Monday, October 3, 2016

The importance of being earnest

Japan has something of a reputation for politeness. Let's face it, even the gangsters register with the police, it would simply be impolite not to. People bow to various degrees depending on whom they my be thanking, saying goodbye to, or, the lowest of low bows, apologising to. Fortunately foreigners are somewhat exempt from this particular tradition, largely because we'd be expected to get it wrong anyway. But the civility is recognised, exercised (almost expected) and respected.

Thanks are passed not simply at the time but remembered and referenced the following chance people meet again. I was once told you need a good memory in Japan, it's not easy remembering to say thank you months after the fact. But somehow Japanese people manage this feat, as well as waking up just before their station but then that's something of a different story. Which raises the question of whether this is a universal trait.

Well, yes and no. The country has it's fair share of wombats, just like any other country or culture. There's always the customer shouting at a junior staff who was clearly not responsible and the person who demands they've been affronted whether they have been or have not. But people do feel the sense of commitment to society remarkably deeply. And it becomes a binding process. A gift given will be remembered and returned. And as another friend once told me, you do not ask favours lightly in Japan.

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