2018: War against Garbage

Klimawandel und Ökologie
The Asia-Pacific Journal | Japan Focus Volume 16 | Issue 22 | Number 2 | Nov 10, 2018
Mit freundlicher Erlaubnis von Japan Focus

A War Against Garbage in Postwar Japan
Eiko Maruko Siniawer

When Minobe Ryōkichi declared war against garbage in September 1971, he thrust waste into the public’s attention and rendered it visible. The governor of Tokyo was not just encouraging the construction of incinerators and landfills to deal with the rapid proliferation of rubbish then facing the metropolis, but was also provoking discussions about the inescapable costs of high economic growth and mass consumption. The Garbage War (gomi sensō), described below in an excerpt from Waste, ultimately proved to be pivotal in changing conceptions of waste in postwar Japan. Coupled with the Oil Shock of 1973, it revealed how deeply waste had insinuated itself into the values and practices of everyday life, and how a society of mass production and mass consumption was also one of mass waste. Shaped too by ideas of environmental protection, the waste of things, resources, and energy came to be seen as tightly interwoven problems that threatened the security and longevity of middle-class lifestyles.

At this moment in the early 1970s, garbage was not just a material reality that demanded the attention of urban infrastructure development, but also a symbol of the many desires of middle-class life: the convenience of disposable goods, the comforts fueled by energy consumption, the purchase of electric appliances, the preservation of natural resources, and more. In subsequent years, people’s production of rubbish continued to pose problems, as it does today with plastic polluting the world’s oceans and trash accumulating after China’s refusal to continue serving as the world’s dump. But what has changed over the postwar decades in Japan are t h e v i e w s o f r u b b i s h a n d t h e l a r g e r sociocultural issues that it has been seen to reflect. It is this more capacious understanding of garbage that best captures the central concerns of Waste, which is less about rubbish and much more about the idea of waste—about what was considered to be waste and to be wasteful in Japan from the mid-1940s to the present day.

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