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Video looks at why Japanese students serve their own school lunches, clean their classrooms

17 Comments
By Meg Murphy, RocketNews24

How many of our readers living in Western countries remember cleaning up their classrooms and school grounds every day, or serving lunch to your classmates in your homeroom? I know it varies from region to region, and even from school to school, but the most cleaning we ever did at my school was erasing the chalkboard, and maybe giving overhead projector a quick wipe. We would of course have a big end-of-the-year cleaning before classes ended for summer, but even then all that consisted of was emptying out our desks and wiping them down.

Lunch too was certainly not handled by the students. If we had chosen to buy school lunch that day we would file through the lunch line in the cafeteria and be served by the lunch ladies, who slaved away all day in the kitchen reheating the processed, frozen food that was shipped to all public schools throughout the district.

Things are, however, quite different in Japan.

School lunch is still prepared in the kitchen by hired cooking staff—generally prepared from more fresh ingredients, not packaged frozen foods—but it is the students who wheel carts of food to their classrooms and serve their classmates.

After lunch, students clean up after themselves, and continue their cleaning duties by dusting, sweeping, and wiping down the floors in their classrooms, hallways, and throughout other areas of their school.

Elementary teacher Kyoko Takishima explains that children do this to build confidence and to help prepare them for adulthood.

Alice Gordenker, writer over at The Japan Times, explains that it also helps the kids to respect their surrounding, writing: “They are learning that it’s better not to make a mess if you are the one who has to clean it up.” Gordenker also alludes to a custom at some schools that she finds especially endearing: “A group of sixth-graders is sent to each first-grade classroom to help the little kids clean. Many schools provide this kind of interaction between the upper and lower grades because so many Japanese kids are 'hitorikko' (only children, i.e., they have no siblings). Teachers believe older students need to experience helping younger children. And little kids need older role models.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Japanese schools don’t have custodians. Janitors, called "yomuin," are still employed by schools to handle maintenance and repairs, clean any areas that students may not be in charge of (not all schools have students clean the toilets, for example), and to follow up with a deeper clean than what the students may be able to achieve. Many commenters on the above video love the fact that the kids have to clean up their own space, wishing it were implemented at schools in the West.

Sources: YouTube/AJ+ via CuRAZY, The Japan Times

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Is Japan overworking its teachers? One exhausted educator says, “YES!” -- Japanese high school baseball players are all class, immediately clean stadium after road loss -- “Let them eat furikake!” says Mayor Hashimoto as Osaka school lunch saga rumbles on

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17 Comments
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Actually cleaning their classrooms and halls is a good idea. Just a little more information. Where I live on the Kanto plain, lunches are made at a center then delivered to the schools - no freshly cooked meals for them. And this cleaning up business goes out the window when they start driving, literally, they throw the garbage out the car windows onto the grassy dividers where I live where it stays until the city? Prefecture? Does their bi-annual cutting of the grass.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I appreciate my culture more and like the fact that I didn't have to clean the classroom and serve my classmates lunch. That's valuable time that we were able to use learning to develop and express our own thoughts and opinions through essays, book reports, science experiments, field trips, and active engagement with the teachers.

Well, it's a cultural difference isn't it. Japanese schooling places a lot of importance on societal obligation, and keeping your environment clean. Personally, I appreciate that more, and think it's more important than many other academic things they may teach otherwise, that kids will neither remember, nor have any relevance to their lives in the long term.

My parents taught me at home not to make a mess, and if I do to clean it up. My mother and grandmother taught me how to cook and to appreciate fresh ingredients.

Unfortunately, lots of parents/grandparents do not teach this, in either Japan or other countries. Teaching it at school gives a good baseline.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Keeping your work area clean, respecting other people and authority, taking your turn with doing various jobs etc.

Note - I'm not necessarily agreeing with the specifics of the obligations they teach, just pointing out what they are.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The social obligation is to learn how to be a nail that doesn't stick out or suffer getting hammered down. Observing their school system is interesting, I think a lot of the stuff they teach is good but they fail in setting up the students socially. Their school system does a great job taking out the individualism for the drone mentality. IMO due to this system there is a large numbers of Japanese students committing suicides, they were sticking out and got hammered a lot.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Those things are equally encouraged in the west, I think.

But not taught in school the way that they are in Japan.

The social obligation is to learn how to be a nail that doesn't stick out or suffer getting hammered down.

That's one of them, and one of the reasons that I didn't put my kids in the Japanese school system after kindergarten.

Observing their school system is interesting, I think a lot of the stuff they teach is good but they fail in setting up the students socially.

Well, they set them up well for Japanese society. Not so much for the rest of the world though.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

IMO due to this system there is a large numbers of Japanese students committing suicides, they were sticking out and got hammered a lot.

Youth suicide in Japan does not occur at a notably high rate compared to other developed countries. It appears to be common because the media emphasizes such stories. A teen suicide a thousand kilometers from Tokyo will get reported as national news.

Suicide is a top cause of death for young people in Japan because relatively few young people in Japan are killed in traffic accidents, gang warfare, or die from drug overdoses.

Historically, the countries with the highest youth suicide rates have been notably liberal societies such as New Zealand and Finland. This pattern is noted in many articles on youth suicide.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I am in favour of this kind of activity, but I would disagree that it teaches "confidence" to prepare children for adulthood.

Instead, I would say that tasks like cleaning the toilets teach an equally important attribute, humility.

As far as I'm aware, Japanese in general do not look down on people doing menial jobs, which allows the people doing them to live with pride. Not everyone can be a superstar or an academic success, but everyone should feel good about themselves. I've never heard of a Japanese expression that corresponds to "burger flipper" or "stacking shelves at ......", i.e,. someone in a menial dead-end job with no prospects. Preparing fast food and similar jobs are not treated as the hallmark of a loser.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

That's a good point kohakuebisu.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

At my middle school in 1980s England, we sat at round tables and the eldest child would serve lunch to the others. We didn't really do any cleaning inside the school but we did litter picking around the grounds.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As far as I'm aware, Japanese in general do not look down on people doing menial jobs, which allows the people doing them to live with pride.

Although I agree with you, I also think that these so-called "menial" jobs are used as a kind of social welfare in Japan especially for the elderly and disenfranchised, and I think that the government encourages them to take pride in it precisely for this reason. I also think that it partly explains the low birthrate (I mean, would you really want your kid marrying somebody whose profession was "toilet cleaner" at Y750 an hour? Even if s/he was proud of the job, and extremely good at it?).

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

But most of the children do absolutely nothing when they get home. In ten years I never saw my step daughter or son help in the house once. This made it virtually impossible for me to get my two children, their younger half siblings, to do anything either.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How many of our readers living in Western countries remember cleaning up their classrooms and school grounds every day, or serving lunch to your classmates in your homeroom?

We had a cafeteria. illegal (hispanic) janitors cleaned our schools. (sadly.)

Lunch too was certainly not handled by the students.

This was served by illegals too (probably) but they spoke English with a heavy accent.

Things are, however, quite different in Japan.

Yeah. The kids clean their classrooms, but at home they don't do anything. American kids mow the lawn, take out the garbage and clean (or should clean) their own room. Let janitors clean-up the school. Let "food servers" serve the food.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This practice should be imitated in the US so that kids will think twice about littering. I remember how kids would leave trash because it's the janitor's job to clean it up (hence they can trash the place all they want and not think much of it). @bullfighter,

Thanks for the comment and very interesting in regards to the youth suicide rate. Do you have a link?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

" I mean, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Neil deGrasse Tyson, etc, etc, etc, went to school in the west and look at their accomplishments and contributions to society."

Yes and Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were well known as tyrants and bullies in the workplace caring little for others except how they could benefit from their efforts and labor.

As for Neil deGrasse Tyson, people either love him or hate with many believing he comes off as an arrogant, self-centered pompous ass.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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