It is only my first full day in Handa, Japan – and already I’ve had one of the best experiences of my life! I’m visiting Japan not only as a tourist, but also as a fleeting participant to its way of life. Thanks to JCI Japan, I’ve already visited a temple, an elementary school, and will be living with a host family for the duration of this weekend.
In a day full of experiences (each meriting a blog post of their own), it’s our visit to a Japanese school that proved the most eye-opening, and humbling.
I was totally unprepared for the warm welcome from all 800-ish pupils of Midorigaoka elementary school – our arrival was marked by cheering from a welcoming party at the school entrance, and it wasn’t long before we were whisked away to be greeted by all the pupils in the main school hall. A very surreal experience – we were paraded through the hall, following the lead of our flag-bearer, and then seated at the stage to say “hi” and to introduce ourselves to the entire school.
After introductions, it was time to join our class for some “lessons”. Hello, Midorigaoka class 6-4!
These elementary kids were around the ages of 11-12. And despite knowing barely any words of English, they were more than eager to try and help us settle into class, and to take part in their calligraphy lesson. Although we had one translator for the three of us JCI members in this class, we didn’t have to call upon his help often, as the children really were keeping an eye out for us, and helping/explaining to us via gestures and actions whenever it looked like we were struggling.
However, it was lunchtime and the subsequent “clean-up” time that proved an utterly eye-opening and humbling experience. It was simply astounding to witness!
Lunch doesn’t take place in a school canteen, but instead in the same classrooms where lessons take place. The children all re-arrange their furniture into columns.
Some of the children would then put on hygienic overalls and proceed to serve food to all of their classmates. Some were responsible for putting the food onto trays, and others were responsible for serving those trays to the tables. They all looked like they were having fun, but were extremely quick and efficient at the same time!
The clear-up process after lunch was no less efficient. Pupils put away their own trays (stacking the individual bowls), and even went as far as to separate straw from milk carton, before flat-packing them for recycling. I was amazed at the attention to detail!
Foolishly, I thought that clearing plates was the “clean-up” time. But I was incredibly wrong. Clean-up time is where the whole school would spend 15-20 minutes helping to clean every aspect of their school. In the classrooms, pupils rearranged desks and started sweeping and wiping the floors…
But the clean-up process wasn’t limited to the classroom! Everywhere in the school, pupils had chores to perform – whether it was washing windows, weeding the school garden (and wearing cute hard-hats whilst doing so), or clearing leaves – it was astounding to see an entire school so efficiently clean up and – more importantly – take pride in how they performed their duties. There was no half-hearted attempts here – everyone was really making an effort to do their jobs well…
(See that last pic – that was me trying to give the pupils a hand. I was promptly told off by one of the children for not holding the broom correctly and not sweeping with enough effort, and was actually shown how to sweep the floor properly. How embarrassing to be corrected by an 11 year old!)
After “clean-up” time, all the pupils headed back to the hall for a dancing lesson. It was quite surreal to see hundreds of schoolchildren dance to a Japanese pop-music video, but it was definitely fun and I can see how it helps to foster a community spirit amongst the pupils.
After the collective mad fun that was dancing (800 kids all dancing in semi-unison, with teachers and staff taking part as well), it was time to say farewell…
Honestly, I was really quite sad to leave. What was ostensibly a visit to an elementary school was actually one of the most enjoyable and interesting experiences I’ve ever had… Not because we were visiting a school (fantastic though the staff and pupils were). But it was because the visit was an incredible insight into the Japanese ethos and mentality. Here, children (in what would be our equivalent of primary school) were incredibly well-behaved, welcoming, and eager to study and to contribute towards the school and to each other. I still marvel at how they were serving each other school lunches and helping to clean the school. I begin to see where the Japanese work ethics come from – their pride in their work, their willingness to contribute to a “greater cause”. And I firmly believe it instils a sense of responsibility and independence into the children here, which will carry with them into their adult life. Everyone was enthusiastic – there was no lethargy or unwillingness to contribute, and everyone seemed to have fun at the same time. An utterly stark contrast to the sometimes lazy and self-entitled attitude of a few of the children you see in the UK today…
I came to the school already with a large sense of respect and revere for the Japanese work-style and ethics. I left the school with those opinions reinforced, and also completely humbled by what I had seen from the children there. Certainly, *I* learnt a lot personally from the few hours I was there. I also think other countries could do likewise, and might benefit by taking a few notes and pointers from the Japanese education system…
And this on the first full day of my visit to Japan in JCI Academy. My mind is boggling at what I’ll see next…!
(My sincere and heartfelt thanks to JCI Japan, and to our host for the visit and former Midorigaoka pupil Kazutaka Amaki, for providing me with an opportunity to take part in an everyday Japanese school routine. It was fascinating, insightful, and fun. I am so completely appreciative and humbled to have been able to take a peek – and to participate – in a typical Japanese school day.)