Here’s What We Can Learn From The Japanese Way Of Cleanliness
By Kelsey Marie
If you’ve traveled to Japan, you know it is impeccably clean. The level of tidiness can be surprising when you notice the lack of trash cans and street sweepers.
This observation can leave you wondering: how exactly does Japan maintain it’s cleanliness?
According to an interview with BBC, Maiko Awane, assistant director of Hiroshima Prefectural Government’s Tokyo office reveals: “For 12 years of school life, from elementary school to high school, cleaning time is part of students’ daily schedule.”
Awane goes on to say, “In our home life as well, parents teach us that it’s bad for us not to keep our things and our space clean.”
When students arrive at school, they leave their street shoes in lockers and change into sneakers.
Freelance translator, Chika Hayashi tells BBC, “I sometimes don’t want to clean the school but I accepted it because it was part of our routine. I think having to clean the school is a very good thing because we learn that it’s important for us to take responsibility for cleaning the things and places that we use.”
Taking your street shoes off doesn’t only happen at school — when entering homes, you are expected to leave your shoes at the door. Even when workmen come to your house for various services, they remove their shoes before entering your home.
During the World Cup Football tournaments of 2014 in Brazil and 2018 in Russia, the Japanese fans startled the world when they helped to pick up trash from the stadium.
The soccer players left their dressing rooms so tidy that the FIFA general coordinator, Priscilla Jansens, tweeted: “What an example for all teams!”
Awane sheds light on why the Japanese fans and soccer players were so adamant about maintaining cleanliness while abroad: “We Japanese are very sensitive about our reputation in others’ eyes. We don’t want others to think we are bad people who don’t have enough education or upbringing to clean things up.”
Fuji Rock Festival is the largest and oldest festival in Japan and even at this event, festival-goers hold their trash until they find a trashcan.
According to the festival’s website, smokers walk around the event with portable ashtrays so they can ‘refrain from smoking where your smoke can affect other people.’
In daily life, the Japanese practice cleanliness regardless of their location. Children usually volunteer to pick up trash from the streets near their schools on a monthly basis.
Neighborhoods also have street-cleaning events, bringing residents together to gather trash.
There are trays in stores, taxis, and hotels for people to put money in so you don’t put it directly into the other person’s hand.
Also, when the Japanese are sick, they wear masks to reduce spreading viruses. The simple act of wearing a mask helps to save on medical expenses.
Where Did The Japanese Act Of Cleanliness Originate?
Buddhism arrived in Japan from China and Korea during the 6th and 8th centuries. The religion is centered around cleanliness and prioritizes cleaning and cooking as spiritual exercises.
The Japanese, however, practiced cleanliness before Buddhism arrived in the country because of Shinto, a religion meaning ‘The Way of The Gods’. Shinto teaches the belief that cleanliness is godliness.
Noriaki Ikeda, assistant Shinto priest at Hiroshima’s Kanda Shrine explains to BBC: “It is vital to practice cleanliness. This purifies you and helps avoid bringing calamities to society. That is why Japan is a very clean country.”
If you visit Japan or find yourself spending a long period of time in the country, you’ll develop habits such as not blowing your nose in public and properly disposing and recycling your trash — habits we can all learn from.
Kelsey-Marie is an NYC girl who currently lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. You can keep up with her on Instagram at @kelseydashmarie