Recycling Clothes in Tokyo

By Sandra Barron
January 1, 2014
Lifestyle

Until relatively recently, used clothes in Japan have had one fate: burnable garbage. If you’re from a country with a collection bin and a few secondhand shops in every neighborhood, this just feels wrong. Some people take suitcases full of cast-offs back home rather than throw them out. Happily, the Japanese concept of mottainai (avoiding wastefulness) is catching on and leading to more options.

closet cleanout by Keri cropped

Whether you’re doing the traditional New Year’s oosoji (“big cleaning”) or getting ready for a move, here are a few ways to make some space and keep your used clothes out of the incinerator.

Do you have too many designer clothes and accessories in like-new condition? You’re in the right city. There are many brand-conscious secondhand shops that will buy your things. Start with Komehyo or RagTag, both of which have some half dozen outlets throughout Tokyo. Be prepared to take a number and wait a while if you go on a busy day, but if you can read Japanese RagTag has a wonderful online option, through which you can send in a box of clothes free of delivery charges, and you’ll get an email within a week or two telling you how much the store is willing to offer you for them. If you accept the price, a deposit will be made to your bank account, and if there are any items whose prices you disagree with, they’ll send them back to you at no charge. Pass the Baton in Omotesando sells items that fit its quirky aesthetic on consignment (they call it “relighting”), but the store requires an appointment for anyone wishing to sell items, during which you’ll have to explain the “story” of each piece. Expect to spend at least an hour with a staff member, even for a small number of items, but you’re likely to get more cash for designer clothing and accessories that sell than you would from RagTag or Komehyo.

Uniqlo’s recycling program works with international humanitarian partners to donate used Uniqlo clothes to refugees and other displaced people. What they take is specific, but if you’ve ever gone on a summer sale binge and bought enough cooling t-shirts to outfit a tropical party, it’s good to know there’s a place where it won’t all go to waste. Simply bring your things to any Uniqlo shop.

H&M will give you a ¥500 store coupon for every bag of clothes you donate—any clothes in any condition. The staff will send clothes in good shape to markets to be resold and then recycle the rest as raw materials, but they won’t take shoes or accessories. There’s a limit of two bags per person per day. There is no explicit limit to the size of the bags, but the cardboard deposit boxes set up at the cash registers suggest they expect donations to be on the smaller side.

The Salvation Army will not only take your wearable used clothes in bulk, it will also send someone to your door to cart them away for free. The catch? They only make pickups during the week, and you may have to schedule as much as two or three weeks in advance. A Savvy tip: There is a little-known Salvation Army store open on Saturday mornings in Nakano-Fujimicho with serious bargains on housewares, English books and—yep—clothes. It’s a great place to start refilling all that new empty space, and if you don’t schedule a pickup far enough in advance, the store will accept donations of some items via courier (although you must pay the delivery charges). Check the website for the address and a list of accepted items.

 

Photo by Keri.

Sandra has been back and forth between Japan and the U.S. since 1997 and has lived in Tokyo since 2008. She has written for The New York Times, CNN International and The Japan Times, and she writes sporadically on her blog. She's always happy to chat about Japanese food, drink and funny subway posters on Twitter. She's looking forward to seeing her contributions to BeBespoke's book Tokyo Collection, to be published at the beginning of 2014.

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