Secret of Japanese Cleanliness
Visitors to Japanese cities are often amazed by their cleanliness. Those cities are not just modern and beautiful, but the amazing thing is that there is simply no trash! Does Japan have laws prohibiting trash on the streets or apply hefty fines on people who make a mess? Is that the reason? No, it’s not that. Then why?
Everyone in Japan knows that they need to restrain themselves from trashing public places. Many Japanese people routinely pick up trash they find on the streets or spend time cleaning the area near where they live to keep their neighborhood clean. It seems that Japanese people are really keen on the idea of cleanliness.
Japanese Elementary Schools Teach Social Awareness Through Cleaning
Spending some time cleaning every day makes students realize the importance of cleaning. Since it does not require special skills and one can clearly see the results, everyone can get satisfaction and feel a sense of pride just by working hard. Educators are also hoping that cleaning public spaces together can nurture the spirit of social awareness and altruism in the minds of students.
Importance of Cleaning in Zen Buddhism
The spirituality of cleaning in Japan can be traced back to the spiritual practice in Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism places a high value on living simply in its spiritual practice. They respect acts that are necessary for daily life, such as cleaning, laundry, cooking, and washing dishes, and these are collectively called “Samu.” Samu became an important part of the spiritual practice for monks. Cleaning in particular is regarded as the highest form of spiritual practice as it symbolizes the cleaning of one’s own heart and mind.
This is still true if you visit a Zen temple for spiritual practice today. Once you enter the temple’s gate, the age and social status of a person does not matter. Everyone has to wake up at the same time and work to clean the temple together. By doing so, they come to the realization that all people are essentially equal. Even if the temple is not dirty, they are supposed to clean it carefully to purify it. The wooden hallways of Zen temples that have been cleaned by practitioners every day over the years often shine like the gleaming enameled surface of grand piano.
Japan’s indigenous religion, Shinto, also respects “cleanliness and purity.” The Onusa, a special wand with zig-zagged white paper streamers for Shinto rituals, has a shape similar to a feather duster. Shinto priests use the Onusa by shaking it from side to side at people to remove sins and impurities from each person.
For Japanese people, cleaning is not seen as just a physical chore. It has much deeper spiritual meaning to clean and polish one’s character.