We sit down with the environmentally conscious Gomihiroi Samurai to find out what they’re really about. 

Japanese streets are generally known for being clean, but that’s no excuse for people to rest on their laurels. In fact, some of the streets in inner city areas could do with a regular looking-over to keep them looking their best, and one group of individuals called Gomihiroi Samurai has been helping to do just that — in a very unique fashion.

With “gomi” translating to “garbage” or “trash” and “hiroi” being the term for someone who picks up things, these modern-day samurai patrol the streets in worn-out yukata that hark back to the downtime garb of warriors past, but instead of being armed with swords, they carry brooms and long tongs.

We’ve spotted them here and there on the streets around Japan in recent years, and though we always admired their unique flair for picking up trash, we were always curious to know their story. So when we were invited to tag along on their latest patrol, we jumped at the opportunity, joining Goto Ikki and Keisuke — two of the three members who make up the “performance troupe” with Kaz Kobayashi — for a day out at JR Funabashi Station in Tokyo’s neighbouring prefecture of Saitama. 

The trio like to call themselves a “performance troupe”, because every time a piece of trash is spotted on the street, the procedure to retrieve it becomes a head-turning performance. Today we had a front seat to the travelling show, which was being beamed live to the group’s followers on TikTok, with Goto in charge of filming duties and Keisuke in charge of the performance.

▼ Keisuke makes his anger against litter known on TikTok

Today’s patrol would be covering the area around the south exit of the station, where Goto and Keisuke wasted no time in scanning the ground for litter.

It didn’t take long for Keisuke to spot some trash, so he immediately sprang into action. Raising his long tongs out from his side, he sliced the metal instrument through the air and down towards the errant object with all the seriousness of a samurai dealing a mortal blow to an enemy.

▼ The item was then lifted into the woven basket on his back for collection.

It was an impressive performance that made us want to give him a rousing round of applause, but the day’s work was just beginning.

Walking a little further from the station exit, the duo spotted a narrow alley, where a large number of cigarette butts had been discarded by a drain.

This was another job for the Gomihiroi Samurai, and with two spots needing to be cleaned, it called for some extra swift movements to eliminate the enemy.

▼ Trash begone!

Proceeding a little further down the alley revealed another enemy hideout, with another group of cigarette butts threatening to destroy the environment.

▼ This was a two-handed job!

After the garbage-plucking samurai passes by, not one butt is left to tell the tale.

Heading back out on to the main road, the samurai made their way to the Keisei-operated Funabashi Station.

▼ Here, they stopped to scan the area for enemies.

Lo and behold, there was an item sullying the landscape nearby, so Keisuke headed out to protect the environment and its people yet again.

▼ Walking further, there was even more trash on the horizon…

▼ …but yet again, the trash was no match for the Gomihiroi Samurai.

The brilliant swordsmanship, or tongsmanship, was a sight to behold, and when the enemies had been cleared from the immediate area, our reporter Kouhey was able to speak to the samurai to find out more about their mission.

Kouhey made sure to bow down in respect before the samurai before every question, lest he be mistaken for a piece of trash.

Kouhey: “Thank you very much. Wow, what a great performance! May I start by asking you how you became involved with the trash-collecting samurai?”

Keisuke: “I became a member after the group started, but when I saw the trash-collecting samurai in action in Shibuya, I simply thought it was cool. As I began learning the sword moves, I started to take an interest in picking up trash as well.”

Kouhey: “I see… By the way, how did the trash-collecting samurai come about?”

Keisuke: “Goto, the founder who is with me now, used to perform in Harajuku’s ‘pedestrian paradise’ [a pedestrian zone closed off to traffic] before he started the trash-collecting samurai group. The main reason why that pedestrian paradise closed was due to trash.” [Harajuku’s pedestrian paradise ran along Omotesando from 1977 until 1998]

Kohei: “Oh, I heard something about that.”

Keisuke: “Goto continued to perform elsewhere, but the problem of trash remained on his mind. So when he went to Sapporo and saw a volunteer picking up trash in a snowstorm, he noticed that the tongs they were using to pick up the trash looked like a sword, and that’s what gave him the idea for ​​a trash-collecting samurai, and the performance troupe began.”

Kouhey: “That’s interesting! So the idea was born from that one volunteer.”

Keisuke: “That’s why we first started in Hokkaido in 2007. So, it’s been about 15 years since we started working. We’ve been active in Tokyo for eight years, and then I joined six years ago.”

Kouhey: “How often are you out and about?”

Keisuke: “If we do it as a team, it’s six times a week. In addition to the trash-collecting samurai, the team has a unit called thetrash-collecting maidens’. The samurai head out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays, while the maidens head out on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and we perform in two or three places a day.”

Kouhey: “You’re really active! So, what are the group’s future goals?”

Keisuke: “Frankly speaking…we aim to turn everyone into garbage-collecting samurai!”

Kouhey: “Oh…what do you mean?”

Keisuke: “Well, for starters we have a ‘Garbage-Collecting Samurai Circle,’ which has members in Hokkaido, Shizuoka, Fukuoka, and even Los Angeles, who are sympathetic to the idea of ​​picking up garbage. My goal is to have it become a culture that lasts for 100 or 200 years.

Kouhey: “I see! You’re right — there’s garbage everywhere in the world, and so there are people around who can pick it up. It’d be fantastic if more people get on board with this!”

Keisuke: “Therefore, one of our goals is to make trash-picking samurai a profession. Right now, in the same way that children want to become YouTubers, it would be wonderful if people around the world might be able to say,In the future, I want to become a trash-picking samurai! I’m working towards spreading that kind of culture.” 

Kouhey: “This is a really wonderful initiative. Thank you very much for today!”

We’ve gotta say, these samurai really do make trash-collecting look cool, so their aim to have people want to grow up to be like them might not be as far-fetched as they think.

▼ Check out the group’s video, with English subtitles, below:

If becoming a trash-collecting samurai sounds like something you’d like to get into, be sure to check out the group’s website and give them a follow on Twitter and Instagram.

It’s a great example of how one person can make a difference in the world, just by taking care of the environment around them. It’s a cause that trash-collecting Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki would no doubt approve of!

Related: Garbage-Collecting Samurai Official Homepage
Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]