Japan is a country full of unique scenery, polite citizens and exquisite food. There is no doubt it offers its visitors an experience of a lifetime, and though we cannot experience Japan every day, there are some things we can apply on our daily lives.
There are each time more Japanese restaurants back in England, well-known cosmetics and the most bizarre and extravagant products which remind us of the crazy side of Japanese culture.
What we normally forget about is Japanese culture itself and way of living life. This country is known for being one with the highest life expectancies, and this is not only due to the food but also for their philosophies and lifestyles. In this blog I will guide you through unique things Japanese culture can teach us.
“Wabi” is understood as “understated elegance” implying a less-is-more approach, while “sabi” refers to “taking pleasure in the imperfect”. The combination of both terms bring together the philosophy of accepting imperfection as if it was perfect.
Lets face it, nobody’s perfect. And that is probably a good thing, because perfection is but a subjective idea of what you consider to be good traits. When you begin to embrace this imperfection in a way you are becoming more perfect and accepting the beauties of those little quirks your loved members, or even yourself, might have.
Wabi-Sabi can be seen for example during a tea ceremony in Japan. While pouring the tea into a chipped cup by an artist you can perceive nothing is permanent. Moreover, in Japan Kintsugi is commonly practiced. This is when cracks in broken pottery are filled in with gold or silver, accepting the imperfections of the object and making these so called imperfections into something even more beautiful.
Keeping your environment clean
This is a very important lesson to also make you feel a clearer mindset and much more organised. When things around you are tidied you tend to feel better and more productive. Japanese know this and have some of the most impeccable streets, and littering is very badly seen in this culture.
They learn this lesson early in life as most, if not all, Japanese schools ask their students to do the cleaning of the classrooms and public spaces. This provides young minds with the value of having a clean ambience.
On my trip to Japan I noticed how few bins there were, nonetheless, the streets were very clean. This is because citizens normally take their litter with them and recycle it at their homes, which is a bit difficult for visitors that hold on to their litter until they see a bin. However, it is a system that has proven to work well there and make visitors much more conscious of their waste.
Recycling is very common in Japan and if you have ever watched a Marie Kondo video, you can grasp the culture of not having things you do not need home, but instead only the necessary. The japanese celebrate O-souji before the New Year starts, and this custom is a big clean-up the day before the new year starts. We know this as “Spring Cleaning” and it takes place later during the year, but this is a unique way of welcoming the year with a fresher and cleaner spirit!
It is very rewarding to see how much Japanese citizens seem to respect each other as well as visitors. Being empathic has a new meaning there, and it creates positive synergies that make you feel welcome and accepted. Japanese bows have different levels of bending which imply how grateful you are to the receptor. When receiving business cards they accept these with both hands, look at it carefully and then save it in an important place. Even when saying “Sumimasen” or what would be “Excuse me” to someone who might be busy going somewhere
they stop to help you out. Japanese are very aware of showing respect and how this affects society.
I think one of the most important things about Japanese culture is they seem to behave collectively, instead of individually as I feel some European cultures do. I am not trying to say that individualism is a bad thing, but the mindset of thinking “how will this action affect the ones around me” is much more broad in Japan and therefore it affects society in a different way. In London, subway strikes mean many of the subways do not operate, and many people need to find another way of getting to work. In Japan, a bus strike means buses still operate but do not charge the fare, thus the only part that is affected is the company.
There is a phrase Japanese use which is “O Tsukaresama Desu” which translates to “thank you for your hard work”. This phrase is a way Japanese show respect for their coworkers who are tired at work, but it is also said when walking on the street and you see a public worker that could be constructing or improving a public building. I believe this is a very valuable lesson Japanese culture can teach us.
Attention to detail
Even the smallest things matter, and this is why Japan has one of the most aesthetically appealing dishes. This is correlated with the custom of adding value and providing a higher quality to any service or product, thus when receiving a gift you can see all the care put into it, bonsais are taken care of with a very steady pulse and origami (the art of folding paper) provides unique creations coming from the same piece of paper.
Japanese tend to not be as confrontational as other nationalities to not hurt the emotions of the one receiving the news. Thus, they indirectly insinuate many of the things, using not only verbal language but in many cases body language. It is very important to check our own or our friends and family’s body language to find out more about how they feel. Their tone or their eyes become indicators of emotions, and small details which we should not be missing out.
It is easy nowadays to disconnect and not really feel attached to many of the things around you. However, we need to dedicate some of our time to the things that make us happy and are important for us. Instead of trying to diversify into many different things, we can focus on some and make sure those are taken care of and are detail-oriented. And with this we come up with the next concept.
Sho ga nai
Or the equivalent “It cannot be helped”. We need to stop caring as much about things that we cannot control. I know it is easier said than done, however continuously worrying about things can lead to anxiety and health problems.
Although the Japanese term can be seen as pessimistic and not giving much room for new things to happen, I like to see it a different way. The things you can do something about you should be focussing on. However those matters where you cannot really take any decision, you need to be able to let go. This could be a breakup, a proposal you have already handed in or a relative deciding they are moving to a different country.
Life is about good and bad things, and accepting that you cannot change those things that are not in your control is a way of going through the five stages of grief proposed by Kübler-Ross. It might take time, or it might be over in the blink of an eye, but the important thing about it is the lesson that life still goes on and we learn from the experience.
There are many more things Japan taught me on my visit there, and it continues to teach me in any article I read or video I watch. This culture is fascinating and definitely worth exploring. Feel free to comment below about some unique things you have learnt from Japanese culture, or if you have applied any of these to your daily life!