Bubble Tea Boom Sparks a Littering Problem

Lifestyle Guide to Japan Food and Drink

Bubble tea, a tea-flavored drink with tapioca pearls, is a popular treat in trendy Harajuku, where over 30 bubble tea shops have sprung up. Customers love uploading photos of their eye-catching drinks to social media, but discarded cups are causing a headache for local merchants.

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.

A medium-size serving of bubble milk tea with a cotton candy topping goes for ¥600.
A medium-size serving of bubble milk tea with a cotton candy topping goes for ¥600.

 The black dots in the drink are tapioca pearls.
The black dots in the drink are tapioca pearls.

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.

The dots on the map show clusters of bubble tea shops east and southeast from Harajuku Station and the Meiji Shrine grounds (the green area at top right).
The dots on the map show clusters of bubble tea shops east and southeast from Harajuku Station and the Meiji Shrine grounds (the green area at top right).

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.

A lack of local trash cans has led to a rise in bubble tea cups discarded in recycling bins intended for drinks sold from vending machines.
A lack of local trash cans has led to a rise in bubble tea cups discarded in recycling bins intended for drinks sold from vending machines.

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.)

https://www.fnn.jp/

[© Fuji News Network, Inc. All rights reserved.]

Harajuku Fuji News Network Instagram sweets SNS instagenic