All About Japan

How Japanese Students Clean their Classrooms

Teaching English

One of the things that made my jaw drop as a first-time teacher in a Japanese public school (in a good way) was seeing teachers and students, nearly every single school day, scrubbing, wiping and cleaning their classrooms—the entire school—together.

Yes, there is a staff member who helps take care of some of the odds and ends that don’t get taken care of (like the emptying the trash in the the copy room, or keeping the staff kitchen clean), but by and large everyone is responsible for helping to keep the school clean. Being a member of that staff meant that I was responsible, too.

Observing my first “osoji jikan” (お掃除時), or “cleaning time” session, was, in word, mind-blowing. I was thinking that (a) I had bumped my head and was dreaming, or (b) I must have stumbled through that hole in my closet again and I was in some Japanese Narnia.

How on earth do you get a classroom full of kids to clean happily—to clean willingly? Even the most rambunctious kids were doing it! What?!

One thing I really thought was cool was seeing kids performing this special style of locomotive cleaning called zokin-gake. Students would kneel and put both hands on a wet cloth (or zokin) in front of them, elbows locked in position. They would then raise their rear-ends into the air so the their torsos would make a 35- to 45-degree angle with the floor. Once their rear-ends would go up, they would start running on their toes. It looked like exercise and cleaning rolled up into one.

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