Every day 7 million Japanese pour into Tokyo's subways. And every day, each station sparkles, tidy as a church on Sunday. But pity the rider who has finished a magazine, newspaper or candy bar: There is not a garbage can to be found anywhere in the 147-mile system.
"No wonder I've had so much trouble finding one," said commuter Sousuke Watanabe, 56, as he unloaded his suit pocket containing wadded-up tissues, wrappers and other debris. "These days I've got all this trash in my pocket. As you can see, I keep trash in my pocket and throw it away when I get home."Once an everyday component of subway life, garbage cans were yanked from Tokyo subways last spring after a dozen commuters died and 5,000 were injured when poisonous sarin gas was released. The mysterious Aum Shinri Kyo cult and its leader, Shoko Asahara, were blamed for the attack, and Asahara is standing trial as the alleged mastermind.
Since then, transit officials say, their famously pristine stations have become even neater.
"There was a lot of complaining at the beginning," said Makoto Yamamura, chief of the administrative department for the Toei subway system, one of Tokyo's main lines. "But if you think about it, there shouldn't be so much trash to begin with. Now that there are no trash cans, the subway stations are cleaner. The attendants can clean each station in less time, so they can get back to places more regularly."
Although police did not ask for any of the 3,041 cans to be removed, transit officials feared they might be a convenient hiding place for terrorist materials. "We did not want to be responsible if it happened again," Yamamura said.
As a result, millions of commuters have become walking garbage cans.
"Yes, it's really troublesome," said Nobuyoshi Komatsu, a student at Chuoh University, dressed in a suit and tie for a job interview. "I usually have to carry around trash until I find a trash can outside the station."
In a society that values conformity and social protocol, virtually no one, it seems, dares throw away trash when there are no containers. "Japanese people tend to feel guilty when they make a mess," said Mariko Fujiwara, a researcher at Hakuhodo Life Research Institute. She then noted a universal pattern: "A messy place gets messier, but a clean place gets cleaner."
Kumeyo Ohnuki, who cleans the Mita station near the center of the Sumida River business district, said that to her surprise, commuters had cleaned up their act.
"Before the sarin attack, there was so much mess," she said. "People used to take the trash from their homes and dump it in the subways' trash cans. But after we took the trash cans away, there was hardly any litter at all."
The ban on garbage cans also has surprised and upset Tokyo's newspaper publishers and juice companies. They have seen their subway-station sales plummet since the cans were ousted.
"The beverage companies are very upset that the trash cans are gone," the subway's Yamamura said. "They are still bugging us to bring them back."
Based on the rent subway newsstands pay to the transit system, which is based on a percentage of sales, Yamamura estimated that 20 percent fewer papers are being sold.
An official for the Japan Newspapers Association has said that street sales of newspapers have decreased but noted that more than 90 percent of all papers are home-delivered.
But even as riders are burdened with pocketfuls of trash, they seem to be taking the change in stride.
"Most of the Japanese subway riders are responsible adults who care how other people think of them," said Komatsu. "So they would not dare do things that go against the social order. Not having garbage cans may be troublesome, but there's nothing we can do."