March 26, 2011

10 Things to learn from Japan

10 Things to learn from Japan

1. THE CALMNot a single visual of chest-beating or wild grief. Sorrow itself has been elevated.
2. THE DIGNITYDisciplined queues for water and groceries. Not a rough word or a crude gesture.
3. THE ABILITYThe incredible architects, for instance. Buildings swayed but didn’t fall.
4. THE GRACEPeople bought only what they needed for the present, so everybody could get something.
5. THE ORDERNo looting in shops. No honking and no overtaking on the roads. Just understanding.
6. THE SACRIFICEFifty workers stayed back to pump sea water in the N-reactors. How will they ever be repaid?
7. THE TENDERNESSRestaurants cut prices. An unguarded ATM is left alone. The strong cared for the weak.
8. THE TRAININGThe old and the children, everyone knew exactly what to do. And they did just that.
9. THE MEDIAThey showed magnificent restraint in the bulletins. No silly reporters. Only calm reportage.
10. THE CONSCIENCEWhen the power went off in a store, people put things back on the shelves and left quietly

Why The Japanese Aren't Looting
Foreign observers are noting with curiosity and wonder that the Japanese people in disaster-plagued areas are not looting for desperately-needed supplies like bottled water. This behavior contrasts sharply with what has so often happened in the wake of catastrophes elsewhere, such as Haiti, New Orleans, Chile, and the UK, to name only a few.  Most people chalk up the extraordinary good behavior to Japanese culture, noting the legendary politeness of Japanese people in everyday life. 

Culture does play a role, but it is not an adequate explanation. After all, in the right circumstances, Japanese mass behavior can rank with the worst humanity has to offer, as in the Rape of Nanking. There are clearly other factors at work determining mass outbreaks of good and bad behavior among the Japanese, and for that matter, anyone else.

There are, in fact, lessons to be learned from the Japanese good behavior by their friends overseas, lessons which do not require wholesale adoption of Japanese culture, from eating sushito sleeping on tatami mats. It is more a matter of social structure than culture keeping the Japanese victims of catastrophe acting in the civilized and enlightened manner they have displayed over the past few days.

The Cruise Ship and the Ferryboat
Many years ago, a worldly and insightful Japanese business executive offered me an analogy that gets to heart of the forces keeping the Japanese in line, that has nothing to do with culture. "Japanese people," he told me, "are like passengers on a cruise ship. They know that they are stuck with the same people around them for the foreseeable future, so they are polite, and behave ve in ways that don't make enemies, and keep everything on a friendly and gracious basis."

"Americans," he said, "are like ferryboat passengers. They know that at the end of a short voyage they will get off and may never see each other again. So if they push ahead of others to get off first, there are no real consequences to face. It is every man for himself."

Despite the existence of massive cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya, people in their neighborhoods are well known to those around them. There is little urban anonymity. When I first lived in Japan on a work visa and had my own apartment in a residential neighborhood of Tokyo, in 1971, I was paid a friendly visit by a local policeman. It was a completely routine matter: police are required to keep track of every resident of their beats, and they want to know the basics, such as your work, your age, and your living circumstances. In my circumstances, immigration papers were also of concern, but for Japanese, it would be the koseki, a mandatory official family record kept on a household basis, reporting births, acknowledgements of paternity, adoptions, disruptions of adoptions, deaths, marriages and divorces. Every Japanese is not just an individual, he or she is officially is a member of a household (ie), and the state keeps track.
Following the gathering of my information, the policeman no doubt returned to his local substation (koban), which are found every few blocks in urban areas, to record the information for his colleagues. To an American it seemed quite extraordinary, a violation of privacy. But in Japan a lack of anonymity is the  norm.

Soon after the beat cop's visit to me, local merchants began nodding to me as I walked to and from the train station, as if they knew me and acknowledged me. I was fairly certain the word had gone out via omawari san (literally, the honorable gentleman who walks around, a polite colloquial euphemism for the police) that I was a Japanese-speaking American in Japan on legitimate, respectable grounds. For a year or so, I was a member of the community.

The Tohoku Region (literally: the Northeast, in practice, the island of Honshu north of Tokyo) where the earthquake and tsunami hit hardest, is far less urbanized than the rest of the main island of Honshu, and has for many decades seen an exodus of young people to the big cities elsewhere in Japan. Going back to the feudal era (i.e., pre-1868), Tohoku was poorer than the other regions of Japan because its northern climate can support only one crop of rice per year, rather than the two (and in the warmest places, even three) which were cultivated in the rest of Japan. Since Japan's industrialization, Tohoku's relative poverty has diminished, but it is still less economically developed and more rural than its neighbors to the south and west in Japan, and has relatively little in-migration from other parts of Japan.

The main city of Tohoku, the green and (once) lovely city of Sendai, had a million people and a state of the art subway, but is a city of neighborhoods with little anonymity. In the smaller cities and villages, it is almost impossible to misbehave and not be recognized by one's neighbors.

Anthropologists speak of Japan as a "shame culture," as opposed to a "guilt culture," meaning that people are constrained to behave themselves properly by an aversion to being judged negatively by those around them, rather than internalizing a moral imperative. Broadly speaking, that is true today. But it is also true that most contemporary Japanese have internalized a deep respect for private property, that is manifested in a ritual of modern life for children, one which we might do well to emulate. When a child finds a small item belonging to another person, even a one yen coin, a parent takes the child to the local koban and reports lost property. As chronicled by T.R. Reid in his wonderful book about living in Tokyo, Confucius Lives Next Door, the police do not resent this as a waste of time but rather see it as part of moral education, solemnly filling out the appropriate forms, thanking the child and telling him or her if the owner does not appear to claim the item, it will revert to the finder after a certain period of time.

Perhaps more successfully than any other people of the world, the Japanese have evolved a social system capable of ensuring order and good behavior. The vast reservoir of social strength brought Japan through the devastation of World War II, compared to which even the massive problems currently afflicting it, are relatively small. Japan has sustained a major blow, but its robust social order will endure, and ultimately thrive.


mudgal venkatesh said...

Very good article sir, we have to learn not only 10 things but still many things from this tiny nation Japan...

geni said...

hai sir it was an amazing article which u have been posted we ppl of india should learn some knlodge from the ppl of japan

Anonymous said...

nice article sir ,we are selfish, corrupt for our kith and kin..

CM Reddy said...

Hello Sir,
Very well said about Japan and things to learn from them. Having worked in Japan, I have high regards for them and their culture. I have learnt many things from them - respect to each other, committment to work, punctuality, focus on perfection, public cleanless and many more things. It is very good to know that they have good impression of India and Indians.There are lot of things to learn from them. I have many good memories of interacting with government officials, professionals and ordinary men there.
Request you to propose to your cabinet colleagues and MLAs to travel to Japan to gain insights into their way of governance, administration, citizen interfaces, urban design and many more things.

sandy said...

Sir, i am a resident of prakashnagar . We are facing problem in supply of water.Our corporator Ravindra even after approaching is not responding properly .Please take time to address our grievances.

yours faithfully

Sandeep TM

amarnath patil said...

in my home town Gulbarga,
as for as traffic concerns, only two roads are to be widened. one is road from town hall to university n second is from patel chowk to Busstand n new Jevargi road.
if anything to be expend lavishly, first these two roads are to be considered, bcoz high rate of accidents occur here only.but surprisengly ur officials r behind market area where crores of rupees goes as compensation to the land lords. I think official's egoism or they have taken it as their pride factor that crores of rupees given as compensation where it is not necessary , as the road is one way traffic, 40 feet width n more to be considered that it is a non heavy vehicle area where families, kids, seniour citizens,all citizens visits for purely shopping purpose.still d road with no maintanance n there is hardly damber road is laying.if 40 ft road is properly maintained with quality of damber,n declare no parking zone, i think for another 20 years widening of the road is not required.The sorry fact is that, a huge amount expenditure occuring here insted of a real needed roads left blank for easy movement of all type of vehicals.
good night

Harsha said...

Its an eye openers to Indian provided we have an eye.