Japan from the inside out

Latrine duty at Japanese schools

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 7, 2007

THE JAPANESE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM and its schools often get bad press in Western countries, particularly the United States. I’ve always thought this ironic, considering the state of the American educational system and its schools (and I speak as an American). Perhaps this attitude runs in the family; my sister was so dismayed at the quality of her local school system that she home schooled all four of her children. (Home schoolers seem to have the image of being religious conservatives, but my sister is neither particularly religious nor conservative.)

My wife and I don’t have any children, but if I did, I would rather have them go to a Japanese primary school than one in the U.S. There’s a lot to be said in favor of the things Japanese schools do, and I was reminded of that by this recent short article in the Nishinippon Shimbun. The article is in Japanese and not online, so I’ll provide a quick translation. It starts from here:

Students and Faculty Clean Lavatories Together

Tobu Junior High School in Taku, Saga Prefecture, held a unique class to inculcate a sense of public service among the students by having them clean the school’s lavatories. All the students and faculty members participated.

The school’s position is that everyone at the school uses the lavatories. There is a tendency to neglect their cleaning, however, because people consider them to be “dirty”. The school wants to clean the students’ public spirit by having them clean the lavatories. That’s why they launched a project to have the students come in and clean all 14 of the school’s lavatories in one day.

The students come to school dressed in their gym clothes, remove their shoes and socks, and begin cleaning with their bare hands, using cleanser and sponges. They devoted themselves to the task for about two sweaty hours.

First year student Fukakawa Ayako (13) remarked, “I hated the idea at first, but I steeled myself and worked really hard at it. Some friends even boosted me up on their shoulders and I cleaned the ceilings.”

Another first year student, Miyahara Haruna (13), said, “It was the first time I had ever cleaned the inside of a toilet. I discovered how much fun it was to help clean the school.”

End of translation

Note in particular the first student’s comments. She hated the idea, but she resolved to do a good job, and even found a way to have fun with her friends and give the place an exceptionally good cleaning.

I can’t begin to describe how typical that is of the Japanese (particularly the way she expressed it in Japanese). Being in an environment created by people with that attitude is one of the reasons I’m glad I live here.


Readers may recall articles describing the brutalities some Japanese teachers inflict on their students. Yes, these “teachers” exist, but they are not anywhere as numerous as the publicity might lead you to think.

Besides, somewhere on my bookshelf is a report from a few years ago footnoted to an unimpeachable source stating that 5% of all crime in the United States is committed on school grounds.

5 Responses to “Latrine duty at Japanese schools”

  1. GI Korea said

    Could you imagine what would happen if a principal tried this in the US? You would have idiots calling it a human rights abuse or slave labor.

  2. thehawaiianlion said

    Unfortunately, that would happen. They may even ask the school to pay their children the minimum wage at best.

  3. Aceface said

    It is kind of weird paradox.But I’ve been to a few different school in both Japan and the U.S.
    and one thing certain is a school with certain discipline(i.e let the student cleaning as seen here,not hitting kids with baseball bats,mind you)has less bully in the class.Not exactly an idea that educational critics favor,but the parents support those school policy

  4. thehawaiianlion said


    Do you mean that in schools where the children have a more active role in the school (cleaning, making posters). There is less bullying in the class? Not exactly critical insight but from my experience (teaching at 8 elementary schools in one city in Japan) but the schools that have a bullying problem seem to have a self-fulfilling prophesy. The teacher’s in those schools go into a classroom like one who is prepairing for battle. Additionally, the opposite works as well.

    Stating the obvious but I have also noticed that in schools where the homeroom teacher play with the children during recess, the children seem to be a lot happier.

  5. Aceface said

    “Do you mean that in schools where the children have a more active role in the school (cleaning, making posters). There is less bullying in the class? ”

    Not that I remember of making any posters,but yes,something like that.There are some schools in Japan where letting student loose means “liberal” and usually students ends up challenging teacher’s authority.When I was in junior high school in liberal Kichijyoji in the mid 80’s,the school that I went for a year was a real mess.
    That was shocking since I was told by everyone that school in Japan is run by the draconian rule compared to American one.I felt it was reverse for the school I went in Westchester,NY,you’d get suspension for cursing.The school was nominated as one of the top 50 best public school in America at that time(and still is as I trust recent WaPo article).Another school in Nerima ward,I went had more strict rules in some sense and they did let us clean the toilet.No violation of teacher’s authority,no bullying.Maybe kids trust adults who knows what they are doing?I dunno.Not an expert on education myself as you are and know well that you can’t make any theory out from four or five schools that you attended in your life.But that was my impressions.

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