A 37-year-old British man in Japan was arrested on Monday for dumping his trash in a mailbox.
“I thought it was a trash can,” the suspect, Antony Tanaka, was quoted as saying by the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun. Tanaka, identified as a British national by the Japanese police, has denied all charges.
Japan’s red mailboxes are labeled “POST” in both Japanese and English, but this was not the first time the police in Kanagawa Prefecture dealt with dirty mail.
In December, the post office in Kamakura, Kanagawa, reported finding litter inside a mailbox. By mid-March, the police received six other similar complaints.
The mailboxes near the Kamakura city hall were a frequent target, so the police decided to put officers in the area on high alert. Soon, they said, they caught Tanaka throwing out an empty container and chopsticks in the mailbox.
Tanaka, who has not been charged, faces up to five years of imprisonment, or a fine of up to 500,000 yen ($4,600), for violating Japan’s Postal Law, which forbids damaging mail.
He could also be charged with breaking Japan’s Waste Management and Cleansing Law. Offenders in the most extreme cases, such as illegally incinerating or dumping waste, face up to five years in prison.
Waste disposal is a serious topic in Japan, where streets are spotless all year round despite having few trash cans.
The scarcity of trash cans was an intended product of Japan’s efforts to encourage recycling and an attempt to prevent terrorists from using them to conceal weapons or bombs.
In 1995, Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo attacked Tokyo’s subway system with sarin gas, killing 14 people and injuring over 5,000.
Carrying home your trash is thus customary in Japan, although evidently some people couldn’t resist the temptation of a red mailbox.