Live a longer life? Start cleaning

Japanese people are famed for their long life expectancies. Healthy diet and an active lifestyle – including regular cleaning – are major reasons.

If you enter a Japanese school just after lunch break you would think students were being punished.

Sweeping, scrubbing floors and emptying out garbage.

Poor things, what did they do?

A further look and you would then think the entire school was being punished.

Surely not.

And not. Daily cleaning of schools is a Japanese institution and offers a great insight as to how the country functions.

In elementary and junior high schools cleaning time is a routine part of the school day, usually lasting around 20 minutes after the lunch break.

Students form cleaning groups combining all ages. A leader is assigned, duties are designated and the cleaning begins.

It doesn’t occur to children to complain as they’ve been doing this since they were six.

Hiring private cleaning contractors to do the dirty work simply doesn’t make sense.

Not only does it cost money but cleaning is the perfect opportunity for students to work together in a group and maintain discipline.

Two distinct characteristics of Japanese society.

The group is more important and stronger than the individual. This philosophy allows Japan’s population of 125 million to live harmoniously in a relatively small space.

Cleaning as a group extends to adults, just in case they may have lost their discipline along the way.

Neighbourhoods have regular cleaning mornings when everybody is expected to help out picking up garbage or weeding a park.

Whether you’re a highly respected surgeon or a humble supermarket cashier, the shame of failing to appear far outweighs the hangover urging you to mumble, “You must be kidding” and go back to sleep.

From an early age (most) Japanese learn there are simply some things in life we must do and to put up with it.

Hello, mental toughness!

Plus, scrubbing floors while in a bear crawl formation is the ultimate full body workout. Washboard abs guaranteed.

The philosophy behind cleaning is also linked to one of consideration for others. At the last football World Cup Japanese fans were noted for cleaning up after them and taking their rubbish. Even the more vocal fans, doused in beer and covered in face paint were seen filling up trash bags.

Rain, hail, snow or shine. Walking to school no matter the weather is another example of Japanese children learning from a young age to put up with difficulty and to cooperate as a group.

From ages 6 to 12 most children walk to school in assigned groups. Parents wave them goodbye and off they go, sometimes in pouring rain or in ankle-deep snow.

Naturally parents and teachers take turns to monitor groups along the way but the children are pretty much on their own.

The ability to shrug off adversity and get on with things was perfectly illustrated immediately after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

Millions of stranded people in Tokyo simply shrugged their shoulders and walked home – some as far as 12 hours away. No signs of panic or upheaval and certainly no self-pity.

It’s not all cleaning and steely-minded discipline. The Japanese certainly know how to unwind and community cleaning days are often capped off with rollicking parties at local parks or halls.

Getting up at 7:00 on a Sunday morning might seem horrific to many of us but the lure of afterwards sharing a cold beer, mountains of edamame and chuckles with your neighbours usually does the trick.

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