Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Cleaning / お掃除


These double as drinking fountains too o.0
“Honestly? Japanese schools are filthy.” I never said it, but that is the first thing that came to mind every time I was asked what most surprised me about Japanese schools (a question I got asked on an almost daily basis during my first year as an ALT). As a culture, the Japanese value cleanliness very highly. “Clean” and “beautiful” are the same word. Despite the absence of rubbish bins, the streets are usually free of litter (except on Ishigaki Island). Schools, on the other hand… I’d eat something off the side of the road before I’d eat something I dropped into a classroom floor. Dust bunnies twirl in a slow-motion waltz through the staff room. When I go into the toilets I try to hold my breath until I leave again. Public schools have no cleaning staff. All cleaning is done by teachers and students during the school day (refer to the time table I posted here). All that is used for cleaning is brooms, rags and cold water. Not especially surprisingly, the kids spend the allotted cleaning period half-heartedly swatting the same dust bunny with a broom and gossiping until the chime rings.
video

As with most tasks at school, they simply have to “clean” for the required period of time rather than achieve any particular outcome. There is no evaluation of the result, only the process (given some of the teachers I have met over the years, I assume this also applies to teachers: As long as they stand in front of the blackboard for a couple of hours a day they’re sweet; how much the kids learn is irrelevant).

These cleaning rags were hand made by parents
Even if the kids with the rags and water do go all out cleaning, it’s just water. Splashing water on something then wiping it off again is not the same as cleaning it. Even if one of the little kids pees on the floor, the same old rag and cold water are used to wipe it up (did I mention that there are no gloves?). The kids wipe up the pee bare handed, with rags. Then rinse them in a bucket of icy water. Then continue wiping the rest of the floor with the same water and rags. The toilets get hosed down, which for Japanese style toilets (the majority in public schools) means the bowl overflows and the water from inside washes out onto the floors. In summer the kids on toilet duty splash around in this water to cool their feet. The toilet cleaners do get rubber gloves for cleaning inside the toilet bowls, but no detergent or disinfectants. Perhaps this combination of unsanitary schools and kids who are expected to come to class no matter how infectious they are is how Japanese adults get such amazing immune systems.
Read more about Japanese toilets here
In practice, then, 掃除 is a total failure. In theory though, I think it has a lot going for it. It teaches kids to be responsible for their own mess. They can’t just throw rubbish on the floor and assume that someone else will clean it up for them. It teaches them to take pride in their school and appreciate the effort that goes into maintaining shared spaces (if only share-house residents had the same values!). It makes cleaning a part of daily life, not something to be looked down on as menial labour fit only for the underclass. The somewhat sad thing is that few of the teachers I work with express anything positive about cleaning when talking to their students. The issue of students cleaning comes up quite often, either in lessons about Australia or just in response to questions the students ask me.
Can you spot the broom? So small and ineffectual I bet you didn't notice it first glance!
Invariably on hearing that Australian schools have cleaners, the teacher will say to the kids: “Wouldn’t that be nice! But Japanese schools have no money, so it can’t be helped.” It is of course true that Japanese (public) schools are massively under-funded (Japan spends less on its schools than any other OECD country). But that isn’t the only reason for お掃除. Once, recently, I was talking to a JHS vice principal and some other teachers during cleaning time in the staff room. The VP said the usual “no money” line, but one teacher hesitantly said “’cleaning time is time for beautifying the heart’… I guess that’s an old fashioned belief.” Another teacher laughed at her (she has a reputation for being strict and old fashioned) and no one disagreed with the “old fashioned” comment. Still, even if it was just once in four years and no students were there to hear it, I’m glad someone sees something to お掃除 other than child slave labour.
***They really need to get mops and some bleach though, seriously, it’s disgusting.***
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10 comments:

  1. I have mixed feelings about cleaning here too. I love that the kids have to do it as I think (in theory) it means they should take more care of the spaces they are using, but.... as you say, the level of cleaning is not always particularly high! Good luck with helping to keep it all clean...

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  2. They'd probably be more sick from the bleach than they are from the filth...

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    1. Possibly, and I know bleach is very bad for the environment, but with a gastro outbreak going around at the moment the government (health department) is advising schools to use bleach but the government (education department) is not providing money for bleach or gloves etc to use it safely. So we're just using rags and water as usual and teachers are using alcohol hand lotion... which is completely ineffective against the noro viruses (according to the school nurse). Yay!

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  3. gee I actually never really thought about the fact that they use the same rag for everything...

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    1. Happy you didn't think about it until AFTER you left Japan? XD

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  4. Hi Sophelia,

    I visited your blog linked to Jo Tomooka's blog. I'm impressed. We share many similar interests. We have two Jack Russell Terriers in Yufuin where there is a lot of open space for dogs. Please come and visit us with your two babies when you are in the area.

    Erika

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    1. Wow, Lucky and Kiley are so cute! And you guys have a doggyride trailer too? We would love to come and visit but we're going to have to work on getting the four legged ones more used to driving before we can tackle Yufuin. We've only had a car for a couple of months and the dogs are still pretty terrified of the whole experience. I don't suppose you have any advice about that? ^_^;

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  5. Hi Sophelia,

    We had an anxiety problem with Kiley when she traveled by car. The trainer advised that she be crated and have a blanket placed over the crate. The idea behind this was to prevent sensation overload. She is doing much better for two reasons. In the U.S., driving on the highway was much faster than in Japan. The faster the car traveled the more her senses were aroused. In Japan, the speed is much slower and the sound the road is quieter. Another option you have is to play a CD in the car that is made to calm you dog. I have more information on that if you are interested. We use a CD called, "Through a Dogs Ear" that has worked very well to calm our dogs during a thunderstorm and fireworks. A CD is also available for riding in the car. Another option is to place a tight fitting shirt on your dogs when they are traveling. It's called a "Thundershirt". The tightness of the shirt simulates hugging the dog and it provides security for them. I hope this helps.

    P.S. The worst thing you can do is console your dogs and give them extra attention when they are anxious. This only reinforces the behavior. I know it's hard to ignore them when they are freaking out, but it's best to act like everything is normal. Erika

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    1. Thank you, some great ideas there. I read about Thundershirts when we were struggling with separation anxiety and they seem to be very helpful.

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