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Volume 7

May 2011

scientia   IZ mundus

Number 1

The Japanese Art of Soji Contrasted With Western Unwillingness

Martin Novotny

Soji is the traditional way of cleaning temples and schools in Japan. It is a task they perform in order to learn life responsibility, and to show appreciation, care, pride and respect for the facilities they have the privilege of using. There is a huge cultural difference between Japan and us on this. There is a humourous video on the internet called, "Time of the Soji" (to the tune of "Eye of the Tiger"), where uniformed Japanese school children meticulously clean and polish their school with brooms and rags, sometimes in a synchronized swimming kind of way. This is a shocker to watch, especially if you've ever spent any time as an adult in local public schools. We have janitors sweep the halls several times each day, just to keep up with the fallout of scattered garbage and food. And just when you feel disillusioned with our messy youth, you only need to attend a fast-food restaurant or an event with adults to see the same disastrous aftermath of their presence. It seems that most people feel it is their constitutional right to leave a mess trailing behind them, whereas the Japanese feel it is their duty to keep everything looking nice for the greater good of everyone's enjoyment. The learning connection is straight forward: you are less likely to make a mess if you have to clean it. Doing this from a young age ingrains it into adults, and a clean culture is maintained. It is perhaps one of the most simple, direct, cause & effect, educational techniques available, with a bonus savings on maintenance costs. Soji has the power to change a culture; how we treat our environment and each other. But currently, "Garbage duty" is only reserved for punishment, not enrichment. And if we tried to implement soji in our schools, the masses would inevitably rebel from all sides... Students would skip Soji Time, or stand around doing nothing unless eyes were on them, and then argue the necessity of each move; Parents would write letters of outrage that this is not educational, unless we are training them all to be janitors, and that their little prince/princess is too good for such work; Teachers would grieve that this is CUPE's job, and that they didn't go to university to manage an inept janitorial chain gang; CUPE would grieve that students are taking away their jobs; and if all that failed, surely the rocks would cry out in defense of child labour. We are simply an environmentally insensitive culture, reinforced and dis-abled from the roots up. Even the Karate Kid had trouble with waxing the car and painting the fence... and he was working with a master.

To practice Japanese style soji in North America, you will have to go to a dojo that still performs soji. You can also practice this at home, and you will find that the more organized and tidy your home is, the more clear and uncluttered your mind will be. The same at work: it is often said that the contents of a person's desk reveals the contents of their mind. External mess = internal mess. Maintain your space and you will find you have a much clearer mind to work, play, and train.

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