Japan from the inside out

Polishing the heart

Posted by ampontan on Friday, April 24, 2009

THE JAPANESE have long considered the washing of physical objects to be another aspect of cleansing the spirit, so it’s no surprise to see some of the ways they apply that concept in daily life. One example is the scrubdown of public toilets, as we saw here a couple of years ago when junior high school students cleaned 14 of the rest rooms in their school.


You might be surprised, however, at some of the other people who are willing to get down and get dirty for their spiritual edification. For example, a group of 19 police officers in Yonezawa, Yamagata, brightened up the public toilets at the Matsugasaki Park and on the banks of the Matsu River on the 19th. They began the practice last year to inculcate a sense of public service and to “clean their spirit” (literally, polish their hearts). Cleaning these particular toilets was a priority because they’re expected to get heavy use by tourists during the upcoming holidays. (These are the so-called Golden Week holidays, which this year will include one day during the last week of April and five straight days during the first week of May.)

The volunteer latrine orderlies used screwdrivers to scrape off the accumulated gunk from the fixtures and brushes to scrub the floors. The crew estimated that it took them about an hour to finish the job. They also used the opportunity to connect the task with their regular gig. After cleaning the walls, they hung Wanted Man posters for members of Aleph, AKA Aum Shinrikyo, the cult responsible for the sarin poisonings in the Tokyo subway a few years back.

The leader of the group admitted that he was bothered at first by the dirt and the smell, but he said the experience taught him the importance of approaching any task with a sense of humility.

Many foreigners are quick to complain about the things they think Japan lacks, or what they think the Japanese don’t do and should. Here’s one foreigner who thinks that people in other parts of the world would benefit if they learned from Japan and had school children and public employees clean public lavatories.

In fact, I think it would an excellent idea for legislators at every level of government to clean the latrines as a way to start the first day their deliberative body is in session. Any job that teaches them the importance of approaching tasks with a sense of humility is bound to result in an improvement over their usual behavior.

Besides, with all the crap they force the rest of us deal with, it’s only fair that they should find out themselves what it’s like!

2 Responses to “Polishing the heart”

  1. […] Should the US take the example of the Japanese and have students clean toilets? […]

  2. […] Should the US take the example of the Japanese and have students clean toilets? […]

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