Cheer, sing, clean up: Japan takes out the trash and the others get the clue

Cheer, sing, clean up: Japan takes out the trash and the others get the clue

AL RAYYAN, Qatar — The final whistle sounded on Sunday afternoon, and Japanese fans who had just spent hours bouncing around in the scorching midday sun allowed themselves a moment to wallow in the disappointment of defeat 1 -0 of their team against Costa Rica.

But the moment quickly passed and the blue garbage bags came out.

In a return to a post-match ritual that sparks widespread amazement at this year’s World Cup, a group of Japanese spectators, who moments earlier were deliriously chanting for their team, began cleaning up meticulously the stands of the Ahmed bin Ali stadium, choosing rubbish strewn on the rows of seats around them.

It didn’t matter what it was – half-empty soda bottles, orange peel, dirty towels – or who had forgotten it. Fans made their way through the aisles tossing the litter into bags before handing them over to smiling – and clearly delighted – stadium workers as they exited.

“It’s a sign of respect for a venue,” said Tokyo fan Eiji Hattori, 32, who had a bag of bottles, ticket stubs and other stadium trash. “This place is not ours, so we should clean up if we use it. And even though it’s not our garbage, it’s still dirty, so we should clean it up.

The image of spectators calmly taking on janitorial duties during the World Cup has charmed watchers in other countries, like the United States, where weaving around spills of sticky sodas, spilled bags of popcorn and mini mountains of peanut shells is often accepted as part of normal sports. stadium experience.

But in Japan, cleanliness, especially in public spaces, is widely accepted as a virtue. Japanese at the game said these habits are taught at home and reinforced in schools, where students from an early age are expected to regularly clean their classrooms and school facilities.

Cleaning shared areas, like stadiums, becomes an individual responsibility, and there often aren’t armies of hired workers to do it.

“For the Japanese, it’s just a normal thing to do,” said Hajime Moriyasu, the Japanese team’s coach. “When you leave a place, you have to make it cleaner than it was before.”

Videos and photos of the Japanese cleaning sessions have gone viral on social networks. But it’s not just the fans who share them: FIFA last week released a photo of the Japanese team’s dressing room after their huge victory against Germany. The room was – you guessed it – flawless.

Fans of other teams, inspired by the Japanese, started cleaning up after games too.

“We think we can make this contagious,” said Tomomi Kishikawa, 28, a fan from Tokyo who currently works as a flight attendant based in Doha. “We don’t need to push anyone to clean up. But if we start, maybe we can be a good example of respect.

For Japanese fans, the sudden global spotlight and outpouring of appreciation was met with a mixture of pride, amusement and embarrassment.

Many have shone in positive portrayals of the country’s culture. Some don’t know what it is. And others felt pangs of unease, wondering if this was yet another instance of a specific behavior being presented as representative of the entire Japanese population.

Several fans at the stadium on Sunday, for example, tried to clarify one thing that may have been confused in all the viral posts and media coverage: while most Japanese people are aware of throwing their own trash, only a small group fans at this World Cup were walking around picking up other people’s trash.

The Japan Football Association distributed hundreds of blue plastic bags bearing the phrase “Thank you” written in English, Japanese and Arabic on Sunday, but only a few dozen fans – of the thousands in attendance – joined the effort more wide.

“We were actually asked to clean up, but we didn’t want to,” said Nagisa Amano, 23, a fan from Yokohama. “We just wanted to enjoy the stadium. We have the right to do that, I think.

Amano said she had heard of cases in Japan in which stadium workers were forced to reopen trash bags packed by overzealous fans in order to separate materials for recycling. She wondered if Japanese fans in Qatar might inadvertently interfere with similar efforts.

She said the hype around fans’ ostentatious cleanliness was probably good for Japan’s image abroad, but questioned whether their motives were entirely pure.

“I’ve heard that some people join this group to clean up just to enjoy being in the spotlight,” she said.

In a widely shared tweet after the match against Germany, Yoichi Masuzoe, former governor of Tokyo, suggested that Japanese travelers should be more aware of local culture and customs and respect the fact that there were already people there. hired to clean stadiums.

“Japanese civilization is not the only world,” Masuzoe wrote.

Cleaning, however, seems to be appreciated in Qatar. After Japan’s victory over Germany, a stadium staff member led a group of workers and volunteers to the fans to tidy up the stands and thanked them through a megaphone.

On Sunday, 18-year-old Jaziba Zaghloul, a volunteer from Beirut, Lebanon, walked through a row of seats with her own blue trash bag.

“It’s not my job, but I feel a responsibility,” said Zaghloul, who noticed that Morocco and Saudi Arabia fans had followed the example of Japanese fans and cleaned up after games. “There’s a sense of community when you see people care. It’s a snowball effect. »

Hikari Hida contributed reporting.

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