How is Tokyo too clean to be true?
What drives the social psychology and the overarching civic discipline here? How is Tokyo breathing devoid of those dirty dust bins or the layers of litter on the streets? How can a city survive without those monster posters, or the hoardings from the hell or the garish graffiti? !? These questions were hovering in my mind ever since I landed here last month. Little did I know that the invitation from JASSO in my hand would answer these in a few days.
The invite simply read, “invitation to three events: (1) cooking together (2) play Origami and (3) year-end night patrol of Komaba community.” From these three, I preferred the Origami exposure over the winter winds of the latter, or the smelly jelly fish of the former.
The “year-end season party” as it was called, was organized in the indoor basket ball court in the basement at a primary school half a mile away, and the members of the international community in Komaba were also invited. I could not find my name in the guest list, probably because I registered late, but it did not matter any way.
I was asked to take my shoes off and keep them in a plastic bag and drop them in a color coded basket at the corner, along with my jacket. The kindergarteners were already dancing, waving pom-poms up and down rhythmically to “I want you, I need you.” The song was in English! The teachers and the audience sat on the floor merrily cheering and clapping. Little preschoolers in the front restlessly stretched and moved left and right. Nobody bothered. The audience looked like the members of the UN General Assembly in Japan!
A monkey picture- story book reading and a musical magic show followed the dance. I enjoyed the music. Through the fun and frolic of children though, I could only figure out if 'the monkey lived happily ever after or not!' I was only wondering whether the Origami session was over even before I arrived?
It was an international quiz that set the spirit of the event rolling. In small groups of ten, we all squatted around low tables. About four children were in each group, with a few parents and siblings as well. All foreigners posed simple questions about their home lands, and the groups roared or jeered the respondents as they answered, flagging the small green or red placards. It was fun.
I was at peace when the teachers distributed art paper squares and instruction sheets to all of us. I folded the paper left, right, inside out and what not, following the instructor. The red paper is now transformed into a beautiful snack basket. Soon the snacks arrived too.
It was a potpourri of fruit, juice, tea, cake and crackers. The children filled everybody’s basket on the table, first giving a wet-tissue to clean the hands. They waited without nibbling the cake or the cracker till everybody is served and the instructor gave a nod after thanking all of us. I could not see a wee bit of restlessness even in small kids. Kids slowly un-wrapped the packs and ate leisurely, talking to us. There was no mess of spilt liquids from the small two ounce cups, or of dropped food on the table. We ate for ten minutes. What followed thereafter was indeed eye opening!
A few kids picked the fruit peels from the plastic wraps and dropped them separately in the two card-board boxes lined with garbage covers placed in the center of the room, while the rest placed the juice packs in the cartons. We just helped them do these. Soon after the tables were wiped clean, although it did not seem necessary. Everything happened to such infectious exactness. Then we settled for a brief valedictory address of the principal. The silence was reverential.
No sooner, the action began again. This time, the volunteers brought the baskets with the shoes and jackets close to our tables so as to avoid stampede at the entrance. After putting on our jackets quietly, we joyfully left the tatomi-floor of the hall with shoe- bags in one hand and waving Sayanora with the other. It didn't take too long for me to see the seeds of civic discipline in Tokyo: the primary schools and the mothers’ laps.