Cleanliness and Order
I had the opportunity and the honor to visit one of the most culturally rich countries in the world, I am talking about amazing Japan. When I arrived, one of the things that impressed me the most was the cleanliness and order. Most visitors who go to Japan for the first time are surprised at how clean the country is. Then they notice the absence of wastebaskets and sweepers. Then they wonder how it is kept so clean.
From elementary school to high school, cleanliness is part of the students’ daily schedule, an element in the school curriculum that helps children develop social awareness and pride in their surroundings.
When students arrive at school, they leave their shoes in lockers and put on slippers. At home, people also leave their street shoes at the entrance and keep socks. Cleanliness is an everyday occurrence in the Japanese environment
Money is never put directly into someone’s hand. In shops, hotels and even in taxis, you’ll see a small tray to deliver the bills. Germs and bacteria are another source of concern. When people catch colds or flu, they wear surgical masks to avoid infecting others. But how did the Japanese get so clean?
Cleanliness is a central part of Buddhism. The Japanese were horrified by the Europeans’ disregard for personal cleanliness. In part, this concern was born of practical issues. In a hot and humid environment like Japan, food spoils quickly. Bacteria flourish. Good hygiene, then, is synonymous with good health. But cleanliness is also a central part of Buddhism.
Long before the advent of Buddhism, Japan had its own religion, Shinto, which means “the way of the gods,” and is said to contain the soul of Japanese identity. Cleanliness is at the heart of Shinto, so Buddhism’s emphasis on cleanliness simply reinforced what the Japanese already practiced.
A key concept in Shinto is Kegare (impurity or dirt), the opposite of purity. Examples of Kegare range from death and illness to almost anything unpleasant. Frequent purification rituals are necessary to protect oneself.
Many Japanese take their cars to Shinto shrines for purification by priests. Many Japanese take their new car to the shrine for a priest to purify it. The priest also purifies people by waving the Onusa (a feather duster-like wand) over them. He even purifies the land on which new buildings will be constructed.
If you live in Japan, you will learn how to sort household garbage into 10 different containers to make recycling easier. If you return to your homeland, you’ll be surprised at the barbarians who sneeze and cough in your face. Or they trample on your house with dirty shoes. Unthinkable in Japan.