In Japanese Schools, Kids Do the Cleaning

You may already know that people in Japan take off their shoes — swapping them for comfy slippers or designated indoor footwear — when they enter their homes.

But did you know that students do the same thing when they go to school?

What’s perhaps even more surprising for Americans to learn is that Japanese schools, by and large, don’t employ full-time janitors or custodians. Instead, kids clean schools at designated times once or twice a week. (Most schools use a rotating schedule — fortunately — so the same students aren’t constantly relegated to bathroom duty.)

While this may sound crazy to an American audience — let’s face it, kids tend not to be the tidiest bunch — it’s a simple way to encourage students to take ownership and responsibility for the spaces they share with their peers and instructors. At its core, this practice teaches children that if they make a mess, they’re the ones who are going to have to clean it up. The custom also underscores the importance in Japanese culture of both egalitarianism and working together toward a common goal.

To speak generally, most people in Japan hold interpersonal relationships and intrasocietal trust in high esteem (for more on this, check out the recent Atlantic piece on why it’s commonplace to see unaccompanied tots running errands via the Tokyo Metro). This strong sense of community may be a contributing factor in the country’s remarkably low rate of violent crime — not to mention the culture’s nearly nonexistent littering and vandalism.

Group dynamics like these are inculcated in school, and many Nihonjin (the Japanese word for Japanese people) view the educational system as an integral part of building a respectful and civil society.

Looking for a school where your child will learn a sense of democracy and community? Check out the Noodle K–12 school search to find the perfect fit for your kid.

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