I've got to tell the story of how we found Desmond's kindergarten here in Higashimurayama. Basically, we came to Japan not knowing what school he would be attending and kind of just stumbled upon Seishin Kindergarten, which is amazing. I'll write a lengthy post about it, but right now, I have to document what a crazy physical and emotional transformation Desmond has gone through in the last 6 months.
Yes, those are indoor shoes that they have. These get sent home every weekend to be cleaned. More schools should do this.
One of the things I love about Japan is that there is a pervasive sense of harmony in everything: from the bonsai-like way that homeowners cultivate the trees in their yards to the way they interact with strangers. The social contract, dead in many countries I have visited, is alive and well in Japan and that is what has made it such a wonderful place to live.
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate and sometimes relish the chaos and who-gives-a-shit attitude that is found in many developing countries; as an American, I have a strongly rooted sense of independence, of a you-can't-tell-me-what-to-do attitude, which causes a part of me to rejoice when I'm visiting family in Colombia or Dominican Republic. But sometimes, I yearn for order, quiet, peace, and common courtesy. The Japanese are masters of this art form. They greatly value social cohesion and harmony and go out of their way to make sure that they are not inconveniencing their neighbors.
Below are some examples of the way this social contract plays out in every day Japanese life:
Look! Presents for the garbage trucks! This is how nicely packaged trash is in our neighborhood. It is never just strewn about. Twice now, crows or other animals have ripped open our garbage bags and have strewn our garbage all over the street and twice have our neighbors cleaned it up for us before we even noticed what happened.
There is never any litter anywhere. And you know what else is missing? Trash cans. There are hardly any public trash cans. So, what are you to do if you go to the park, have a picnic, and have a ton of trash? You take it home with you. The streets in my neighborhood are so clean that I let my kids eat the food that they accidentally drop on it. Kidding, kidding. Not really.
There is a button on most toilets that makes a flushing or running water sound so that you don't embarrass yourself or others when you're using the bathroom. Sometimes, the sound automatically comes on. Additionally, I have yet to see one really dirty public toilet during my time here. And, most toilets have heated seats! I've gotten so used to them now that when my bum encounters an unheated seat, I feel immense shock at first and then indignation. How dare they install a toilet without a seat warmer!
When we first arrived in Japan, we were in shock at how quiet it was on the trains. It took a few weeks to get used to and to modulate our loud voices to a more Japanese-approved whisper. This picture showcases just how orderly and quiet and NICE riding on a Japanese train can be. They even urge passengers to set their phones to "manners mode," which means ringer off and no talking on your phone. Some seats even prohibit you from using your phone at all. (Desmond saw one of his friends on the other carriage and was waving to him, quietly.)
This is probably my favorite part of the Japanese culture, and although not necessarily considered something that is a social contract, it helps to form, from a very young age, the basis of a social contract: iIt shows such great respect for the person with whom you are interacting. Everyone here bows: older people walking down the street, people on bikes, younger adults with each other, even Des is learning how to bow at his kindergarten. I bow ALL the time. Even when I'm on the phone. Talking to a customer service rep. From America. It's quite absurd, but it rubs off on you and you just find yourself doing it all the time. There are a bunch of rules concerning bowing, but the Japanese are very forgiving of visitors' ignorance. What you DON'T want to do is to put your hands in prayer position and bow (like they do in Thailand and other Asian countries), but other than that, bowing whenever you receive a bow or any other time you want to say thank you or excuse me or I'm sorry is a good idea.
Lots of people here also wear face masks not so that they can avoid getting sick, but to keep from spreading their illness to others. (These are different than the breathing devices worn in cities like Beijing, which are specially equipped with filters to help filter out the pollutants in the air). In Japan, it is socially expected that if you are sick, you will do what you can to prevent the infection of others. When Desmond contracted the flu, he was not allowed back at school until he had gone 3 consecutive days with no fever. They even canceled school (only for his class) to contain the spread of the virus.
Like I said before, there are times when I wish I could just surreptitiously leave my used tissue on the park bench or "forget" to take off my toddler's shoes when they're standing on the train seats. However, I'll take those minor restrictions on my ability to do whatever the hell I want so that I can live in peace and harmony and without the gross catcalling I get in other countries (I'll have to write about THAT topic in another post).
Long story short, Japan is really, truly amazing. Come visit.
Just a girl living her dream: traveling this amazing world with her husband and her two awesome sons.