Is Japan "Obsessed" with Cleanliness?

"Why is Japan so clean and tidy?" This is one of the most frequently asked questions I get while working as a tour guide.

Many foreigners are surprised by the following:

  1. Public spaces including streets, train stations and restrooms are clean. Trash is nowhere to be seen. It's also rare to find garbage bins on the streets because people are encouraged to take garbage back home.
  2. At school, students clean their own classrooms, the hallways, and other parts of the school as part of their training. Some of my tour customers find this surprising because back in the States there are janitors to clean up the classrooms.
  3. Recently, students from Harvard business school visited Japan to study the effective cleaning methods of Shinkansen staff. In their research called "The 7-Minute Miracle", they were astonished to find out that one cleaning staff can collect trash, wipe down all the tables and floors, turn around all the 100 seats and keep the trains clean and tidy—within 7 minutes! They can be seen in action in these photos below.

There are so many other places in Japan that you wouldn't expect to be so squeaky clean and spotless. However, have you ever thought why the Japanese are fastidious when it comes to keeping things clean?

Here are my thoughts:

First, it may be due to the influence of religion on our society. Whenever we step into the Shinto shrine, for example, we need to wash our hands before praying. Also, Buddhism teaches the importance of cleanliness as it directly correlates with having a peaceful mind. Therefore, it has become our custom to take responsibility of our mess and dispose of our garbage at home.

Second, it has something to do with history. Japan has suffered from numerous epidemics, widespread infectious diseases and food poisonings and many other devastating events in the past. Because of these tragedies, we became aware of the importance of keeping our environment clean.

More than thirty years ago, the streets in Japan were littered with garbage. We could not afford to clean our surroundings at that time. Our public spaces looked entirely different from how they look today. But as Japan's economy improved, we became wealthy enough to make our environment clean, which also promoted physical and mental health.

Why is Japan so clean and tidy? Well, now you know the answer. It's great to be clean and tidy because we need to take care of our environment. It is our responsibility. I am glad that foreigners appreciate this aspect of Japanese culture. And if more and more foreigners get to experience Japan's cleanliness, I would be happy.  

If you plan to visit Tokyo, it would be a great pleasure to show you around. I will tell you more about our culture. https://triplelights.com/profile/3624

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