I have been informed by a friend that La Nación, Costa Rica’s second most important newspaper, has put a link to a Japanese video on how to get a kid ready for school in five minutes. Within that time the child gets up, eats breakfast, washes his face, brushes his teeth, gets dressed and has his lunchbox prepared by his mom. Although the clip comes from a variety show, it reflects something that is common both in serious and not so serious TV programs: how to carry out ordinary, everyday tasks in a more efficient manner.
The first thing that some people might notice and comment on is that the kid had no shower/bath after waking up. That is so because Japanese usually bathe at night before going to bed. The reasons for this custom range from the religious to the (nowadays) practical. From a practical standpoint, one never knows what the knew day will bring, so it is better to be ready for whatever may come. The religious importance of bathing can be found both in shintoism and Japan’s “branches” of Mahayana Buddhism. Cleanliness is of utmost importance and one should bathe so as not keep in the house the impurities one brings from the outside. Bathing at night is also an important family activity; it is common for families with small children to bathe together if the bathtub’s size allows it.
Getting back to this post’s subject, Japanese always seek more efficient ways of doing things. It all starts at home and at early ages. In the 1950s, during a housing construction boom led by the government, there was a moment when the kitchen was designed differently from what had been the traditional until then. The designers presented their idea to a very famous chef at the time, but she hated the new design. What was the solution? Several apartments were built, some with a traditional kitchen and some with the new design. They had some families move in and records were made of how many paces and time it took a mother to prepare meals, especially in the morning. They established that the new design was indeed better since housewives had to move less and spent less time preparing breakfast and packing lunchboxes. The chef was satisfied with the results and whole-heartedly supported a campaign encouraging people to embrace the new way of doing things.
The sense of order is also learned at an early age. Sometimes it is so subtle one does not notice it until some circumstance draws your attention to it. During our las visit to Costa Rica, one day when my daughter and I were visiting a shopping mall (Multiplaza) she noticed the children’s playground and wanted to play. While we were there more and more children showed up. While my daughter always lined up, most of the other kids simply pushed and shoved their way in to use the slide, causing her to lose her turn often. She came to me several times to ask why the other kids were impolite and unwilling to line up. Because I did not have an easy, quick answer, I kept telling her not to worry and to enjoy herself whenever she could use the slide.
As it happens, some boy who was bigger than my kid and the other children turned up. He made it his business to enjoy the playground all to himself, getting on the way of the smaller kids and daring them to get him out of the way. At that point my frustrated daughter came to me, with a teary eye, to ask why the big boy was such a bully even though his dad and why his father did nothing to correct him. I had no choice but to tell her that some parents cannot teach manners to their offspring because it is impossible to teach what you don’t know; I also told her that in such cases one cannot blame a child for misbehaving.
The boy’s father, who got to hear me (that was my intention), approached me to tell me that he belongs to the “new breed of Costa Ricans” who understand that we live in the age of globalization and that kids must be taught that in this world only the strongest survive. I answered that maybe the smartest and most educated might survive, but not bullies and bloodsuckers. The man decided to showcase his linguistic prowess, blurting “shut the hell up motherfu@#$r, don’t be a smart ass or I’ll bust your head open right here, even in front of your snotty kid.” I was about to respond that getting my head busted was not a priority for me during my vacation, but before I could utter a word several mothers intervened. Not only did they chastise the man for his turpitude, but they also pointed out that I had treated him respectfully. The man blurted out “busybody hags” and left.
After thanking them for their support, I noticed the mothers had began to emphasize to their children that they should queue and wait for their turn, sometimes successfully, sometimes not quite so much. Regardless, the end result was that my kid could play in peace for a while and that we had a chance to talk later about the importance of defending oneself respectfully and using one’s head.