An island country in Asia and the westernmost African nation might not seem to have much in common. Yet Japan and Senegal share an admirable cultural concern with tidiness, as recently demonstrated after their World Cup wins.
On June 19, Senegal played Poland, beating the European team 2-1. After the game, Senegalese soccer fans, who were no doubt ecstatic, didn’t party. “[T]hey put celebrations on hold … due to the fact that they were busy picking up litter and tidying their section of the stand at the Otkrytiye Arena in Moscow,” ESPN reports. Their actions prompted Spanish-language station TyC Sports to tweet video of these efforts with the hashtag #RESPECT.
Around the same time, over at Mordovia Arena in Saransk, Japanese fans were also busy tidying after their team’s 2-1 victory over Colombia. This moved a fan of the Japanese supporters, Christopher McKaig, to tweet video of their cleanup, calling it his “favorite moment of the World Cup so far.”
While the cleanups may seem strange to those unfamiliar with Senegal and Japan, the efforts are actually typical of the two highly polite cultures. In both lands, community needs and cooperation are emphasized over individual desires, and neat appearances really matter.
For example, in Senegal, the appropriate answer to a series of queries that make up ritualized daily exchanges is, “Jamm rekk,” meaning “peace only” in Wolof. Keeping the peace starts with greeting. Indeed, one of the most cutting but totally acceptable insults is, “What? You don’t greet?”
As for neatness, even dirt floors and dusty yards in remote villages are swept regularly, and the typical crisp white outfits of men and women alike remain impeccable in taxis crammed with seven passengers and no air-conditioning through sheer force of will.
The Japanese, too, are keen on greetings—failure to acknowledge another person, or to do so without the appropriate fervor, is considered very rude. So is littering, which is why Japanese smokers travel with tiny personal ashtrays they use to avoid flicking cigarette butts on the street.
It may be that these cultural preoccupations stem from the countries’ spiritual roots. Senegalese life is highly influenced by a strain of Islamic mysticism developed by the country’s early 20th century hero, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, who famously preached, “Pray, but plow your fields.”
Similarly, the Zen Buddhist tradition in Japan prizes discipline as a manifestation of spirituality. As Zen monk Shoukei Matsumoto, best-selling author of A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, explains, “We sweep dust to remove our worldly desires. We scrub dirt to free ourselves of attachments.”
Whatever the reason, the neat approach is catching on, and international soccer fans are trading victory dances for litter collection. On June 21, supporters of Uruguay’s winning team, which beat Saudi Arabia 1-0, took to tidying Rostov stadium. El Pais tweeted that they were inspired by the Japanese cleanup.