I have just got back from Japan. A beautiful country with an ingrained culture of respect and politeness.
We experienced firsthand the Japanese “kokuminsei”, or natural character, in all its dignity. The Japanese value social harmony, observe hierarchy, and prefer to avoid conflict. They are open to service and going out of their way to help strangers, while not being servile. Quite an art.
It is really shocking to read today in The Guardian that Japan is suffering from an influx of western tourists who are littering their country, stealing food and avoiding paying train fares.
And there are social media ‘influencers’ who think it a lark to avoid paying on the bullet trains by feigning illness and duping ticket collectors, or to steal food from restaurants… and then boast about it!!!
No wonder the Japanese Government has decided to discourage excessive tourism by steeply increasing the price of train fares and limiting the amount of people going to popular sights.
We found Japan to be the cleanest, tidiest country where people respect their environment and don’t litter their streets or buildings. So it is painful to read that western tourists on the receiving end of the warm hospitality of the Japanese have returned the favour by littering and drinking in the street and generally being loud and abusive.
On the Japanese metro, people are asked not to talk on their phone to avoid being a nuisance to other passengers, and speak quietly to those they are travelling with. And that is what happens.
It was a pleasure to travel on these trains. When I returned to London and got on the Piccadilly line to get home, I encountered drunk football fans singing loud tuneless songs at high volume and insulting other passengers with racist comments.
What a come down, and how very sad.
Japan is not without its social behavioural problems. Apparently that has been a real problem with ‘up-skirting’. Men taking such pictures of women in secret on the trains. However, rather than accept this, the authorities decided to do something decisive and practical about it. You cannot buy iPhones in Japan where you can silence the click that the camera makes, and on trains and in the metro, there are women-only carriages where females can feel safe from such a nuisance.
I think that we, in the UK, as a nation, just put up with bad social behaviour, and certainly nobody in authority feels the need to put measures in place to try to change loutishness, sexism, and abuse on our public transport system.
You could argue that conformity in what is still a society that values collectivism above individualism can be a bit stifling. It is quite a scary sight seeming hordes of people at stations all walking in a straight line, no weaving or ducking or crossing pathways allowed. You could have a valid point when you say that total obedience to hierarchy for its own sake is not always healthy. There are of course pros and cons to the Japanese regard for etiquette.
However, manners, politeness, and respecting your fellow human beings and the environment are totally positive attributes on display everywhere in Japan. They deliver feelings of safety, peace and feeling valued, that is simply wonderful to experience.
Has the pursuit of individualism and the right to be or say exactly what we want, when we want with no regard to others, resulted in a huge lack of manners and socially responsible behaviour in our Western culture?
Is it the example from our ‘on high’ of bullying and abusive behaviour towards their staff from politicians that has come to light recently, contributing to a breakdown of respect towards others in public places and transport?
In a country seeing a high rise in people suffering from anxiety, the promotion of consideration and care towards others wouldn’t go amiss.
As a communication skills coach, I can see the simple benefits of respect and politeness. How dull you might say – where’s charisma and energy? They are not mutually exclusive!!! A little bit of restraint now and then did nobody any harm. A bit of the Japanese ideal of valuing community norms and a shared environment doesn’t take away our personal freedom. It promotes harmony.
On a wider note, what the World needs now is more respect between peoples, less “I will shout the loudest and drown out the voices of anyone who disagrees with me”. Less insistence on, “my way or the highway”, and an end to a fear and intolerance of difference. It’s an angry, conflicted place at the moment.
And on a lighter note, the value of a peaceful and safe journey to work or back from holiday is priceless.
If you would like to find out more about my coaching and training services, to speak with confidence, respect and politeness, contact me by clicking on these links either to reach me via email, or to book a call, Fiona Whytehead, or book a discovery call.