When you live in the same country your whole life, it’s easy to think of things as “normal” simply because that’s the way things have always been done. One of the best ways to disabuse yourself of this idea is to live in another country for a while, because very quickly, you start to see things that you thought you took for granted – or never thought about because they never occurred to you that they could be. Different – are in fact cultural norms that do not exist everywhere.
An American teacher living in Japan provides an excellent example of how different countries’ standards contrast sharply.
On her TikTok channel, @hito.bito, the teacher shared a video titled “Things About My Japanese School That Could Put Americans Into a Coma,” and the differences she described were astonishing.
“We all have to change from outdoor shoes to indoor shoes as soon as we get into school,” she begins, “and no, I’ve never seen any love letters or confessions in the shoe closets.” She shows herself wearing comfy slippers after entering school, which is definitely a good way to keep the floors clean.
This is not to say that cleanliness is an issue for schools in Japan, as students – not janitors, but students – clean the entire school every day.
“You only know cleanliness when you go to a Japanese school because these kids clean the school from top to bottom every day,” she said.
People familiar with the Montessori approach to education are familiar with the idea, but it is not standard practice for most public schools in the United States at all. Maybe it should be?
The other difference she pointed out is that lunch is served to the children, or rather they serve themselves. This is usually some type of rice, vegetables, and protein, all of which sound delicious.
Of course, not every difference is positive.
“Now, what sends me into an absolute spiral almost daily is that they leave the windows open and there is no heating or cooling in the hall, so I have to walk around with a coat on,” she said. This practice likely has more to do with the coronavirus and air circulation than a cultural norm (I’ve lived in Japan for 20 years and don’t remember this being a regular practice), but even taking proactive steps to keep the air clean is a long shot. Of schools here, even in the age of Covid.
She also shared some hair, makeup, and piercing rules that are much stricter than most schools in the US (I mentioned in a later video that the reason for the low ponytail rule is because the law requires kids to wear helmets when riding bikes and most Japanese kids bike to school, so The hairstyle base allows for safe helmet use.)
People in the comments liked certain parts of Japanese school protocol, but others didn’t like it as much. There is a consensus that cleaning habits are great, with almost everyone feeling that American children should clean their schools, too. Changing shoes was also a popular idea. Several Canadian commentators said they do it in the north as well.
But the hair, makeup and piercings people didn’t like very much. Americans value our individuality and freedom to express ourselves. That is the unwavering standard here.
We all have things we can learn from each other, and when we share our customs and norms, we can sometimes find ways to improve or enrich our culture. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to make school cleanup for kids happen in the United States…
(tags for translation) River Discoveries