From the point of view of non-Japanese people, Japanese people seem to be mysterious in many ways. For example, some persons in the office work at jobs which have nothing to do with their job performance and pay, even though they are not ordered to do so. Some persons make "over-quality" goods _ goods better than they are expected to make. Others are enthusiastic to do low-key jobs which are not originally related to them. They are not rational. They are doing something even though it takes away from their own time or when they know it is unprofitable.
Toward the end of the 19th century after Japan opened the county to the outside world, foreign people who visited Japan were surprised at the sincerity, diligence, courtesy, and kindness of the Japanese people, and highly praised Japanese people's nature as well as the beautiful land. When they left Japan, they said that they hoped this beautiful country and people would not change. Later, during the ensuing 150 years, the world has dramatically changed and Japan has also changed greatly, buffeted by the times. And Japanese people, too, can be said to consciously have desired such change. Having been taught in the postwar education system influenced by Western rationalism and individualism, more and more people have become critical of the traditional ways of thinking. I feel, however, that the traditional Japanese characteristics of sincerity and diligence have not changed and remained deeply rooted.
When foreign people come to Japan, they first notice and are surprised that they don't see trash on the streets and that every town is clean, and that cleanliness is not limited to airports or public facilities that employ cleaners. At Harajuku/Omotesando, where my shop is located, each shop cleans the area around the shop. In spring we sweep leaf buds, in autumn we sweep fallen leaves, and in winter we remove snow. Even in residential areas, which unlike commercial districts don't employ cleaners and workers, each resident cleans around the house and some people clean wider spaces.
As you know, some countries have laws requiring people to clean and to remove snow around their own house, but in Japan there are no such laws. Many Japanese people still think cleaning the space around them is natural. It is not something obliged by other parties or laws. It is because they feel the clean environment is comfortable for other people as well as for themselves, and think leaving uncleanness is shameful. From where does such sense of Japanese people come from? I would like to write about the Japanese people's way of thinking, the values and ethics that underlie their ideas and acts, with some attention also to religious beliefs, in this sixth series of "Japanese People Do Not Know Japan." These are mysterious from non-Japanese people's perspective, and I'll explain them as easily as possible to be understood.
"Kokka-no-Hinkaku" by Masahiko Fujiwara was a bestseller several years ago, and I introduced it in a past article. In the book, the author writes that Japanese people maintain a strong sense of diligence and morality even though they don't have solid religious beliefs like Western people, and he refers the cause of this to bushido, the spirit of samurai. Samurai warriors were not merely the ruling class or privileged class. They were determined to renounce self-interest to protect the country and the people, and to sacrifice their life at anytime. They hated doing shameful acts, and respected the family name. As they felt bound to commit seppuku ritual suicide to wipe out a disgrace, death was familiar to them. Bushido taught the normative behavior of warriors and showed them how to live and also how to die. And such bushido morality must surely have influenced people of other social classes, as well.
However, in the Edo period, the number of warriors in the total population was very small. Farmers, craft workers, and merchants were much larger in number. A foreign person who visited Japan during the Meiji period wrote that Japanese people had a moral sense and were diligent, regardless of class and degree of wealth. How did people other than warriors keep such moral sense? I believe this answer is in the Japanese traditional awareness that "O-tento-sama (the Sun) is always watching."
O-tento-sama has the meaning of the Way of Heaven, and refers the workings of the universe including the motions of celestial bodies. The Way of Heaven existed before human beings were created, and is the Truth maintaining the order of the universe. Japanese people believe such Heaven's Truth always exists. In this way, Japanese people judge whether a thing is good or bad, referring their ideas and acts to the Truth of the Universe, which more simply expressed means their conscience. Japanese people had such ethical sense before they developed concepts of kami (gods) or Buddha, or in other words, before they consciously created religion and belief. This sense stemmed from respect for Nature, which blesses us with food and children but also causes famine and natural disaster. This ancient sense of Japanese people led to Shinto religion later.
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