WaiWai: Teachers crying foul over unhygienic kids

This article is reproduced from the discontinued, but much loved Mainichi Waiwai column by Ryann Connell. Read more about this at the bottom of this article.

Japanese schools are getting filled with more kids that stink, according to Sunday Mainichi (7/8).
Growing disparity between the country’s haves and have-nots is believed to be behind the increase in unhygienic children. But broken homes and the increasing number of foreigners in Japan are also being blamed.

“We have a lot of kids from homes where the parents aren’t financially blessed and few have a decent education. There are a few kids who live in really shoddy apartments,” a third grade teacher at a public elementary school in Tokyo tells Sunday Mainichi. “You can tell from the way they look and the way they talk that their lifestyle gives them something that makes them clearly different from the other kids.”
Often that leads these children to become the subject of teasing and bullying from their better off classmates.

Other teachers blame the widening gap between the rich and poor for the situation.

“There are definitely more smelly kids around,” a Tokyo junior high school teacher says. “Both parents are working during the day and some have to moonlight with bar work at night to make ends meet, so they’re never at home. Kids just go to sleep whenever they feel tired, and a lot of them nod off without having taken a bath. Some kids stop coming to school because their friends keep telling them that they smell, so you can’t treat the problem lightly. I tell the kids not to say things about the smell in the classroom, but frankly I find the reek to be disgusting, myself.”

Since Japan’s economy slipped into the doldrums in the early 1990s, companies have been shifting away from employing people as permanent staff and instead have been relying more on irregular hires. The upshot of this has been an increase in what’s being called the “working poor,” the people in paid employment who make barely enough money to stay above the poverty line. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported that last year 27.2 percent of Tokyo families are now living on less than 3 million yen a year, a 9.3 percentage point increase over the past five years.

It’s not just money worries, either. Parenting standards are also apparently in decline. In a central Tokyo school, teachers were worried when one little girl stopped turning up for class. Her mother, a single parent, was not forcing her to attend and willingly let her stay away whenever she felt like it.

“Her homeroom teacher went out to the girl’s home to check up on the situation. The little girl was sitting there with her hair done up in curls and dressed up like a princess. The homeroom teacher was shocked that the child was being treated virtually like a pet,” a teacher at the school says. “Turns out the mother got lonely at home by herself and wanted her daughter to be around with her.”

Growing numbers of foreigners are also having an influence on Japanese schools.

“There seems to be a lot of trouble surrounding couples where an older Japanese man has married a young Southeast Asian woman who’s come to Japan to make some money,” an education insider says.

One teacher approached a Japanese father and spoke of how his wife, who worked as a nightclub hostess and saved whatever she could while living in squalor in Japan so she could build a palatial home in her native country. The teacher, pointing out that Japan is living through an age of internationalization, encouraged the father to help his child learn Tagalog, the native tongue of his mother’s homeland, the Philippines. The teacher was shocked by the father’s response.

“There’s no need to do that,” the teacher tells Sunday Mainichi the 60-something Japanese father said. “If Japan had won that war, they’d all (Filipinos) be speaking Japanese by now.”


(The Mainichi Waiwai column ran online from April 19, 2001 – June 21, 2008. It was a much loved form of entertainment amongst foreigner in and outside of Japan. To any reader it was obviously not serious news, but it was a set of articles that portrayed quite well how the Japanese tabloids actually write about their own country. In 2008, a small number of Japanese people bought it to the attention of rival news groups that Mainichi was running an anti-Japan column on its website. With the bad publicity, Mainichi was forced to shut the page down, and take punitive measures against the journalists that were working on it, claiming that it was receiving opinions that were critical of the column, such as “its contents are too vulgar” and “the stories could cause Japanese people to be misunderstood abroad”. A perfect example of how Japanese consider what they write in their own script to be an acceptable secret code, that the rest of the world cant understand. When that same tabloid rubbish gets inconveniently translated to English to make light of some aspects of the Japanese people, it gets canned. Stippy.com finds this unacceptable, and will reproduce as much of the Waiwai content as possible in order to bring it once again to our computer screens for a good laugh. Of course we claim no credit for this content, and attribute it to it’s writers who were former Mainichi employees. Waiwai in its true and glorious form has been discontinued, but it’s legacy will live on at stippy.com for all to enjoy.)

2 thoughts on “WaiWai: Teachers crying foul over unhygienic kids”

  1. Hi, I ran across your site for the first time today. I’ve been digging for info on Japan for my vacation in Okinawa next month.

    When the item said, “Hygiene in Japan”, I thought it would be about something else. I didn’t expect to see what I actually read, which is shocking. And that was five years ago, so I have no idea how it would be now.

    I thought you’d be talking about a different matter regarding hygiene. I’ve taught English in Korea (4 years) and Taiwan (7 years), plus heard the same from other westerners who lived in Japan and mainland China, and they all tell the same thing. Most people in the four countries do only a cursory handwash in public toilets, often no more than getting their hands wet for a few seconds, never mind touching the soap (if there is any).

    My biggest problem with hygiene in Asia (and many other agree with me) is parents sending sick children to school. Whether it’s a cold, a flu, pneumonia, chicken pox, measles or whatever, the kids still go, and they often end up passing along the germs to others. I’m insistent on handwashing (myself and my students) and not touching others while sick, so I rarely miss work days and rarely pass it on to others.

    I’m fortunate that I had chicken pox and measles when I was a kid, so they didn’t affect me, but I’ve seen foreigners, Taiwanese and Korean teachers laid up or working while sick. I did get hit once, though, by a child coming to school with the mumps and no one informed me until after the fact. I suffered an infection so bad I was in hospital for more than a week and nearly died. That’s not an exaggeration.

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