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World Cup 2018: Why Japanese fans have been cleaning up their rubbish in the stadiums

by Gary Reading, Jun 2018

After the excitement of winning their World Cup opening match against Colombia, Japan’s fans decided to do a good deed before filing out of the stadium in Saransk, Russia. The fans cleaned up the rubbish that had been left on rows and seats at the Mordovia Arena, filling rubbish bags they had brought themselves. But this was no victory dance. It relates to Japanese people’s culture.

Respect learned from young age The habit of cleaning up is linked to respect, which is something Japanese people are taught from a young age, according to sociology experts. “From an early age, Japanese people are taught that respect for others is key to the social contract: living together is about gratitude and recognition of others,” says Nick Prior, a professor of Cultural Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. “Primary school children, for instance, are expected to clean their own classrooms at the end of the day. There’s even a proverb – ‘tatsu tori ato wo nigosazu’ – which is ‘to keep things clean means we treat them with gratitude and respect’.”

Important for society Prof Prior says being respectful is “essential to the smooth running of Japanese society”. “It the mechanism by which social order is made possible.” He points to the low crime rates in Tokyo, where he has been based over the last two years. “You can leave your laptop, wallet, mobile phone on a desk at a cafe for as long as you like and they will still be there when you return. And if you lose your wallet on the street, the most likely outcome is that you’ll find it at the local police box.”

Caring nature

Prof Prior says the focus on respect relates to a caring environment, including for non-human things. “The gentle attention to the detail of craft and design [from kimono and origami to sushi and bonsai] is about nurturing and caring for things,” he adds. The Japanese fans have been praised for their good deeds. One person said it was “impressive” and a “class act”.