At schools in Japan, parents can go visit the classrooms several times a year. Teachers and students do what they do in class as usual, while parents line up in front of bulletin boards pasted with posters and observe the class quietly. One time, I noticed that there were two towels clipped with clothespins under my child’s desk, just like the way we hang clothes at home.

After my son came home from school, I curiously asked him what the two pieces of cloth were for. My son answered, “They are for cleaning the classroom.”

“But why do you need two pieces?”

“Because you can take turns using them. If one gets wet, you can use the dry one.”

“Can you be lazy and not clean?” I asked jokingly.

His face turned serious, “Of course not! First, you clean your own seat, and then the aisle next to you. After that, the teacher will come to check. The teacher will know immediately if it’s not clean enough!”

Photo Credit: Ishikawa Kenflickr, CC BY SA 2.0

Photo Credit: Ishikawa Kenflickr, CC BY SA 2.0

A couple of days later, it came to me that the white shoes my son wears to school (they are called uwabaki, meaning gym shoes in Japanese) have not been washed for several weeks. I asked my son to bring them back or they will be too dirty and start to stink.

He said, “I already washed them.”

“You did? It’s a pair of shoes, not a towel or something. How did you do it?”

“The teachers took the whole class to the yard where we washed the shoes and dried them. ”

“Did you use any soap or laundry detergent?”

“We did. It is only acceptable if you scrub the shoes with a brush first and rinsed all the bubbles away. Then you wring out the shoes and squeeze them dry to hang them up.”

I must have had a suspicious look on my face.

“Don’t worry, I washed them clean enough. They’re gonna smell good.”

He looked satisfied as if he had done the most brilliant thing in the world.

People say that the Japanese schools focus more on self-management than academic performance. There is no homework in preschool. The children only need to sing, dance, listen to stories, draw and do arts and crafts at school.

Starting from the youngest class, children have to learn how to change their clothes after exercising. They also need to know how to tie shoelaces, button up buttons, eat with chopsticks and sweep the floor before and after a meal. Older kids need to learn how to use knives and forks to eat or how to brew coffee under the teacher’s companion. Parents are also asked to only prepare rice for their kids.

What our kids learn in these three years of preschool may sound trivial to a grown-up, but are common abilities that can last for a lifetime. After kids enter elementary school, the training of self-management still goes on and just gets a little bit more difficult.

All of my friends’ hire someone to help with the chores. Sometimes I envy them because they can go on a date any time and also because someone can do the chores, go to the market, prepare dinner and pick up the children.

My Japanese husband doesn’t mind at all.

He says, “My mother raised my brother and me while working a full-time job. Why is there a need to hire a housekeeper?”

But it’s really exhausting to work starting from five in the morning, preparing lunchboxes for kids, picking them up, going to the market and doing the chores and going to my part-time job.

“You are a mother. Shouldn’t you train your kids to take care of themselves and ask them to pick up their toys and clean up? Japanese mothers don’t hire housekeepers like Hong Kong families.”

I have been thinking about this for quite a while. Is it simply a culture difference thing or my lack of ability?

Is Hong Kong a place where people tent to delegate house chores? (I know life in Hong Kong is too overwhelming. Parents need to go to work and sometimes just need to ask someone to help out.) Are we too protective of our children? Do we believe our kids have the ability to take care of themselves? Are we too impatient and shout, “Hurry up! Don’t dawdle. I’ll do it,” when our children are trying to put on shoes and clothes? Is it because we think it wastes too much time so that we always clean up the scattered toys and books for our children?

Housekeeping is never a small thing. There are many details and is the responsibility of each family member. When will the children develop this sense of responsibility?

The answer lies in daily routines; putting shoes back in the closet after taking them off or cleaning up after playing with toys. Keeping a house tidy and clean is the first job you need to undertake as a family member.

The older your children get, the more responsibility they have. If your children don’t need their parents to worry after they moving out and are able to take good care of their own kids and undertake the responsibility of a whole family, then your family education was successful.

The author of this article has authorized publication. The original text was published on the author’s blog.

Translated by June
Edited by Olivia Yang