This is the daily ritual in every Japanese school across the country, from kindergarten to high school. At the end of each school day, students pick up brooms, dustbins, washcloths and other implements of cleanliness. En masse, they undertake to rid the school of all dirt, grime and rubbish while, in the same stroke, developing cooperation and team skills. This is all in theory of course. In reality, this is the best time of the day to goof off with your friends, hide in a secret corner and make out with your boy/girlfriend or bully that little kid in 1st grade that no one likes anyway.
I have seen it with my own eyes.
Walking around the junior high at cleaning time is like entering a very crowded playground full of hyperactive kids, who have missed out on their daily Ritalin and found a secret stash of Mars bars near the swing set. “Chaos” doesn’t describe it. The desks in each class are pushed to the back of the classroom and the kids that aren’t throwing the contents of their book bags at their friends, are trying to sweep the floor. There is a pre-appointed group of kids from each class that go outside and halfheartedly sweep the grounds. Pairs take care of the toilets, the nurse’s room and the teacher’s room. All the garbage bins are emptied, all the window ledges are wiped down and every single student is meant to take part.
I have learned that there are many games you can play during cleaning time. One of the most popular tricks seems to be wiping your friend’s face with a dirty washcloth, perhaps one that you have been using to dust the windows or better yet, the floor. Sparring with broomsticks is much more limited as a popular activity since there are fewer brooms to go around. However, if you are lucky to find yourself in possession of a broom, you can practice your latest Kendo tricks on your classmates. Then there are the usual gags of emptying the contents of your dustbin down the shirt of that pretty girl in the front of the class whose attention your have been trying to get all term or throwing someone’s shoe in the toilet.
Most students just take their time at whatever their cleaning duty seems to be for that day, only speeding up when a teacher is spotted nearby or in the last couple minutes of cleaning time. As well as being the prime time to vent all that pent up energy, this is also a perfect opportunity to flirt with students from other classes, try to strike up a conversation with that weird foreign, English teacher or catch up on the latest gossip. Despite that apparent lack of organization and seriousness, the schools that I work at do seem to be impeccably clean.