Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Can the can

Last Sunday morning from 7 until 9am was the twice-yearly recycling gathering in aid of the school. All the families with a child at the primary school (sho-gakko) or junior high (chu-gakko) provide two people to help, usually including the child. Everyone in the community saves bottles, cans, newspaper and cardboard so that it can be gathered and sold to raise funds. The parents and grandparents buzz round in their motley assortment of K-trucks and lorries from work, picking it up from doorsteps, then bring it to the collection points where others wait to organise it.

The boy and me were on bottle duty at the car park outside the village's improbably imposing modern community venue, which would not look out of place in a large town. It has a big stage, a bigger hardwood floor marked for sports and slide out ranks of seating inside a 'designer' shell which looks like a lady's bonnet. I take him to Kendo there every week, the children seeming very small peas in this huge pod.

As the loads kept arriving it was clear that the community spirit is well-oiled, with ordered ranks of beer bottles spreading out in stale columns sorted by make, only surpased by the tall dark sake bottles shouldering them out of the way. The citizens' olfactory sensibilities were confirmed once again by the regular cries of 'K'sai!' If they think that is a stink, it's probably best they stay in antiseptic Japan. It didn't even register in my large but fortunately insensitive conk.

It was impressive to see the natural way that the kids got on with helping. They did not need to be cajoled or shouted at, but set to with a will that you would probably see less of in England. They are brought up to feel responsible, involved and self-reliant. This takes some getting used to, as English children tend to have everything done for them. No doubt there is a point at which it can be a burden and re-inforce conformity, but on balance I am really pleased that our boy can learn and be a part of this. He seemed to really enjoy it too. This is also real recycling, not a little pretend project at school, and a chance for everyone to meet up and chat, swop gossip and, for all I know, flirt. In any lull in the work, the children were tearing round, playing tig and bugging eachother like kids anywhere, so it does not stop that.

A couple of hours saw it off, and as no activity in Aizu would be complete without a gift, someone opened up a cool box and dispensed cans of unfeasably fizzy drinks - ah well... more to be recycled next time.


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