Respect and Consideration in Japan

Japan seems to foster a culture of respect and consideration. After 14 days of observation, I attribute the level of reverence they have to the homogeneity of the country and its religious practices. With 98.5% of the population actually being Japanese and with most of the country following a combination of Shintō and Buddhism (Tour, June 9, 2015), there seems to be little room to vary one’s beliefs. Consequently, it’s easy to see how respect and consideration can permeate an entire country’s everyday cultural practices.

I witnessed a culture of respect in action.

A culture of respect means bowing when you see someone. Some African Americans do a similar head nod. In fact, it’s so common that an episode of Black-ish is devoted to the practice. It’s a way to say, “What’s up” without opening your mouth. But in Japanese culture a brief bow-nod seems to be a common practice, for everyone. It seems to be a way to say, “I see you.” When you walk into a place of business, employees nod. If you conduct business, associates nod. If you decide not to purchase anything, they still nod. They don’t try to determine if you’ll actually purchase something before bowing. Instead, the Japanese recognize your presence as a respectful act.
A culture of respect means taking pride in your job. Repeatedly, I observed several employees go to great lengths to ensure our happiness. At a Kyoto hotel, our Internet connection wasn’t working. By the time we returned to our room, two women were there, shoes removed, kneeling and connecting all of our devices. A similar level of service occurred at the Max Brenner Chocolate Bar. My husband thought he’d ordered a mixed dark chocolate/white chocolate shake. This establishment doesn’t offer such a thing. But the employees were willing to create one. Making patrons feel comfortable seems to be a way to also demonstrate respect.

Additionally, I observed a culture of consideration in everyday situations.

A culture of consideration means that elementary-aged children can walk to and from school together. Unsupervised. I watched little children cross two major Kyoto intersections on their way to school. These little ducklings held their mini umbrellas, waited for the light and crossed the street. Although two made it to one side first, they turned and waited for the other two. Once together, they safely crossed the other way as a group. They helped each other and no one bothered them. I’m convinced it’s not only because of the common practice of traveling to school, but also due to the idea of considering oneself and others, even children. Because consideration is imbedded in the culture, parents probably feel secure knowing their children will make it safely to their destination.

A culture of consideration means that everyday businesses will also think about the children in that society. I noticed this twice in Tokyo. Once was at the New Sanno’s buffet. In addition to all of the typical adult buffet settings, it included a two-foot mini-buffet. It included mini-tongs for small kids to grab their chicken nuggets. I’ve frequented one too many buffets in my life and I’ve never seen one that caters to kids quite like this. Another example was at the Diver City Mall. While in the women’s bathroom, I didn’t see any mothers changing diapers or holding their children up to the sink. Here, there is not only a family restroom, but also a nursing restroom and a kids’ restroom. And if there happens to be a child in the ladies’ restroom, there is a kid-level sink for girls to comfortably wash their own hands. How considerate.

These are just a few examples. And in no way am I trying to suggest this country is perfect. But it does seem that America could benefit from including more respect and consideration. I’m not entirely sure what it would take to create this type of culture in the States. Our country’s racial, ethnic and religious values vary. However, respect and consideration are universal values. Perhaps we can begin with small acts that will grow over time. Speaking when you see someone is a good start. Doing your job at 100% even when you don’t feel like it is another. And putting someone else’s needs before yours might make a difference. I’m not one for direct calls to action. But the only way a culture can change is if the people change it. Perhaps America’s culture of respect and consideration will begin with this post. Perhaps it will begin with each of our actions.

12 thoughts on “Respect and Consideration in Japan

  1. I agree especially when you talk about work. In Europe people sometimes think that it’s ok for a person “who has a shitty job” to be rude to customers because they have a low pay so you can’t expect them to be polite as well… In Japan they think that no job is so low that you can’t do it with pride and do it well and if you do it well then you rise above your low paid job. I think it gives people a sense of pride. Last year I was with a friend in Kobe and the airport closes at 11pm so you can’t stay there, we didn’t know and were a bit lost, both the cleaning lady and the guard started taking care of us and showed us the way to the underground. I was taking our tickets when I saw the guard running after us just to make sure that I was buying the right ticket. That’s not something I’d see in France for sure but travelling to Japan changed me and I try to be nicer to travellers when I’m back home.

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    1. This is a great example. And if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I probably wouldn’t believe you ☺️ but yes I totally agree. Not sure how to convince people to do good work just because you should. Thanks for sharing this story.

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      1. You’re welcome. To be honest I think we also have to mention that in japanese history when people put a toe out of line the whole family sometimes the village was punished for the person’s crime, that can probably explain the sense of group. You also mentioned that there are few foreigners…

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  2. It was a shock returning to the United Sates after living in Japan for a year and a half. I’d become accustomed to people not only being aware of the folks around them, but allowing that awareness to shape their actions in small but profound ways.

    Here in the U.S., for example, folks will obliviously walk down the middle of a grocery or parking lot aisle, blocking other people from passing (but then potentially cursing at someone else for doing the same thing two minutes later). In Japan, folks were constantly aware of others around them and readily offered courtesies–such as standing or moving in spaces in ways that allowed other people free movement–that are comparatively seldom offered here.

    I did witness concerning things while working in Japan, and I was glad to be working there as a gaikokujin. (I called myself “gaijin,” but that horrified my Japanese workers; to them, it was calling myself a “strange person” instead of “person from a strange country.”) It afforded me certain protections not necessarily afforded Japanese employees.

    And yet … I miss it. I miss it all, and loved–for a moment, thanks to your description of the schoolkids crossing the street–a chance to remember what it was like to be there.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the follow! I have about two more posts on that blog. I look forward to hearing from you on those last two because they break free from the touristy view of my trip. And a friend of mine said the same thing about calling herself gaijin…said it excused a lot of her behavior

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      1. It also excused me from things like being called “fat” in office meetings, a courtesy not afforded some of my Japanese colleagues. :0

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  3. I lived in Japan for a year, I found that this consideration stemmed from the way adults reprimanded their children. While shopping for fruit, I watched a young boy throw something to the ground. Instead of the North American way I was accustomed to – “What are you doing? What is wrong with you? Pick it up!” – the mother turned to her child and said, “Ahh, how do you think the owner would feel? How would you feel if you were in his position”? It was gentle but it made the child think more about their actions than a frightful blow up.
    This small encounter definitely changed my reaction to different situations and is still very present in the way I teach my students today. I truly enjoyed this article, thank you for sharing!

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