Japanese expats volunteer to clean up parks, streets

Japanese expats volunteer to clean up parks, streets
Members of Japanese non-profit environmental group Green Bird with bags of rubbish collected after a litter-picking session at East Coast Park.

SINGAPORE - For nearly two years, a group of Japanese cleaners has been quietly tidying up Singapore's parks and streets.

But they are not new recruits to the 70,000 or so cleaners here. They are expats who do so for free, out of love for their temporary, adopted home.

Once a month, up to 15 of these cleaners - who are members of Tokyo-based non-profit environmental group Green Bird - head out in a uniform of matching green vests to tourist spots such as East Coast Park and Little India to spend an afternoon picking up trash.

Being responsible for keeping one's environment clean is a value that is taught to Japanese from a young age, said volunteer coordinator Junko Kurata, who moved here in 2011. She declined to give her age.

"You have to take care of your country to keep it clean. You don't just throw all the responsibility to someone else," she told The Straits Times, referring to Singapore's heavy dependence on cleaners.

While out picking up litter, the group - which comprises mostly female professionals above 30 - takes time to explain their philosophy to curious Singaporeans who approach. But most passers-by are oblivious, she said, with many not even noticing their work.

It is something she is determined to change. Even though Green Bird's Singapore chapter has so far attracted only Japanese members, the group is open to all.

Her hope is to eventually hand the group over to Singaporeans dedicated to its message that cleanliness begins with personal responsibility.

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