Many foreign people visiting Japan, be they here on business or for sightseeing are surprised at the cleanliness of the towns and cities they visit. Of course, in most foreign countries, public spaces are kept clean just as they are in Japan but once you enter areas with no fixed cleaners, the situation changes. Certain countries and cities have legislation in place that passes the responsibility of keeping the town clean and tidy, free of garbage or snow to the citizens but in Japan, there is no such legislation, there are no such rules.
So then, why is Japan so clean without the laws mentioned above? Personally I think it is a result of the quintessential Japanese mentality handed down from generation to generation. My own shop faces Omotesando in Tokyo and our staff has cleaned the area in front of the shop, sweeping up the leaves in autumn and removing the snow in winter - morning in, morning out, rain or shine for six decades. We are neither forced to do so nor are we asked to do so.
Cleaning up around the shop is, and always may be, regarded as nothing special - common sense in Japan, but it is because Japanese people think that cleanliness is more desirable than the alternatives that it happens.
Recently, due to the pressures of job efficiency, many professions have become specialized and most shops now outsource cleaning work. At Fuji-torii, all the staff clean the shop as we hope our customers will enjoy shopping in the clean premises we provide and with our wares looking their very best. Moreover, a little considered side of cleaning is that it is actually a great firsthand opportunity for the staff to get up close and touch the art we sell - thereby being able to study the beauty of a particular item prior to it leaving the shop in the bag of a customer. I hope thus that my staff, younger staff especially so, clean the shop not out of a need to do so as part of the job, but in order to improve themselves.|
So, what exactly is the source of the common sense and manners displayed by Japanese people? In an earlier piece I wrote about a best seller named 'Kokka no Hinkaku (The Dignity of the State)' by Masahiko Fujiwara.
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Fujiwara writes in his book; Japanese are not possessed of any firm religion, and Japanese culture and spirit is actually based on 'bushido' (the spirit of the samurai) - a concept covered in depth in a book of the same name by Inazo Nitobe.
However, given that the number of people once said belonging to the 'Bushi (warrior)' class, including family members of the samurai, was rather less than 10 percent of the population in early modern-era Japan, in excess of 90 percent of Japanese were acting on this desire for cleanliness for the simple fact that it made them feel better. They were not forced to clean up and no religion made it a pre-requisite. Add to this the fact that Japanese tend to clean every nook and cranny once they start and I can only believe that this demand for cleanliness is based on a Japanese person's tendency towards hospitality - a national trait.
Generally, Japan is not a monotheistic state. On the other hand, there is an old saying, "Ask oneself a question." As is demonstrated in this phrase, Japanese judge right from wrong and make decisions by way of their mental thought patterns. This has nothing to do with religion and education. People judge and decide based on their own individual feelings. Is something clean? Is it comfortable? Is it right? Their judgment is not influenced by outside powers and / or violence. For this reason they can often be seen sticking to primary belief(s) and principal(s) - sometimes at the cost of their own lives. In other words, they die for a cause. In this sense, they may be considered to have been possessed by the spirit of bushido - even they do not belong to the so called warrior class.
In modern times though I am afraid many Japanese make judgments based on personal interests and profit, without asking themselves whether their decision is right or wrong; the current trend towards individual profits being so important a deciding factor with material interest the most sought after ideal for some Japanese nowadays.
(to be continued)