Baseball, apple pie and Japanese cleanliness

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 18, 2004

Tribune editorial staff

Did Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter learn a good lesson for all Americans on a recent baseball trip to Japan?

For many Americans, the notion of having last month's official "first game" of the Major League Baseball season in Japan seemed a little, well, un-American.

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But perhaps having a little "un-American" flavor is a good thing every now and then.

Take Jeter's impressions on Japan and its cleanliness.

"That was mind-boggling to have that many people live here and no trash on the streets," Jeter said. Then he joked, "Verrr-y similar to New York."

Sadly, Jeter was being more than a little sarcastic. But his reaction, and then his attempt to laugh off the differences, seems to illustrate a huge problem in America: We've lost our sense of community pride in many ways.

Years ago, we'd have never imagined tossing a bottle out the car window or continuously flicking cigarette butts onto the sidewalks and streets in our community. Yet today, both are almost constant sights.

The population density of Japan is massive compared to the United States. On average, Japan has more than 10 times as many people per square mile than the United States.

Yet, amazingly, outsiders notice how clean it is. The Japanese are not radically different than Americans. Each country probably creates about as much garbage per person. But the difference is that the Japanese manage to properly dispose of their garbage.

Some Americans, by contrast, seem to take the attitude that keeping our community clean is "someone else's job." We've even heard folks say, "don't clean that up, you'll be doing someone's job."

Well, as Jeter pointed out, the "job" of keeping things clean is one we all share. So when you see someone tossing something down, stop him or her and ask him or her to pick it up. Tell them to do it for Derek Jeter. No, tell them to do it for themselves and their children.