Assume The Position: Zoukin Gake

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Nearly every single day of the school week, teachers and students clean their classrooms and hallways, together. There is a staff member who helps to take care of some of the odds and ends that don’t get taken care of (like the emptying the trash in the the copy room, or keeping the staff kitchen clean), but by and large everyone is responsible for helping to keep the school clean, yes…even me.

I remember my first time seeing “souji jikan” or “cleaning time” and I was so interesting for me to see ALL of the students cleaning…even the more rambunctious kids! Being the product of the Georgia Public School System, I was required to do very little, if any, cleaning around my school (unless I was part of a club whose duty was to help out with that kind of thing. In addition to being surprised that everyone was cleaning, there was one more thing that I found quite interesting. I saw kids doing this special, locomotive cleaning pose. Students would kneel and put both hands on a wet cloth (zoukin) in front of them, elbow locked in position. They would then raise their rear-ends in the air so the their torso would make a 35-45 degree angle with the floor.* Once their rear-ends would go up, they would start running on their toes. It looked like exercise and cleaning rolled up into one.

*Think of a pushup with your butt high in the air. It’s a piked position like that, but with your knees bent a little more.

Smooth Floor Surface + Wet cloth + Running feet = Elementary School Student, Cleaning Locomotives

The first time I saw hallways full of students cleaning like this, I just paused in awe for a few minutes. It was so unique. Truth be told, I’ve never seen anyone in America clean a floor this way. A mop and bucket maybe, but human locomotive cleaning…no. But I know I’ve seen this type of cleaning, but where?? AH! I’VE GOT IT! The first time I saw a person cleaning like this was when I was watching Samurai Champloo. There was an episode (Episode 10 I believe) where a monk gives the three, main, wandering characters (Mugen, Jin, and Fuu) food and shelter in exchange for some good, old-fashioned hard work. Jin cleans the halls of the temple using the zoukin gake. I thought it looked pretty cool on the cartoon, but I honestly didn’t think people actually cleaned that way…until I saw it for myself that is.

I asked two of my students if this cleaning method had a name, and indeed it does:


Wanna add a little Japanese culture to your life? The next time your kitchen floor needs a good mopping, try cleaning via the zoukin gake pose instead of using the mop. If you have kids, you REALLY owe it to yourself to try this, because younger Japanese kids see to have fun with it. Who knows? It might turn into a fun cleaning game for your kids to try: Completed Chores + Happy Kids = Parental Bliss.

Thanks for reading,

See you next time!

Donald Ash

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  • Dochimichi1

    Love the diagram provided :))

  • Waltlanta

    I think it’s just great that the kids have to help clean up. I wish we had something similar here in the states.

  • Nanami

    XD… there is no way I will be able to do that, but I wish I had the energy to do my chores like that!

  • Doug Scholl

    As a big anime fan, I have always wondered how common this was in modern japan. I was somewhat expecting it to be an old custom used in temples and the like with their old thick wooden floors that you wouldn’t want to damage with lots of water and heavy cleansers. I don’t know how my eldest daughter has gotten to seven without being made to do this. But it’s happening this weekend for sure

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