Japan: Respect and Consideration

Last year, my family and I traveled to Japan. Here’s one of my favorite wrap-up posts.

Image. ©2015 K E Garland. All Rights Reserved.

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.

Kyoto Children. ©2015 K E Garland. All Rights Reserved.

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. 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.

27 thoughts on “Japan: Respect and Consideration

  1. I love Japan of course! It is one of the most interesting places to visit. It takes quite a bit of time to learn to properly abide by all of the customs. (I’ve written about that in a couple of my posts.). There is also quite a bit going on behind paper doors as the what is on the surface must also have an underside. Nice review of your trip!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My thoughts exactly! I hoped other people had noticed these nuances of Japanese culture as well.

    In my case, my family and I were having tea and a quaint little cafe in Gion, Kyoto. We then noticed an elderly old man tending to the koi pond just outside and watering the garden. Later, he moved over to the cafe foyer and began arranging our shoes perfectly to face away from the doorway. Naturally, we assumed he was the gardener. To our surprise, what we now believe to have been the owner came inside and began supervising the the wait staff! It’s a beautiful thing to experience true Japanese hospitality.

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  3. Hello,

    Being a mid-term resident of Japan the omotonashi was indeed one of the first things I noticed after moving to Japan. Unfortunately, the feeling wears off, it’s not the same striking behaviour as it once was moving from the west. It does not, however, ever go unnnoticed. I’m frequently reminded of this cultural aspect time and time again in the most random ways. I haven’t travelled back home since coming to Japan but I fear when I do, this is the culture I will miss the most.

    Great read,
    I’m glad you had a good trip in Japan

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  4. And the sister post to why I’d love to visit Japan someday. A great read together with your other post. The kid aspect also reminds me of stories I have heard from Norway where parents leave their sleeping babies in stroller areas at the front of shops. Why should you roll your sleeping kid to the milk? Won’t they sleep better, and won’t you annoy other customers less, if you just leave them at the front? So not our fear ridden judgement filled outlook…

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  5. I enjoyed this piece,especially the day to day examples that you gave and the sense of safety that parents have around children, and how this is reflected in the children themselves and the choices they make. I love reading about the mindfulness towards children in different settings.

    Because Japanese society is so homogenous and uniform it is very different from American, European, and many other societies that are more diversified.
    I like the idea of incorporating customs that encourage respect and kindness for each other. Can we come together and learn about our cultural differences so we can understand and know how to connect and interact with each other?

    I look forward to reading your next piece.

    And yes “….Perhaps we can begin with small acts that will grow over time…” Random and mindful acts of kindness can change our world and how we feel about ourselves and others .
    “…And putting someone else’s needs before yours might make a difference…” My experience is that when we meet our needs while holding the needs of others with care we nurture ourselves and enhance our connection and interdependence with others.

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    1. Welcome to my blog Arati! Thanks for such a thoughtful response. I’m glad that it resonates with you and I hope it inspires as you move throughout your days.


  6. This was such an amazing read. I have always been fond of the Japanese for their technical prowess and now your view on their culture and character has taken it up more higher 🙂 I admit that we could all do with some more of respect and considerate behaviour in our daily life 🙂 And let us be the change we want to see ❤

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  7. I get the impression the down-side is a pressure to conform. I love the politeness and the care and attention people give to the job they do no matter how ‘important’ the job is, but I also felt it was quite a stifling culture. I believe suicide rates are fairly high in Japan. I know what you’re saying but I think I’d rather have freedom of expression, even if that meant some people are just not going to be polite, considerate and respectful.

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  8. I’m moving to Japan! hehe just kidding. But it sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing this.

    I have a habit of nodding or smiling when I make eye contact with strangers; it’s automatic with many. But with some people it just doesn’t happen, even if they smile first. I think it may be their vibe/lack of sincerity. But it sounds like everyone you encountered in Japan was sincere with their actions which I’m sure is a big difference with Americans.

    Again, thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Too funny! You might wanna hold off on that thought. They don’t like us very much over there 😉 But yes, to answer you question, I’d never know it because no matter who you are or what your intentions, everyone’s pretty respectful. Thanks for stopping by kelley!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, I think lol I’ve tried to analyze what you mean, like in life or on this blog, but I suppose the answer is the same. Thanks so much. I’ll have to check out your post about saying hello. I agree. We make life so much harder than what it is.

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