Why do yobs spontaneously greet you with a smile and wash toilets while they are in a miraculous local driving school in Japan?

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Sep 23, 2012 21:57
It's pity that these days many young Japanese people cannot greet others very well. Some of them can't even say hello to their colleagues, let alone strangers.

However, there seems to be a miraculous driving school in the moutains of Shimane prefecture (the least populated prefecture) in Japan. The Masuda driving school been successfully attracting a good number of students for more than 10 years while other schools are struggling hard to survive the reduction of the young population and the even steeper decline in youngster's interest towards cars and driving. More importantly, it seems that any student in the residential school changes his/her mind and start spontaneously greeting anyone out loud with a smile. A writer reported that he was very impressive that every single student he saw there, including apparently dangerous-looking one, greeted him with a good 'hello' at a single glance of him, which you cannot expect to see anywhere else in Japan perhaps.

On average the students stay there only for 20 days. Most of the students are teenagers, including 'bad' boys, such as those with blond-dyed hairs and 'Yankees' — in Japanese slung, 'Yankees' ヤンキー refers to yobs —, some of them even voluntarily clean the toilets in the school. The same report tells that in evening there is always a queue of enthusiastic students who want to register themselves to get up at 6 o'clock and clean the toilets in the next morning. The cleaning is so popular among the students that, as soon as the booking starts, it becomes full. When they clean the inside of the toilets, they don't use a brush with a long shaft or wear gloves; they use sponges with their bare hands.

However, the school never tells the students that they should greet with others or clean the toilets. It's all spontaneous. Simply, there is a special atmosphere in the school, which lets the students greet others and clean the toilets.

So what the hell is happening to them in the school? In fact, there is a secret which made it happen. Guess what?

The answer is that the founder of the school hired a number foreign employees for more than ten years solely to establish the custom of greeting in the school. The effect was phenomenal. Although it's been already years since they left the school, the culture of greeting still remains there. About 30 minutes after your arrival at the school, you'll find yourself greeting to others out loud. That was in fact what happened to the reporter himself.

With regard to the cleaning of the toilets, a member of the staff of the school says that it'll be a lot more cheaper and quicker if they hire professional cleaners or do it by themselves. They let the students clean the toilets only because they think it is a good experience for the youngsters.

The following is a conversation between the reporter and the founder of the school Mr Jiro Ogawa.


Mr Yamaguchi (the reporter): Good morning. Thank you very much for sparing your precious time for this interview. First of all, I would like to ask you about the mystery of the Masuda driving school.
Why on earth can those modern youngsters soon start greeting others when they arrive at this school, even though you don't have a special lecture about greeting or force them to do it?

Mr Ogawa (the founder of the school): Well, why do you think they can? I would like to ask you, actually. Some students only arrived her today and others joined us two or three days ago. They only stay here for 15-16 days, anyway. If they can easily start greeting, why can't ordinary schools achieve the same? What do you think?

Mr Yamaguchi: Well, it is probably something like "the atmosphere of the place." They want to do decent greetings at heart. But the atmospheres of their schools and work places don't allow them to do it. If they suddenly say, "Good morning!" others will find them weird. There is no such a limitation in this school, so they can do greetings as loud as they want. I think it's something like that.

Mr Ogawa: That could be the case. Greeting and cleaning are comfortable things to do by nature. Therefore, we have to set an atmosphere which lets people do such things just in a natural way. It was already 50 years ago, but when I was working in Tokyo, I lived in a hotel. It was Shinbashi Daiichi Hotel. At that time, guests in hotels were mostly foreigners. Every morning when I used a lift, those foreign guests casually said to me, "Good morning." So, I replied to them, "Good morning."

However, when another Japanese person came into the lift, it doesn't work like that. They hesitated, flashed, and eventually turned to the wall. It was awkward. I saw this happen so many times that I realized the severity of the matter. People often say that Japanese people are polite, but in fact they can't even do a greeting. That's why I wanted the staff and students in my school to do a decent greeting.

Mr Yamaguchi: Right. Do you think the greeting and cleaning are sustainable? When they go back to their home town, do they continue to the greeting and cleaning?

Mr Ogawa: No, I'm not hoping that they can continue at all. If they can't keep the greeting or cleaning, that is nothing to do with me. If they have such a experience only once in their whole lives, I think that's still wonderful.

Most of our students are between 18 to 20. They will live another 50 years from now. If during the rest of their lives they recollect, "Oh, I did nice greetings and cleaning in that school," that'll be great. If they think a bit about doing it again, that's enough for me.

Mr Yamaguchi: So, you don't think they have to keep doing them at home with an effort.

Mr Ogawa: That's right. If they can continue, of course, that'll be good. But it's difficult. Having this kind of experience would help them later in their lives, I believe.

Mr Yamaguchi: Wow, that's quite a macroscopic view.

Mr Ogawa: While I'm alive, it doesn't matter. After I die, if it goes well, that's the best. (laughter)

Mr Yamaguchi: By the way, the atmosphere of your school is really cool. I think the local people in this area have a good custom of greetings? I got up early in the morning and ran along RIver Takatsu. All elderly women I passed through greeted me politely and even bowed. They say like, "Hi, young man. You're great. You're running as early as this time of the day." I was pleased too. Naturally, I took my cap off, and bowed back to them.

Mr Ogawa: People used to greet others very well. They do greet even apparent outsides or strangers, like you. It is not the matter of areas. People used to do it well. Youngsters can't do a proper greeting because of the modern education system.

Mr Yamaguchi: The modern education system? Do you mean the education system after WWII?

Mr Ogawa: That's right. The post-war education system. I think it became worse, especially since Ministry of Labor (労働省) was launched ... er, it's now called Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (厚生労働省). After that, in schools or companies, people started to measure the amount of work in terms of working ours rather than quality of output.

Mr Yamagshi: Oh, yes, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, of course. Then, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (文部科学省) and Japan Teachers' Union (日教組) joined up and....

Mr I (Editor): Wait a moment, Mr Yamaguchi. Don't be ridiculous. Driving schools has nothing to do with Japan Teachers' Union at all.

Mr Yamaguchi: What's ridiculous? When it comes to the post-war education system, we can't ignore the issue of Japan Teachers' Union. Don't raise the Japanese national flags in schools. Don't sing the national anthem in schools. You can't find any other country doing such things than Japan.

Mr I: Well, I'll listen to your opinion later. So please stop here...


I see this success in the drive school as an example of how we can fight against otherwise formidable 'collective consciousness,' i.e. a cultural mindset which is shared by the majority of people in an area.

The key idea here is that you need a few people who take something absolutely for granted. In this example, the foreign employees hired by the school took granted for greetings, because their culture takes it for granted. So much so that, Japanese people in the school started thinking that greeting was a natural thing for them to do as well. They started doing it. Soon, they took the new custom of the greetings for granted. Afterwards, the new custom survived on its own even after the original foreign employees left, as if it were a life form.

Yes, you call it 'meme' if you like.

The official web site of Masuda driving school.

The links below are the sources of this information including the conversation I translated.


金髪さん、ヤンキー君もみんな挨拶してく れる 自動車学校でココロも便所も磨きました


挨拶する若者はなぜ育つ(その2) 人生放談合戦に突入する名物会長とF氏