Japan works as a society because its Buddhist principles regard every person and object of nature as worthy of reverence and part of one’s own self.
There is no separation. What you do to another is what you do to yourself, because you are a product of nature, and nature is a product of you.
Forget religion for a moment. Society simply functions well when you are aware of others’ needs and do your part to help it
become more orderly, clean and high-functioning. It’s called harmony, or wa, as Japanese values would call it. The world has slowly, however, been moving away from wa and descending into chaos.
“Western culture pulls people apart, pits the strong against the weak,” writes Michael Hoffman in the Japan Times. Japan’s draws people together. Wa prevails. That’s a Japanese national trait” — or was, he adds, until Americanophile free-market fundamentalist Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (2001-06) set the rich and poor at each other’s throats, with the result that today the rich get richer and the poor poorer and more numerous.”
It’s also called ethos. How a group functions, believe and behaves.
Mean and selfish – it doesn’t have to be that way.
Regardless of the world’s chaos and world leader’s “leadership,” you still have control over your own experience and reaction to it. How will you choose to react?
How will you live your life? How will you act? That is the question that provides meaning and purpose in an alienated world.
Riding trains together; sharing space and dealing with crowds or walking around the streets with others; instead of segregated in cars and gated, vacuous houses; puts you in contact with others and the reality that you need to get along with others. The question that arises is, “How are you going to behave?” Marcus Aurelius of Rome posed that question to himself. Regardless of the trappings of wealth and power, he still lived an ethical life.
Tokyo’s lost and found in 2016 included ¥3.7 billion in cash. Japanese people are honest, because they realize that the only person they would be defrauding would be their own selves.
Do you remember the last time you lost something? How did you feel? Empathy goes a long way toward having a human heart and not being a robot.
I bought a T-shirt last year at Nara’s Toda-ji Buddhist temple about the Kegon sutra which read: “You can see everything in a single object. Even in a drop of our blood, universe exists. Everything connects each other and supports each other.”
This freedom of choice of how we behave is what we really only have control over, according to Greek Stoics and of which is a fundamental value of Hindu India’s Bhagavad Gita. For Westerners, we can draw inspiration from our choice of activity from Albert Camus, who said, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
Living in the United States for 50 years before moving to Japan inspired me to realize that riding pubic transportation, as it vaguely still exits, such as Amtrak, brings me into contact with other human beings who may be different from me.
Human beings just trying to live. Who suffer, live and die just like I do. I learn new things about them, and myself.
Living in a small house with small bedrooms that force people out to the living room to socialize and deal with others, a friend of the Church of Latter-Day Saints taught me, is a good thing. Not that I believe in her far-out mythology. I still honor her opinions.
Naturally, I imagine Japanese people are sick and tired of this communal activity that I admire and whom are all intrigued with all these “freedoms” rather than having to conform to “duty.” Their issues are real.
The pendulum swings both ways. So I do not judge. I simply point to the what is. Japanese people have high rates of suicide, ( as do North Americans) and karoshi, death by overwork, is real. Every time a train is delayed, I say a small prayer for what I think likely has happened.
So in terms of a society functioning, compassion toward the other and respecting others and not messing it up for others (yourself) is key. In Japanese terminology it’s called meiwaku, not inconveniencing others. Why this doesn’t apply to smoking in restaurants, I will never know. Because a friend and I promptly left at the first whiff of smoke in a cafe yesterday. As I always do. Because smoke simply makes me sick.
Foreigners unaware of the concept of wa in Japan are slipping in and destroying things like tourists vandalizing the Arashiyama bamboo forest. Signs and higher fences have gone up as a result. More separation.
An American friend, bless his heart, confessed he left his plastic beverage bottle in a temple bathroom because “others did it.” He didn’t know what to do with his garbage.
But you, dear reader, know. You have a choice. How will you behave? I feel like a fool bringing my recycled paper and plastic wrappers for plastic bottles and my reusable bags into the Big Beans grocery store across the street from me. I follow my values regardless, because I have to. Everywhere the signs in Japan insist I do. To be considerate of others. Of nature. (as I always have, from living in the US. To Argentina to the U.S. Virgin Islands.)
So I do.
And so I share with you. Some photos I have taken of signs of civility promotion in Japan. Everything from how to flush a toilet to not walking with your cell phone mindlessly and bumping into people (something that happened to me twice today going through Osaka Station and is killing children in the US.)
How did Japan become so mindless? For its strength and power rely on mindfulness. Its art, meditation, nature awareness, beauty and wa, harmony.
Long live Japan!