Why Do Kids Clean Schools in Japan?
En the Western world, most schools hire janitors and other maintenance staff to clean. But in Japan, the children do it.
It seems like a wild concept if you’re not from Japan, but there’s a reason for the practice. It not only keeps Japanese schools clean but teaches kids responsibility that follows them into their adult life.
How Does Cleaning the School Work?
In Japan, kids start cleaning their own classrooms in first grade. They keep doing it up until they graduate high school. Students also serve lunch to their classmates, whereas Western schools have janitors and cafeteria staff who do those things.
It’s not a law—it’s a Japanese custom. Students spend about 15 minutes at the end of the day cleaning their classrooms. For younger kids, they sometimes do it before recess, so the kids can play after they do the work.
It’s not just the classrooms either. Students in Japan clean the whole school—yes, including the bathrooms. Different grades take on different parts of the school, including the gym, nurse’s office, hallways, and other areas. To prevent people from getting stuck on permanent toilet duty, jobs rotate, so groups of students in the same class learn to do varied tasks and contribute to the cleaning effort.
When it comes to the younger kids, older ones help out. Elementary school in Japan goes up to sixth grade, so as the first graders learn to sweep and scrub their classroom, a group of older students go to their classroom to help them.
That serves a greater purpose than cleaning, too. It gives the older students experience helping younger children while giving the young kids role models to look up to, especially if they don’t have siblings.
One thing a lot of Westerners get wrong about kids cleaning schools in Japan is thinking that Japanese schools don’t hire any maintenance workers. On the contrary, Japanese schools do hire staff to clean, but not in the same sense as we think of janitors. In Japan, these workers do other jobs, like crossing guards, as well as more thorough cleaning throughout the school.
It’s About More than Tidying Up
For children in Japan, cleaning their own school isn’t only about keeping a tidy learning environment. Cleanliness is a big deal in Japan—people take baths daily, and many visitors to Japan are impressed with the country’s clean streets.
Japanese society teaches kids to clean their schools, so they learn to value cleanliness in all areas of their lives. It ties into Buddhism, which teaches the importance of keeping the body and personal environment clean. Since children learn early to clean their space at school, they often learn to do the same at home and in society.
Japan believes that a clean environment is a sign of a focused mind. Therefore, cleaning the school translates to staying focused, being a good student, and becoming a productive member of Japanese society.
Cleaning teaches responsibility to students from a young age. They learn to work together, delegate tasks, and respect their environment wherever they are. It’s everyone’s responsibility to maintain their space collectively, rather than relying only on people who get paid to clean it.
Many Westerners are surprised at the idea of children cleaning schools, and few schools in places like the United States adopt this practice. Those that have generally view it as a positive way to teach kids to respect their space and keep things tidy. In Japan, it’s normal and expected, and most places follow a similar routine when it comes to cleaning schools.
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Sarah Wood - August 17, 2021
Menezes, Fino. “Should Children Clean Their Own Schools? Japan Thinks So.” Good. https://www.good.is/articles/japan-children-clean-schools. Accessed 9 August 2021.
Powell, Steve John and Angeles Marin Cabello. “What Japan can teach us about cleanliness.” BBC Travel. https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20191006-what-japan-can-teach-us-about-cleanliness. Accessed 9 August 2021.
“Students in Japan clean their own classrooms and school toilets and the reason is incredible.” India Today. https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/featurephilia/story/students-in-japan-clean-their-own-classrooms-and-school-toilets-and-the-reason-is-incredible-1227619-2018-05-06. Accessed 9 August 2021.
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