Having taught in Japanese schools, it came as no surprise to me that the Japanese football fans were cleaning up after themselves in the stadium in Brazil. Every day, children had to clean the school, including the toilets. I recently told some British primary children about it. Although they recognised that it would foster pride, they still couldn’t totally understand it. For the Japanese, this kind of behaviour is natural and is evident in all parts of society. When I first got to Japan, at 7am one Sunday morning, an old man knocked on my door gesturing to me wildly. I was expected to come and clean the steps in my apartment building along with the whole community! I know several friends who were expected to come in early to their office jobs to help clean and keep the place tidy-notably it was only the women though. I even had it written in my contract when working for the Japanese Government to keep my desk tidy.
This sense of social responsibility stems from the expectations of respect and consideration for others. These traits are woven into all aspects of Japan’s group orientated society. Every group member has a responsibility to help it run smoothly. It is often expected that individual needs are second to that of the group and the Japanese learn to cover up real feelings to maintain harmony. It would be unusual for any Japanese child to have refused to clean because it is “not fair”-a phrase I often hear from my own children. It is not fair to put other people out by not pulling your weight. Consideration for others is so important and they expect others to do the same.
As you can imagine, this culture conflicts with western individualism. If expectations of what behaviour is considered respectful are not communicated, frustrations and distrust can arise. As always, understanding and adaptation are the key. We can learn lots from their wonderful culture as shown in Brazil. I don’t think we will ever see British children cleaning school toilets though!