My son goes to a Japanese school and they have a swimming class every week. A couple days ago, I received a strange notice from the school saying, “fully clothed swimming.” It requested parents to prepare an everyday outfit for their children, complete with socks and shoes. The students would go into the water fully clothed that day.
As a mother, my direct response was, “Why go through so much trouble? Normal clothes get so heavy when they’re wet and take forever to dry.”
The note seemed to predict my reaction as a Hong Kongese mother and went on to say, “Aside from exercise, it is also important to know how to survive on the sea. Hong Kong is surrounded by water, so people go to the beach or go swimming all the time. This increases the possibility of drowning. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology states in its curriculum guidelines, “the need to teach students how to react when sinking fully clothed…”
I felt a deep respect for the Japanese after reading this. You can’t help but admire the vigilant precautions they take against disasters. Having only gone through fire drills at school in Hong Kong, it was hard for me to imagine training children in school to survive calamities starting from kindergarten.
Other than earthquake and fire drills, Japanese schools also have drills to prevent accidents at sea. If possible, the schools put the students in real-life environments so they learn how to react when accidents occur. The fully clothed swimming class is an example. It is meant to let students understand the difference between falling into the water in everyday clothes and swimsuits. If a child is caught in similar situations, he or she will at least have an idea how to react.
But not every disaster can be reproduced. For example, how do you recreate earthquakes? It turns out Japanese children have a chant they need to memorize since kindergarten called, Okashi (お、か、し), which means snacks in Chinese and is easy to remember. Each character represents three must-follow regulations:
1. No pushing おさない（Osanai）
2. No running かけない（Kakenai）
3. No talking しゃべらない（Shaberanai）
The immediate reaction when a disaster is upon us is panic. Shoveling each other to escape will only delay the process or even lead to human stampedes. The atmosphere will be even more alarming if people start screaming hysterically. Everyone talking about how to escape will only cause miscommunication and result in not being able to flee in an orderly manner. So the Japanese came up with the “snack chant”; no pushing, running or talking. This way the crowd can quietly listen to instructions and escape quickly with order.
As the children grow up, the schools will include extra escape steps, such as putting on head scarves, hiding under tables and holding tightly on to the table legs. The students that sit closest to windows need to open them while the ones who sit next to doors have to open those. They have been trained to the point they instantly know how to act and don’t have to wait for the teacher to tell them what to do.
The students do everything quickly and immediately hide under the tables and wait for the teacher’s instruction. No one will make a sound. When the teacher tells them to leave, the students will automatically stoop down and calmly move towards shelter.
Japan is a country with many natural disasters. The whole country is prepared for the damages the next massive earthquake might bring. After the Tohuku earthquake, we saw the Japanese lining up neatly to pick up food and water, and not fighting over supplies. Trains were suspended but the Japanese waited quietly and even sat on the ground to rest while waiting for the trains to start running again. They didn’t interrogate railroad employees or punch people out of anger.
We were all shocked; the Japanese are unbelievable in the way they face disasters quietly, calmly, patiently and efficiently. This is probably the success of their education.
The author of this article has authorized publication. The original text was published on the author’s blog.
Translated by Olivia Yang