A recent, now deleted question asked why there was so few public trashcans in Japan. It was probably deleted due to a not-so-nice comment opining that it was not a travel question, but I'd hazard a guess that many a visitor to Japan was also puzzled by this. (I certainly was.) It would also be of great practical interest to have some strategies to actually find some public trashcans, because it is not pleasant to carry an empty bottle for several hours (if, like me, you don't like to go out with any other bag than your trouser pockets).
First, it is often said that the lack of public trashcans in Japan is an after-effect of the 1995 sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway: the number of public trashcans was drastically reduced, probably to prevent their use in similar attacks (see for example here). Having never been to Japan before the attacks, however, I don't know how common trashcans were then. Also, in some smaller communities, people simply don't want to deal with visitors' garbage, and ask that you take it home.
Now, how to find public trashcans when out and about? I look in mostly three places:
- A good number of drink vending machines (though I probably wouldn't say "most") have bins next to them, but those are generally restricted to cans and bottles.
- Most convenience stores, especially the "stand-alone" ones (as opposed to those located in large complexes such as stations), have trashbins in front (or, more rarely, inside). Google Maps can help you find the nearest one. It is not necessary to buy something from a store as a courtesy if you use their trash bins (unlike when you use their toilet).
- Most train station have trashcans on the platform or some other area after the ticket gates (mostly to throw out the things you bought to eat or drink on the train when you get off). In Japan, you need to buy a special ticket to pass the ticket gates even if you're not taking a train, so that's not generally a very interesting solution, but it can be if you have a rail pass which lets you pass the ticket gates for free.