Japan, despite being judged by much of the (admittedly Western) world as an oddity, possess a social landscape which other countries might well emulate.
Japan is a wonderful country, and having just returned from there I am convinced that there are some aspects of Japanese culture which must be sought out and admired. The people are kind and friendly, and a model for courtesy and civilized behavior; they practice self-sufficient organic farming principles; and finally, the ingenuity of their transport (and most lifestyle) systems, is an eye-opener.
Courtesy and politeness
One thing which stood out in my trip was the incredible cordiality and spirit of selflessness in the Japanese. Often shopkeepers greet and thank with the ubiquitous ‘arigato gozamasu’ (thank you in Japanese). Even on the streets when we asked passers-by for help they were open to helping us – often with that unique self-effacing Japanese humility. Even late-working hotel receptionists did not fail, at least, to greet or receive the late-coming patron. Above all, is the Japanese bow, which accompanies almost every Japanese sentence, and certainly every greeting.
Eco-consciousness, natural beauty, cleanliness
A striking feature of the Japanese countryside is the preponderance of private gardens, no doubt organic. For any nature lover rural Japan cannot be missed. The villages and local towns one passes by on the highway are often replete with large patches filled with rows of vegetables of all varieties, and often delightfully healthy in complexion! The Japanese landscape, too, especially in the Japanese Alps – to say nothing of Mt Fuji – is no-less breathtaking, with tangible glimpses of the fjords of Norway or New Zealand at times.
Something moreover which should not go unsaid, is simply the remarkable cleanliness of Japan, something ubiquitous from a parochial town like Takayama to a bustling city like Nagoya; the streets are largely litter-free, and public spaces – loos no doubt (to say nothing of the toilet bidet mechanisms) – pleasant to wander in. it may be hard to say this is part of ingrained Japanese mores, but I think a country so tidy and well-kept cannot fail to be a good one.
Technological innovation and design ingenuity
One last aspect of Japan, which I think worthy of eulogy, is the efficiency, or rather studied efficiency of the transport system. Trains are often accurate to the minute, and I was pleasantly surprised to observe the workings of the Nagoya train-station, which contained at least five different networks, often operating on the same platform. During peak hour, moreover, passengers get off one side of the train, allowing incoming passengers to get on from the other side. It is small things like this that perhaps other high-paced cities throughout the world could adopt. Trains and buses come in all varieties of route, size, and purpose, from the king of trains Shinkansen (bullet train) to the local flat faced city metro.
As to Japanese merchandise, I encourage visitors to explore the expressions of Japanese creativity that no doubt was at the origin of such worldwide brands as Sony or Panasonic (or indeed most tech-merchandise companies people would know). It is remarkable the usages they find in lunchboxes, for instance – where I found one to keep separate the rice and dishes, and act simultaneously as a sort of insulator, yet remain in form like another lunchbox. What strikes first is the small size of most things, like tables or furniture, which may either be seen as a culture of the miniature, or simply ergonomics. Much of humanity would benefit from learning from Japanese economy of design.
Much of the short, and highly presumptuous summary thus given may invite people to go to Japan and experience a remarkable, and deeply unique country – one which I hope myself to return to many times in the future. On the other hand, it also invites people simply, I feel, to experience a true ‘holiday destination,’ a place which is nice to visit and observe, but still far removed from most other lifestyles enough that it would be difficult to actually live in.
The language, for one, would be a barrier in itself. Nonetheless I do not demean any of the highly positive aspects I have outlined – courtesy and etiquette, connectedness to nature, and technological ingenuity. Indeed many aspects of Japan may be emulates with benefit by other countries not already doing similar things – ubiquitous organic farming, for instance, may be of great benefit for western countries in the long run. But for the moment perhaps Japan remains a sort of ‘art-culture,’ so far removed from most other countries that its practices may only remain ideals for them.