Friday, 25 July 2008

Why are the Japanese so disciplined?

In 1985, I was sent to Japan for three-and-a-half months of training in Productivity management and promotion. Whilst traveling in their crowded subway and trains, I noticed some people wearing face masks; like the little girl in this photo. I told myself; why are these people are so fearful of catching germs from the crowds. Later, I found out that people wear face masks in public when they themselves are unwell. They do not want to pass their germs to others. I really salute them for their civic-consciousness.

Have you ever wondered why the Japanese are so disciplined? I guess there must be many reasons. But I think one of the main reasons is that they are taught from young to be disciplined and considerate to others.

It starts in the home. In Japan, most women stop working when they are married and become full-time housewives. They devote a lot of time to rearing up their kids and do not employ domestic maids like we do in Singapore. In Singapore, usually both husband and wife have full time jobs and they will employ foreign domestic maids from countries like Indonesia and Philippines to take care for their home and kids in their absence. As such, Singapore children seldom have to do household chores like washing dishes, cleaning their rooms or even make their own beds. Most of the time, they have someone to clean up after them. So of course when they grow up, doing 5S does not naturally to them.

Recently, I learned that at school, Japanese school children are also taught to keep things clean and tidy. Once a week, they have to do what we call ‘area cleaning’ in the army.

Last year my youngest daughter, who studies Japanese language as a third language, was sent to Hamamatsu in Japan on an exchange programme. I asked her to take some photos of Japanese students doing such ‘area cleaning’ (souji wo suru). I share them with you here.

Each student keeps 2 pairs of shoes – one pair for use inside the school, and another pair which they wear home. These racks are for them to keep their extra pair of shoes. Every morning when they get to school, they will change over to their school shoes. At the end of the day, they will change back to their other pair.

Besides cleaning their own class room, they have to clean common places like the gym and the corridors. This is done once a week.


Zen said...

In Japanese society state comes first before individuals, meaning that for the sake of national unity, group consensus is more important than that of the individual. This is their way to forge unity and discipline of the people. The discipline displayed by the work force is well known, and the quality of their products has made an huge impact throughout the world. There is joke saying when three Japanese set on a journey, they would select a leader to lead them - a good example of group consensus.

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