encouraged me to take it easy, to be nice to myself, to do some of the wonderful things there are to do here. "It's only garbage!" he said with a smile. We walked back together. I felt better.

It is nice when someone takes the time to listen, to speak kindly, to give someone a hug, even if it's over the garbage.
My notes on Garbage for Japan