Even if you aren’t a fan of American Soccer or “Football”, as the rest of the world calls it, I am pretty sure that you heard about the Japanese cleaning the stadium after their match. After the Japanese defeated Germany, their fans spent hours cleaning up the stadium. I’m pretty sure they left it cleaner than they found it. The world was SHOCKED. Videos and pictures went viral. Why would a group of Japanese fans stick around to clean a stadium? I think it’s because they are just used to going above and beyond. They don’t just clean up their own old, used soda cups. They clean up everyone else’s too.
When I saw the posts on social media, I was neither shocked nor surprised. The Japanese are known for leaving things better than they found it. They would say “atarimae,” which is “of course.” Why of course it is just something that they do. They are taught as kids to clean up after themselves. While cleaning up after themselves, they are likely to clean other spaces too.
It carries over to all of their public spaces. As annoyed as I get that there are no public trashcans around here, I get it. In the Japanese culture it is expected that you will take your trash home and dispose of it yourself. They don’t get annoyed that they have to dispose of their own trash. Atarimae – Of course you have to take your own trash home to get rid of it. Public bathrooms are cleaner here than in some people’s homes. When I say clean, I mean spotless! Whether you go to a restroom at a convenient store, a park, or a mall, you can expect it to be as clean as your restroom at home.
One of my favorite things to witness is when I see the old people cleaning the streets here. We live on Okinawa, which proportionally has the oldest population on earth, so old is legitimately old, and these old people sweep the streets almost every morning. I run the same routes every day, and every day, I see the same old ladies and old men with their brooms out cleaning the streets. I used to think: “because the architecture isn’t beautiful, they try to keep everything else beautiful and clean.” Now, I know that one thing has nothing to do with the other. The architecture isn’t beautiful because it’s not meant to be beautiful; it is meant to be functional. It has been designed to withstand typhoons. The street cleaning happens because atarimae – that is just what they do. They sweep the streets in front of their homes, and their neighbors do the same, because the expectation is that they keep things clean and better than they found it.
What they think is atarimae, I think is above and beyond. It is impressive and admirable.
Their cleaning isn’t the only thing that makes me think that they go above and beyond. I think their gift-giving is in the same vein. Their gifts come in one of two forms. Either the wrapping and presentation is immaculate and perfect, or the gift itself is substantial.
Last week was Thanksgiving, and we had a TON of food left over. While we were hanging out eating turkey and dressing, next door, a Japanese worker was cleaning and repairing a rent house. Nick made him a plate. We didn’t think twice about it. We had a lot of extra food, and it was a natural thing to do. We thought that he may be hungry, and he may be interested in what we were doing. (When we have larger gatherings, more than two people, we set the tables up on the street and enjoy our guests and the ocean views. Our home is tiny. We don’t have another option.) Nick gave him the plate, and we kept eating, drinking, and chatting.
Our modest Thanksgiving street-side set up
A few days later, the worker showed up at the door with a bag full of treats. I was so confused. I thanked him, and he pulled out his google translate. It said, “thank you for the food. It was delicious.” Once again, I was confused. “Why is he giving me a BIG bag of treats?” I think he could see the confusion on my face, so he pulled up a picture of the plate of food that Nick had given him. With a big smile on his face, he rubbed his belly. I smiled and bowed and thanked him for the treats. He said good-bye, and he went next door back to work.
When I closed the door, I looked through the bag. The first thing I thought was, “these treats aren’t cheap. If this gentleman makes a living cleaning and repairing houses, then he probably doesn’t have a lot of disposable income.” Yet, he took the time and spent the money to buy us Japanese snacks. Once again, it was above and beyond what we expected. Truth-be-told, we didn’t expect anything at all. Back in the US, we make plates for everyone. We give food away without thinking twice. It never occurred to us that we would get such a generous gift. Once again, ABOVE and BEYOND.
There are so many challenging things about living over-seas. There are so many wonderful things about living over-seas. I think one of the most special things is that I have been introduced to a society that takes pride in cleanliness. The people who work at the convenient stores immaculately clean the bathrooms because it is just what you do. I also love that they go above and beyond with the gift-giving. It makes me think that I could do better in that department too.
The next time you see someone else’s trash on the street, consider picking it up and disposing of it. Leave the street better than you found it.
The next time someone does something that isn’t that big of a deal – like hands you a plate of food – figure out a way to show gratitude.
Now, I am not saying that we all have to go above and beyond all the time, but I think we can take a lesson from them, and maybe by doing so, we help make the world a little better than we found it.