Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.


Friday, 23 April 2010


Some things about Japanese schools are so adorable I feel like I`ll explode if I don`t tell everybody about them immediately.

Unlike in the West - where religion is displayed loudly and proudly in big buildings and big songs and big books but never really seen anywhere (unless you count wars) – Shintoism makes itself known in every day Japanese life; it is so built into the fabric of the culture here that you can`t pull them apart, like chewing gum on expensive carpet. Cleanliness, one of the key principles, is woven into daily habits; it`s in the absolute refusal to wear outdoor shoes indoors (they think Westerners might as well live in barns, as we traipse our mud into and out of our houses and restaurants), it`s in the firmly established and ancient Onsen (public bathing) tradition, it`s in the ritual hand cloths before eating and it`s even built into the language; Kirei means both beautiful and clean, and therefore doesn`t make the distinction that we do in England (Kate Moss is not that popular here). Harmony and respect are also present everywhere; from the bows that small children give of old ladies in the supermarket, to the identical uniforms in their schools, to the symmetry of their gardens and architecture.

This dedication to cleanliness and harmony extends to the school rituals, too – along with a big dollop of cuteness - and today I watched in delight as 300 children simultaneously brushed their teeth to the special “teeth brushing” song (a rather perky lady announcing over jaunty classical music “now brush your top right! And now your top left! Now make sure you do the back of the teeth! That`s right – keep going!”) and then spit into the sinks in unison.

Then, when they were thoroughly scrubbed, they all got brooms and wet clothes and dry clothes out, divided into small groups and scrubbed the school from top to bottom: to – and this is the best bit – an instrumental selection of Western songs, including The Street Where you Live, My Way and Hey Jude. I spent quite a few minutes trying to work out if there was any particular relevance in these songs, but in the end I decided they were purely motivational; and the children did, indeed, clean it their way (and stared at me because I joined in with all the na-na-na-nas even though there weren`t any).

I couldn`t stop laughing; I looked at these little children, diligently brushing and sweeping and scrubbing, and I tried to imagine what would happen if they had tried to initiate any of these routines into the school I went to when I was their age. For one thing, cleaning your teeth – in England – is a) a highly personal thing to do, and the sign of a serious relationship when you finally do it in front of your partner and b) done with as little enthusiasm as possible, which is probably why all of our teeth are falling out. I can only imagine the chaos that would have occurred if they had tried to get us all to sit at our desks and brush out teeth to the sound of a specifically assigned tune. For another thing, if anybody had so much as suggested – tentatively – that we should even touch a broom (let alone scrub on our hands and knees), we British children would try and sue them. “I am not a bloody slave,” I remember one boy in my class telling the headmaster, because he was ordered to pick his maths book up from where he had lobbed it. It would be an affront to our personal liberties to be abnoxious and filthy brats.

I`m not quite there yet; not quite able to join in with the harmony and cleanliness as I would like. I wasn`t brought up in this culture, after all: I was brought up in a culture where messiness usually represents creativity (just how many people in the UK, I wonder, have A CLEAN HOUSE MEANS AN EMPTY MIND signs pinned outside our filth?). I`m happy to get naked in front of adults, and I`m happy to bow, but I`m still not at the stage where I can comfortably brush my teeth in front of 30 fourteen year olds, no matter how serious the relationship is (I get toothpaste all round my mouth and it usually ends up on the desk).

But I`m going to work on it. It must be all sinking in, somehow - little by little - because my house isn`t nearly as disgusting as it used to be, and I`m a lot more enthusiastic about personal hygiene. Not to mention a whole lot happier cleaning, as long as I`ve got something instrumental to na-na-na to.

I just need to do it my way.