03 January 2018 ~ 0 Comments

The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa Illustrated Pt. 3: The Land of Ujima

The third principle of Kwanzaa is Ujima, and I’ve seen Ujima best illustrated, surprisingly, here in Land of the Rising Sun, which I’ve rechristened for the purposes of this post: The Land of Ujima. Enjoy!

The Land of Ujima

I mentioned previously in my piece on Umoja that though Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday, that my position on the universality of the seven principles of Kwanzaa has evolved a bit since moving to Japan.

Well, when it comes to Ujima, I must say, that I have never seen it better illustrated than I see it, customarily, here in Japan.

Ujima means Collective Work and Responsibility

I spent my childhood in a VERY Ujima-heavy environment. Uhuru Sasa was (is) a family, a micro-community, where for the most part everyone looked out for everyone. But once I emerged from that Ujima-cocoon, it was a culture shock to learn just how un-Ujima the greater community was.

Talk about a fish out of water.

As a result, seeking some kind of Ujima, I wound up joining another micro-black community almost immediately: the five percent nation of Islam…but I’ll cover that in a later principle (-;

For the purposes of Ujima, I feel compelled to say that instead of the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan could very well be known as The Land of Ujima.

I shit you not!

I could point to a thousand different examples of this, but I’ll use one I’m not only witness to but participate in.

Japanese students clean their classrooms every day, together, collectively.

Hell, they do EVERYTHING collectively.

A variation of Ujima is presented to them as a principle essential to membership in not just the micro-community of the school, or of their neighborhood, but as criteria for full-fledged membership in the overall Japanese society.

Yes, I’m saying, if Ujima is not embraced by the time you’re an adult here, in some ways you WILL be an outcast!

What takes place in junior high school is essentially a microcosm of what they will be doing til they draw their last breaths! I’m talking Ujima Overdrive here…even Dr. Maulana Karenga (founder of Kwanzaa) might go, “Whoa!! I dream big but not THIS big!”

And the cleaning of the school collectively is one of the socialization tools utilized to prepare kids for what will be expected of them moving forward, developing good habits, if you will. The result: each and every student has a sense of responsibility to the school.

It’s not just some place where you study and play…it’s an extension of your home itself.

And if you know that before you can go home, or go play soccer or tennis with your friends, that you and those same friends will be expected to, at a minimum, leave the school looking awfully damn presentable, how likely are you to make a mess? How likely are you to disregard others making a mess?

Hella unlikely, right?

How likely is it that you’ll become accustomed to (and I mean develop a distinct expectation of) a certain level of cleanliness, not to mention cooperation and teamwork?

Hella likely, right?

That’s Japan!

And, by the way, that daily clean up is a once over compared to what happens on the last day of school.

They not only clean the classrooms, they clean the entire facility. Walking through the halls on this day used to feel like walking through a human ant colony, twilight-zone-esque. Now, I’m used it, participate in it, and don’t even think twice about it.

I have immersed myself in yet another Ujima-Heavy Community.

And when I say clean, I mean “eat off the floor, lick the blackboard, kiss the windows” clean. It goes a little something like this:

First, the classrooms: all the desks and chairs are moved into the hallway. The students, dressed in their gym clothes, are split into teams and assigned various task…some are given the floor. This team will take to their hands and knees and, with erasers, remove all marks from the floors. Meanwhile other teams are cleaning windows and blackboards and staircases, and yet others are cleaning the nurses office, the gymnasium and the doujou…all by hand. Then, erasers become brooms…the floors are swept thoroughly. And then out comes the scouring pads and rags and pails of soapy water. Even the teachers get their hands dirty.

And the strangest part of all of this is that it’s done with not a hint of ‘I’d rather be doing something else.’ It’s all accomplished with a zest, a glee, and an enthusiasm that is frankly shocking to find in teenagers. Not a grumble among them, and I swear I’m not exaggerating. They even make games and songs out of the cleaning, reminiscent of songs sung by slaves, railroad track layers or the seven dwarfs (“Hi-ho hi-ho…”).

For the first couple of years, I just watched this spectacle with astonishment. Usually I was bounced from school to school on an annual basis, so I never really had time to truly connect. But once I’d settled into one school for a few years, there was just no way I could remain content to be a witness on the sidelines.

Part of assimilating in a society is vesting yourself in the culture, learning the language, participating in the activities and rituals, abiding by the customs and practices, and reaping the rewards of such. Your reward being as much acceptance in the society as you’re likely to receive as a non-Japanese…which is much more than you’d receive otherwise.

So, yeah, there was something about living in a land dominated by collective work and responsibility that hooked me. And it was my understanding of Ujima that enabled me to fully appreciate it.

Happy Kwanzaa!!

Pt. 4 coming soon Ujamaa

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