Bubble Tea Boom Sparks a Littering Problem
Newsfrom JapanLifestyle Guide to Japan Food and Drink
Bubble Tea: Here, There, and Everywhere
What’s that drink that everybody in Harajuku seems to be carrying? It’s bubble tea, the latest craze to hit this trendy youth-culture area.
We asked a couple strolling with bubble tea in hand what the big attraction was. The young woman identified it as a reason to visit the big city: “We don’t have this in our Tōhoku hometown.” Her companion, meanwhile, was happy with the purchase: “The tapioca pearls are soft and chewy. They’re delicious.”
Next, we visited a bubble tea shop in Harajuku to learn more about the attractions of this product. Asked what they thought about bubble tea, customers at the shop enthused about the taste of their drinks, while also noting: “It comes in various tea flavors, so you never get tired of it.”
Dozens of Shops in Trendy Harajuku
Bubble tea is especially popular among young folks. They love the soft and chewy tapioca pearls at the bottom of the drink and keep going back for more.
Bubble tea had its initial boom in Japan in the early 1990s, at the tail end of the bubble economy. Today, its renewed popularity has seen over 30 shops spring up in Harajuku and neighboring Omotesandō.
More Than Just a Snack
We spotted a group of girls carrying bags of bubble tea. Were they taking the cups back to some waiting, thirsty friends? No, came the answer: They were making the rounds of the shops to have a bubble tea party and would be photographing their drinks to upload to social media.
The stylish cups and popular drinks are a popular theme for Instagram and other visual social media channels.
Littering a Problem
But the bubble tea boom has a downside: empty cups and a lack of places to discard them. This has developed into a real problem for the area, as local businesses have increasingly been stuck with the job of cleaning up unsightly litter.
According to Oni Yūjirō, an official with the Harajuku Merchants’ Association, “In many cases the cups are discarded with tapioca still in them”—making it hard to send the refuse directly to a recycler. “The Omotesandō area is facing a similar problem with all the trash that visitors discard,” he adds. This is an ongoing problem: Local authorities empty trash receptacles daily, but no sooner is the job done, they’re overflowing again.
The ever-growing litter problem has led bubble tea shops to take action. Some are now affixing stickers on their cups and messages on their receipts urging customers to take the empties home with them.
The bubble tea drink boom is a welcome bright spot in the local economy, but sellers and residents alike are hoping to see a rise in customer awareness and an uptick in the proper disposal of cups after use.
(Originally broadcast in Japanese on FNN’s Live News It! on June 5, 2019. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)
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