Thursday, March 5, 2009

Japanese Schools: The Temple Where Attitude To Work Begins

The title of this piece could well have been: “A Difference in Attitude: Why India is Lagging Behind,” but it sounded too bombastic and negative to me. I believe we can still learn if we can shrug off our laid back attitude towards our own selves. I have been visiting Japanese schools to play with the kids, interact with them, teach them Indian games or cook Indian curry with them, talk about India, teach them simple words or greetings in Hindi or Bengali, or just talk about the differences of the two lands in English or Japanese. Sometimes they too teach me Japanese games or about their school and daily lives. Japanese students learn their subjects in the Japanese language and not English. The few classes of English that they have begin from middle school. Though there have been proposals to start English from an earlier stage, it is yet to be. This is also the reason why so many English language tutorials have mushroomed all around Japan even though some of their methods of teaching are too dubious to trust any sort of improvement. That is a different story and we may come to it later.

How are Japanese schools’ different from Indian ones may be the first question. Well, most of them are quite spacious with a playground but many of our schools have that too. The only apparent differences are a swimming pool, which means compulsory swimming lessons for primary school students, music lessons, and, lunch that is provided by schools at noon. School hours are much longer and into the evening. They have more activity sessions compared to our instruction based form of learning. But if one stays on in school even after lunch, you will notice that there are other things as well.

A Problem of Attitude:

Allow me to start with a question: What would your reaction be if your son or daughter was asked to stay back after lunch in school to clean the corridors and his or her own classroom before going back home? How many parents would feel comfortable with the idea? And how many parents would at least not feel that their children are wasting time doing menial jobs that should be done by the workers in school? Japanese school children have to do it every week, every day. (They even take turns in distributing their own lunch and tifying up later.) They are keeping their own school clean. Mother Teresa once remarked that if everyone swept their own doorstep this world would be a clean place!

Well, that is one of the things which goes into making the Japanese people so diligent and hard working. During the period of economic boom in Japan, people literally worked till they would collapse. Death due to over work was common among the middle aged. People would keep working long after their office hours were over and show no signs of wanting to go back home. I do not claim it to be model for us but we are just the opposite are we not? As far as our attitude to work is concerned! (We will discuss the problem of work life in Japan later).

People all over the world have similar psychology. Allow them to live dirtily and they would pile up mountains of filth outside their own home. Why is Japan spotlessly clean? The reason is simple enough. Rules are rules for everyone. You will find it hard to believe that even in Japan there are people who spit on the street and throw cigarettes on stairs and on the pavement. I had to see it to believe it myself. Yet we find no piling up of garbage or waste strewn around everywhere. Of course, at times garbage is seen strewn at exactly those places with a forbidden sign hung up. That is another different problem. If the strict laws were not in place, Japan could become a commonplace country overnight as far as being dirty is concerned.

My own experience of participating in campus cleaning activities at my university here has been good. Students and professors and other office workers gather to collect rubbish that has accumulated at certain corners or bushes over time. There is no strict compulsion to participate though it is strongly recommended. This builds camaraderie between various people, gives you a sense of belonging to the place, eases the workload of the elderly folks who are engaged in keeping the campus clean throughout the year, and a host of other benefits together with the image of a clean university.

Garbage disposal in Japan is strict. Trash cans are there at many places and garbage has to be sorted out into plastics, combustibles, non-combustibles, raw and leftover foodstuff etc. Rules of sorting are different in different places in Japan and the city council or prefectural body mainly determine them. If you think garbage disposal rules in Japan are too strict, visit Singapore.
The wonderful thing is that even in a small town like my birthplace in India, garbage disposal has become more organized than it was a few years ago. I got a video of the whole process to show my friends in Japan about how great a garbage disposal system we have there now. The first morning I was at my home during a short visit, the tinkling of a bell at about eight o’clock in the morning surprised me. What vendor had decided to call so early? But it was the garbage disposal van. A cycle-van pedaled by a human being but very effective. Garbage has to be kept in two separate bins at your doorstep for the garbage man to collect. One for plastic waste and the other for other raw or perishable waste. The bell lets you know that your garbage is being collected. I was amazed at the development and the whole process was so quick that I did not even have time to get my camera. The next day of course, I was ready.


  1. Well, as they say "Better late than never!" Hope it continues.....

    Even down here, I have come across a few instances of effective garbage disposals. But considering the sheer size of this country, these efforts are miniscule. If we were to add up all the efforts of "garbage disposal" currently underway - they would surely cover the whole of Japan and Singapore and some more......sadly India is many times that of Japan or Singapore.

    Out here, the folks who are assigned the job of cleaning the roads are supposed to begin work at 5 a.m., but we see them leisurely pushing their carts, push-carts, that is - early morning at 10 o'clock, yapping loudly on their mobiles, going for a tea break and soon afterwards taking a break to have 'uta' - lunch break! Considering that 10 a.m. is peak hour traffic - which continues throughout the day - its all very convenient for these folks. Mind you, every other day these chaps are on a protest strike demanding an increase in pay for all their "hard word."

  2. Same here! I too hope it continues. And saying that Japan and Singapore are small countries so they can pull it off is an excuse that our government has given for decades now. Let us not join in such a propaganda. It will remain an excuse. Japan has a density of population that is high enough. There isn't much space around as 70 percent of the land in Japan is mountainous and hence people only live on the remaining 30 percent. Kolkata at one time was more important than Hong Kong or Singapore. What happened then after we became independent?

    In Singapore the penalty for spitting on the road or throwing trash etc is roughly a hundred thousand rupees. People would not even dare to try. And there are trash cans within hundred metres in distance. Doesn't make much sense trying to throw trash on the road, right?