Sitting on the bullet train with Fred, we were moving across Japan at 240 kph, moving speedily to another meaningless meeting. Hurry up to wait. Peering out the window at the darkening landscape, we couldn't see Mt. Fuji. We knew it was there and we were 99.99% sure that we would not be able to see it. We still looked just the same. Naturally, obscured by clouds, pollution or both, we couldn't see it. The darkening landscape may have been a factor too. Collecting my trash from a 7-11 salmon rice ball, a handful of tangerines, and a Crunky chocolate bar, I stuffed it into the 7-11 bag and commented, "I do miss trash cans."
I should have known better than to make such a comment around Fred. After the terrible terrorist attacks of 9-11, the garbage cans on the bullet trains were taped shut and people had to take their garbage off the train with them, or leave it on the train. He quickly replied, "You know, trains in Japan were always one place that you could be sure of finding a garbage can. Where can we be confident of finding trash cans? Certainly not on the street and certainly not in parks. Did I ever tell you about Mike and his garbage can inquiry?"
I nodded my head, but my nod was in vain. Fred started to tell me all about Mike and his garbage, again, "Mike made the foolish mistake of replying to one of those let's ask the foreign residents for their feedback about life in Japan inquiries. Mike was tired of going to the park with his son, not finding any garbage cans, and seeing all the trash scattered around. Mike thought that if there were trash cans, people would use them. Mike mistakenly thought that trash cans were an obvious municipal service. So, he replied to that effect. Would you believe that two guys from city hall went all the way out to Mike's house to explain why there were no trash cans in the park? They explained that trash cans would be an added expense that the city did not want to pay for, which was why they had the take your garbage home with you approach. When Mike pointed out that the take your garbage home approach was not working and people were just dumping their trash in the park, what do you think they said?"
I started to reply, but Fred cut me off, "They explained that it was an added expense that the city did not want to pay for, which was why they had the take your garbage home with you approach. Yes, the two civil servants said the exact same thing all over again. So Mike is wondering why he ever gave feedback in the first place. Even more, Mike is wondering why the local municipal government even asked for feedback."
Fred went on, but I just tuned him out, thinking that we certainly did not have a meeting of the minds here. Mike wanted garbage cans in the public parks. He thought this was a basic municipal service. He thought providing feedback might lead to improvement. Little did Mike know that city hall was not really open to change. There was one way to do things - the city hall way. City hall was always open to explaining exactly what they were doing. They thought that explaining how they did things would help people to understand what was going on. They thought that explaining would help to reduce problems. They did not have a clue that people providing feedback expected change.
Mike never gave any feedback again.