Whether learning a new language, doing your best to follow the local culture, or just trying to get from point A to point B, living in Japan never ceases to keep expats on their toes. But what to do when your time in Tokyo has ended, or you need to move to another apartment, or you would like to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle?
Like Japanese cleaning guru Marie Kondo preaches, getting rid of things can be an enlightening experience – and there are so many ways to do it in Japan. Keep reading to find out how to get rid of the things you no longer want without putting them in the trash.
Clothes are one of the easiest things to get rid of in Japan, as several different systems have recently popped up to help anyone looking to adopt a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
The salvation Army holds weekly bazaars in Sumida and Suginami wards. Used items can be delivered, brought in or picked up (with a minimum volume requirement). You can donate not only clothes but other items too. Please check in advance for a list of items that cannot be accepted. The Salvation Army uses the profit from the bazaar to support alcoholics.
Uniqlo’s recycling program has a drop box at almost any location in Japan that allows you to bring clothes to drop off, in just about any quantity. All clothes should be wearable, and the clothes don’t have to be from the Uniqlo brand in order to donate.
H&M also offers a clothing recycling program, with the added perk of a ￥500 coupon for every bag you bring into the store. The coupon is only valid if you spend ￥3,000 or more in new items (which may not be a perk if you’re looking to downsize), but it’s still a nice touch for doing something good.
Both programs send most of their clothing overseas to either be recycled as textile materials or otherwise reused, but they are a great option for keeping fast fashion out of the trash can. Please note that neither service takes accessories or shoes.
If you’re a Tokyoite looking to keep your donations local, an even better option is the Mottainai Flea Market (Japanese link), held at several locations around the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. Just check the schedule to see where it is, and drop by. Usually, there will be someone there to take your bags of donated clothing, though that is sometimes not the case during bad weather.
While based in Kobe, Orange Thrifty accepts boxes by post from anywhere in Japan. All you have to do is organize the clothes and pack them in a box to send to their address. It’s important to note that you are responsible for paying the postage. Employees then sort the clothes, and profits from the sale go directly to Animal Refuge Kansai or Shimin Kikin Kobe, an organization created to support local volunteers working around the Kobe area. While this takes a little more time and investment, you can rest assured knowing your clothes are going to good causes.
If none of the above options are of interest, be sure to check your city’s local trash and recycling information sheet, usually provided with your residence information packet, on your building’s bulletin board, or posted near the trash pickup location. Almost all wards in Tokyo (and many cities besides) have rules for clothing recycling, generally picked up 1–4 times each month on designated days.
Make sure the clothes are in clear plastic bags, and place them wherever you put your trash and recycling out. Be warned that sometimes, rainy days will keep trash collectors from recycling particular items, so give yourself a little leeway just in case.
Finding ways to donate your used furniture can be trickier than clothing. The most common option of calling your city to come pick up large items can be expensive and a hassle. If you choose to go this route, you will need to call your local trash office and make arrangements for a specific day and time, then pick up the stickers from a local post office or convenience store.
Make sure the tickets are from the same ward as your house, otherwise the collectors may not have jurisdiction and will leave your items on the street (this may be important for those who live on the border between two of Tokyo’s wards, as an address in Hatagaya may be in Shinjuku-ku, but your nearest convenience store may be in Nakano-ku). The collection agent on the telephone will tell you how many of each ticket to buy, so be sure to write down how many A tickets, B tickets, etc. It may be helpful to have a Japanese-speaking friend or assistant there to help you, as this can be a difficult process.
The Mottainai Japan Facebook group can be a wonderful way to give a deserving Tokyo family or young emerging expat access to furniture. This may not be a great option for those living in controlled serviced apartments, however, as the Facebook group’s members are not vetted and getting things down elevators without proper equipment can damage the building and/or the furniture.
Tokyo Freecycle is part of a global grassroots network of members with the aim of living more environmentally friendly lifestyles by focusing on the “re-use” part of the Three Rs.
If you’re interested in trying to sell rather than donate, there are several options in Japan – especially for brand-name items, electronics, and smaller valuable items.
For Western expats, the easiest way to sell used items online is to post on Tokyo Craigslist. Craigslist’s anonymity can feel a little safer than using, say, Mottainai Japan, which links to your Facebook account. Craigslist requires a free sign-up and gives you a special anonymous post e-mail address to keep your actual contact information away from prying eyes. There are many categories to post on, and a large international presence on the website makes it easier to communicate with potential buyers in English. Priced well, your items can go in a snap!
Mercari has recently become the country’s most popular version of eBay. Mercari allows sellers to simply upload pictures of items and sell them directly to buyers for a small fee. Unlike most sites, Mercari will also pick up and deliver large items (such as washing machines or refrigerators) for a fee – be sure you apply that fee to the sales price as sometimes the delivery price can be more than what it’s worth!
Smaller items just need to be boxed or bagged up and dropped off at a participating convenience store (FamilyMart being the largest of the chains), where a small machine will scan the QR code on your phone and give you a receipt. This receipt will go to the cashier, along with your boxed item, and they will place a shipping label on it with the receipt inside. You should also receive a copy, but if you don’t, sometimes it’s best to snap a quick pic before you hand it over, just in case anything goes wrong before the buyer gets the package.
This can be an excellent way for sneakerheads to pare down their collection without losing too much cash value, and it’s the most user-friendly of all the re-selling platforms in Japan.
Gaijinpot Classifieds fall under the same category as Mottainai Japan and Tokyo Freecycle. Gaijinpot’s website is mostly known for their expat-friendly job listservs, but it has also slowly expanded to become a one-stop shop for all of the goods and services essential for foreign residents in Japan. Big ticket items can be posted on the website with fairly good results. The website doesn’t have a huge audience, and it may take some time to get a good bite on your nicer items.
If you have a lot of used items in good condition that you want to sell at once, recycle shops have become more popular in recent years. The most popular, called “Off” stores, can be found even in smaller cities that cater to customers who don’t mind a little wear and tear for reduced prices. In general, recycle shops in Japan don’t offer much, but if you are looking for a little extra cash, it’s a better alternative than throwing things away, especially for large furniture in good condition.
From liquor to books, the “Off” markets have a huge variety of goods available. Note that certain markets vary widely as far as availability and location, so make sure there’s a branch of the one that suits you close at hand, as each store is usually dedicated to one category of items.
BOOK OFF is the most famous of all “Off” stores, and the most prevalent in dense metropolitan areas. They sell a variety of used books, games, and DVDs, as well as some figurines and portable electronics.
Garage OFF (website is only in Japanese) sells bigger-ticket items that can be hard to get rid of anywhere else, like car accessories or bicycles. This is a great place to get rid of any spare parts or cycling accessories that may have accumulated over the years.
HARD OFF focuses almost entirely on electronics – if it plugs in, it can be sold here. They also buy and sell a lot of musical instruments, making it a great way to get rid of unwanted gear. Computers and accessories are welcomed as well.
Hobby OFF (website is only in Japanese) is a little more niche, and pertains almost exclusively to manga and toys. Offering great selections of gently used figurines, card collections, and game cartridges, this is a good way to downsize your collection of Japanese pop culture goods.
OFF HOUSE (website is only in Japanese) is the most expansive, covering everything from camping equipment, to small household appliances, to clothing. This would be your best bet for spring cleaning, as the wide range of products means they’re more likely to accept a mixed bag. Off House is the least prevalent in metropolitan areas, so be sure one is close by before deciding to pack things up.
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