Tokyo Trash Beware: The Gomihiroi Samurai Are on the Scene

Nov 8, 2023

Thought Question: If you were to organize a community event that highlighted an environmental issue through an activity that reflected a cultural tradition, what would you do and why?

A plastic cup lies, discarded and crushed, near a lamp pole in Tokyo’s Shibuya shopping district. A remnant of the Japanese capital’s Halloween revels, the litter lingers. It's an eyesore that seems to mock passersby in a culture that prides itself on cleanliness. Little does it know that its fate is sealed, for it is the sworn enemy of the Gomihiroi Samurai.

These ronin heroes dress in striking black and white tunics and wield long trash pincers like katanas.They invoke the spirits of the great warriors of feudal Japan as they spin, leap, and dart through Tokyo’s streets. When they spy a piece of garbage, they attack. They snap it up and drop it into the wicker baskets slung over their shoulders.

It's part performance art. It's also part earnest cleanup effort. The Samurai’s dance while hunting debris has piled up praise on social media. They’ve amassed over 800,000 followers on TikTok. They've snagged millions of views, too. It's a trend they hope translates into better hygiene habits from Tokyo’s dwellers.

Keisuke Naka is one of the Samurai. As he plucked trash from under a large sign reading "No Littering," he told Reuters: "If people are paying attention to our (show) because they think it's fun, they might as well start paying attention to the trash problem itself." 

Thus far, the efforts of these heroes seems to be working. A college student from Tokyo told Reuters that the trash problem used to be very bad. The student said it was common to see rats amidst the refuse. And restaurant owner Junya Kakihara reports the Samurai have moved him to jump on the cleanliness train.

“I tell people not to litter when they are about to do so,” Kakihara said.

Photo from Instagram courtesy of @isseichidai_jidaigumi.

What is the main idea of the story? (Common Core RI.5.2; RI.6.2)
a. the history of Japanese martial arts in Tokyo
b. the significance of traditional clothing in modern Japan
c. the role of cultural festivals in Tokyo's shopping districts
d. a group of performers using their skills to promote cleanliness and hygiene
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