The Curious Lives of Kurashiki's Trash

fabric waste

Learning the destiny of waste could perhaps give us clues as to the most ecological friendly way of discarding it. Recyclable waste comes in many flavors. Of these we focused on fabric waste and how it is dealt with in Kojima.


Tanaka shokai

Recyclable waste such as paper, cans, bottles, and fabric collected from designated “waste stations” are gathered and sorted by recycling collectors. Tanaka Shokai is the largest operation in Kurashiki. When we visited Tanaka Shokai, sorting was under way amid the sounds of cut steel and cans attaching themselves to magnetic sorters. A normal conversation was out of the question amongst the din of the machinery.

  • Paper Paper is sorted according to composition and is compressed into blocks. Cigarette cartons are properly sorted and bundled. I've learned that milk cartons contain the highest quality paper.
  • Cans Cans are separated into steel and aluminum using a huge magnet. Aluminum cans are picked out by hand.
  • Futons Futons, mattresses and comforters are passed on to movers. Clothes are shipped to second hand dealers specializing in old clothing such as Tashiro Shoten. ( appearing on the following pages.)

To the market again

Tanaka shokai

Old clothes that arrive from Tanaka Shokai are sorted according to material and style, and then separated for domestic distribution or export. Workers in their 20's sort clothes that will be sold to second hand clothing stores in such places as Harajuku, Tokyo and America Village in Osaka. Those sorted out for export are shipped to Asian countries. The rest are processed into raw material for industrial wipes or soundproofing.

  • old clothes Old clothes for the domestic market are selected by staff that specialize in choosing merchandise that suits the tastes of retailers. Most retailers are second hand shops located in such areas as Harajuku and America Village in Osaka.
  • old clothes Old clothes for export are mainly for South-East Asian Countries. These buyers requests for certain designs, colors, and quality are becoming more and more specific these days. There are over 200 types of clothing ranging from children's clothes, underwear, jackets, dresses, all the way to jeans that are shipped abroad.
  • old clothes Fabric that cannot be resold second hand is separated according to material and color and cut. After the buttons and metal parts are removed they are sold as industrial wipes.

Dear Nippon, the Advanced Recycling Country of the Past
Recyclables are Not Waste


Mr. Kazuo Tanaka, Executive Director of Tanaka Shokai, one of the companies we had covered for this issue, accompanied us to Tashiro Shoten in Kanonji-City, Kagawa Prefecture. Since we were to travel across to Shikoku Island to a paper recycler in Tsuyama-City later the same day, our journey began very early. Our first destination was a long and narrow factory filled with piles of old clothes. It was a little shocking to see so many discarded clothes.

It was noon when we finished our interview. Mr. Tashiro, President of Tashiro Shoten treated us to lunch at an Udon (Japanese Noodles) Shop imploring, “since you've come a long way to visit us here it's the least I can do.” In short order Mr. Tanaka and Mr. Tashiro's conversation steered toward recycling. Listening to their conversation, I notice they have no particular attitudes toward what they do such as “saving the earth” or “ecological protection.”
”We've just been doing this for a long time. We are not conscious of being in an ecological business. There is the word 'mottainai (how wasteful),' this describes our spirit” says Mr. Tanaka. His words made me realize that those who work on the front lines are simply motivated by values and tradition that customarily belong to the Japanese.
The recycling business, one that was long considered grubby, is now labeled “Ecological.” Using recycled paper is de rigueur these days. However, Japan has always been advanced in regards to recycling. Second hand clothing stores already existed in the Edo period and washi (Japanese paper) utilizes a concept and technique of recycling called “suki naoshi.” Mass consumption accompanying Westernization had simply swept the “mottainai” tradition away from us. This was truly eye opening.

I discovered that the Japanese who had forgotten the “mottainai” spirit had unknowingly picked up recycling again. Old clothes for the domestic market selected at Tashiro Shoten go on display at stores in trendy Harajuku. Clothes purchased in Harajuku as the latest fashion are eventually discarded as recyclables in a provincial city, then head back to Harajuku, once again to be sold. Waste sorting has created a new set of values. Mr. Tanaka's words were convincing, “Recyclables are not waste, you see.” The entire notion of “throwing something away” in and of itself might actually be a mistake, I pondered.(word by Shinichi Okabe/KJ Editor's School)