Gomi Pick

A Window on Japan
Episode 3

The filiinos here in Tokyo have a name for it. KGB or Kung Gabi Basura meaning "When Night Garbage Strikes". And that refers to the legendary habit of the Japanese of discarding (dumping, throwing away - call it what you want) perfectly working electrical and other household articles.

Garbage is called "gomi." Tokyoites dump an estimated five TONS EVERY day. Within Tokyo, gomi is collected twice or thrice a week. The municipal rule says that your gomi has to be put in three different colour-coded, transparent bags: pink for plastics (non-burnable), green for paper (burnables), and blue for tins and other metals. There are in fact several artificial islands in the Tokyo Bay created with the Tokyo gomi. (New legislation is underway, which, like the Germans, places part of the blame of crating away large pieces of household items on the manufacture. So that large refrigerator that you want to discard has to be picked up by Mitsubishi and not the Municipal Government, but will cost you more to be crated away).

If you want to dump something big, say a table or shelf or packing crate, you can't. Or at least you have to call the garbage dept, fix an appointment and then pay for their being carted away (the crates in which my books came from Bangkok by sea is still lying in a discrete corner of the lab)! So instead of trying to pay up, Tokyoites simply abandon their goods all over the city. Including cycles, bikes, cars (river fronts are popular abandoning points for cars). Or to the utter delight of many a cash-strapped foreigner, just donate it gladly to anyone asking.

The KGB action starts like this. Say tomorrow is the designated garbage day. Tonight, out in front of your house or the neighbourhood dump point you leave your gomi. "Pickable" gomi are left a little away from the non- pickables so that they can be identified and taken away. And the KGB swings into action. It's perfectly alright for you to prowl the streets during the night, picking up any article that fancies you. Many farangs do it on cars or trucks for real big-time gomipick. That colour T.V. there is bilingual and would fit into the corner of your room perfectly. Ah!! A Washing machine! No more lugging your laundry to the nearest laundermat. And yes, that cupboard will help you organize your things a bit. TV, VCRs, Stereos, washing machines, gas stoves, micro ovens, and a hundred different types of gomi, all in perfect working order are dumped - its only fallacy being that the owner took a fancy to a newer model, (and considering the small size of most Japanese homes, simply HAD to be dumped).

So there you are, picking up those things that fancy you. The neighbours will look the other way. Its not the exclusive domain of foreigners alone who grab gomi. In the process of your forages, don't be surprised if you find a Japanese person also picking his or her way. But many a foriegner you will find in Tokyo who can fairly claim that most of the furnishing in his apartment is "gomi-provided"!! Mind you, its not paradise. Not all gomi articles are in perfect working order. If you stay lucky, being at the right place at the right time, voila! the best of gomi is yours for picking, quite literally.

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