A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Tsukuba`s Smokey Autumn Air (The Gomi-Moshi Problem)

The view from my living room window in Tsukuba- in November

December 2013 Sasagi, Tsukuba

Autumn in Sasagi, Tsukuba

By Avi Landau


You wake up and open the curtains. Tsukuba’s autumn glare, markedly different from the daylight of a few weeks ago, makes you squint, leading you to think that perhaps snow has fallen in more northerly or mountainous parts. Outside you can spy pampas grass, quince and persimmon. Eager for some fresh air, full of the memory-evoking and melancholy smells of Fall, you open the window and take a deep breath through your nose. UGGHH! You slam the window back shut as a thick pillar of smoke starts invading your room. You puff vigorously out of your nostrils to clear your nasal passages of any acrid residue, and quickly retreat into the inner-sanctums of your abode. The inconvenience gets worse as you start going about your daily routine – you are not going to be able take advantage of the sunshine and hang your laundry out to dry (in Japan dryers are still uncommon) or air out your futon mattress (which is what most Japanese do, as the sun kills bacteria and mold). Instead, you have to make sure the doors and windows are sealed and bring your dog inside.


What’s the story?

No, there is no house on fire in the neighborhood, nor is there a Grateful Dead concert going on next- door. It’s just what is probably the most annoying aspect of country life in Japan — the neighborhood farmers burning their agricultural waste! In Ibaraki this is often called GOMI MOSHI (from gomi moyashi, literally garbage burning).

Though it is actually now illegal (and has been for more than a decade), the authorities don’t actually enforce this rule, especially when it comes to elderly farmers (many of whom, for example my next door neighbor, seem to burn stuff everyday as a hobby), who can’t easily break the habit. For them it is perfectly natural, because in the old days ALL garbage was burned and burning is still a convenient way to get rid of leaves, twigs, stalks, etc. Burning also kills insects and plant diseases as well (which is what they tell me when I ask them why they do this). Watching them at it, I would also venture to say that another reason why they continue make these very smokey autumn bonfires is that it is a lot of FUN for them.

For the rest of us, however, it is a horrible intrusion into our homes, and very probably hazardous to our health and that of our families and pets. Even walking down the street isn’t safe. You might think that the road ahead is clear but suddenly the wind might change direction and blast you with smoke from a nearby, previously unnoticed gomi moshi fire. Of course you could hold your breath and dash away so as not to inhale any toxins, but still your clothes would smell smokey all day. European friends of mine actually left Tsukuba and moved to Tokyo saying that the air in the big city was cleaner!

I have never called the city office to complain or inform, but I am often tempted to when I see grandchildren (or great-grandchildren) or chained dogs being bombarded by this smoke. In all probability, what is being burned also contains plastics or other materials which would emit toxic fumes.

As someone who loves the Japanese countryside and is ardently interested in local traditions I am sad that I have to say that I hope that this annoying and dangerous, age old custom GOES UP IN SMOKE.

Burning agricultural waste in Higashi-Oka, Tsukuba

I have written more on the bon-fires of autumn and winter in Japan-


and also on another way our country air is befouled-


One Comment

  • Dan Waldhoff says:

    Aloha Avi,

    More than a few years ago I lived in the Uenomuro Komin Jutaku (now history). My colleague from England had a first floor residence and I was on the fourth floor at the opposite end of the building. The elderly ladies of the neighborhood met near the little kominkan to chat and burn every day. My colleague’s laundry was re-soiled daily by their smoke and ashes. They sat and chatted just a few short meters from her veranda. The situation was no end of bother to her.

    While I can distinctly remember the problem, I can not recollect the short term resolution – I do think that time was the eventual arbiter. The elderly ladies eventually became too much so to meet, or moved a bit farther on still – to meet their makers.

    My similar discomfort, though not physical as in soiled linen, was mental. The same elderly gang of obachans sang karaoke at the neighborhood festival and their caterwauling practice seemed to localize to apartment #401 where I was most often building the solid foundation of a shouchu hangover most nights while summoning slumber. Water balloons were out of the question, though seriously considered!

    Having enjoyed an accumulation of years since then and improved my levels of tolerance for the shortcomings of others in the passage of time I realize that – they are gone and I will be too. The old ladies are gone, the building is gone, the parking lot where they sat is gone. My colleague is no longer here in Tsukuba and I am now, still in Tsukuba, in the heart of civilization – Sengen/Takezono.

    While I wait to meet a similar end I can reflect to enjoy the echos of their chatter and the smell of their gomi smoke and the off-key lilt of their joyful singing – yes, and the witness to their happy days of their growing old together.