Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Teaching Our Children to Become Sociable and Service-Minded
NISHIKAWA Megumi / Journalist

July 24, 2012
The Japanese are associated with two distinct images.
In one image, the Japanese are a caring, persevering, humble, considerate and orderly people, as demonstrated in the 3.11 earthquake. These are virtues not limited to areas affected by the disaster, but uniformly pointed out by foreigners who visit Japan as virtues characteristic of our society.

A friend of mine recently worked with a reporting team from the Ukraine, and told me the Ukrainians were impressed by the kindness of a Japanese who not only helped them find their way but accompanied them to their destination. Many of us have come across such a foreigner's view of Japanese society.

Then there is the other image. This was typically illustrated by an incident that occurred at the Shibuya railway station in Tokyo this May. A man got angry at another man who bumped into him on a crowded rush hour elevator, went after him and assaulted him with a survival knife he was carrying. The two men did not know each other, and the attacker told the police he did it out of "irritation."

There seems to be no end to such rash incidents caused by individuals who had simply "lost it." There is a growing tension in Japanese society. Commentators have blamed anxiety about the future amid the economic slump, lack of endurance among the younger generation, etc. to explain this phenomenon.

However, in his 1970s book "The Age of Displeasure (Fukigen no Jidai)," Yamazaki Masakazu had already painted a lively picture of the irritated, short-tempered society Japan had become. At the time, it was explained as the "frustration felt by corporate warriors slugging it out in an era of rapid economic growth." In other words, while the economic background may have changed, there is little change in the basic inclination of the Japanese as people who boil over easily in a sudden flash of anger.

The caring, considerate Japanese and the short-tempered Japanese. How do we bridge these two traits? Recently, I read a magazine article by playwright Hirata Oriza, titled: "From an Accommodating Mentality to a Sociable Mentality (Kyochosei kara Shakosei e)." The gist of his view is as follows:

In a society that runs on tacit communication, being accommodative is a valued skill. This was true of Japan in the past, where economic growth took center stage. It was possible to attain happiness by simply moving with the masses. However, now that society has matured, individual values have become diverse and divided. Getting along with others in this divided society requires a sociable mentality, rather than an accommodating mentality.

In Japanese society, the idea of socializing is dogged by negative connotations of seeking only a "cosmetic" or "superficial" relationship. Yet, in a world where achieving mutual understanding is no easy task, we must seek common ground and expand on it. And a sociable mentality is the means for doing so, says Hirata.

My choice of words to explain Hirata's view would be a "service mentality." I have always felt that the Japanese - and Japanese men in particular - lack this spirit. When you are on a train and your shoulder happens to brush against another passenger's shoulder, you should simply say "excuse me," and the other person is more likely to respond with "it's quite alright." It is when an offender remains silent that irritation gradually builds up against such an "insensitive person."

Sociable mentality or service mentality – it doesn't matter what we call it, but let's start teaching this to our children in the hope of loosening up a society that has become quite stressed.

The writer is Expert Senior Writer on the Foreign News Desk at Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2012年 7月 24日







(筆者は毎日新聞 外信部 専門編集委員。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Teaching Our Children to Become Sociable and Service-Minded