It's no secret to the world that Japanese culture is exemplary when it comes to values. From respect to cleanliness to organisation, these are almost synonymous to them. Despite the almost-absolute spotlessness of their reputation, however, did you know that their secrets to becoming the admirable nation we know of are not exactly rocket science? Ahead, we break down some of the most common Japanese values and practices that the world should take note of — and can easily adapt if we try.
Actively showing respect towards everyone
Bowing is not something that's limited to the Japanese culture, but it's definitely something the Japanese actively do more than other Asian countries. It's a part of their everyday interactions, whether it be seeing a neighbour they don't really talk to, greeting the convenience store lady who handed them change or even the driver who let them pass a sidestreet pedestrian first out of courtesy.
It is a practice that is almost like an involuntary gesture to the Japanese people, showing how much the idea of respect is deeply embedded in their culture since youth. Even their deers in Nara bow before and after you give them food. How's that for proof?
Camaraderie habits that are meant to raise harmony and morale
Getting along harmoniously in the community you belong to, whether it be in your personal life in school or in your office, is also something the Japanese strongly believes in. That's why they have certain practices involving entering a new environment or accomplishing tasks to promote this kind of connection towards one another.
The first one is the phrase "yoroshiku (informal) or "yoroshiku onegaishimasu (formal)" which can be loosely translated to "please treat me well throughout our relationship" or "I hope we get along well". Often said when one enters a new setting, this is not to be mistaken for a mark of dependency. Rather, this phrase is actually meant to show humility and openness to being guided and taught. It also somehow sounds like a pledge to strive hard to regard everyone they will be working with in the future with respect.
Meanwhile, the phrase "otsukaresama deshita," loosely translated to "thanks for the hard work," is something that is said every single day at the end of one's work shift to acknowledge the efforts of everyone. Addressed to your co-workers, not only does it serve as a pat on the back but also serves as motivation to do better the next day.
Turning negative into positive for things that can't be helped
"Shouganai," (or "shoumounai," in the Kansai region) is a common saying in Japan. The phrase means, "it can't be helped," which relates to things that we simply can't control. Its other variation, "shikataganai," or "there's no use," has the same philosophy. While both seems a bit defeatist at first, they actually serve as a reminder that there are things we just have to move on from. For such a hardworking society like Japan, it's actually a sign of optimism. Follow it whenever you're overthinking or overexerting yourselves towards things that are too much to handle at the moment.
Acknowledging someone's arrival or departure
Also highly attributed to their regard for respect, Japanese people have various ways of acknowledging someone's arrival or departure. For homes, it's a habit to say "itte kimasu," meaning "I'll leave and come back," to be replied with "itterasshai," meaning "have a safe trip." When coming home, the person arriving says "tadaima," meaning "I'm home" to be answered with "okaeri," or "welcome home," by the person hearing it. It's nothing too complicated, but it still indicates consideration and assurance for the people you're leaving or saying goodbye to for the day.
Since we're on the topic of goodbyes, it is worth noting that a major misconception people often have is that "sayonara" is a common way to bid someone farewell (as it is in English). In reality, the phrase has such a sombre finality to it that people would get worried if you use it when parting with someone temporarily. "Mata ne" or "mata ashita" meaning "see you" is much more common when parting with your friends or acquaintances.
But that's not all. Even in instances when you had to behave a little impolitely in a public or a formal situation has a corresponding Japanese phrase to acknowledge it. "Shitsureishimasu," or "please allow me to bother you" is something often said when you enter someone's office or private space (whether there's someone inside or not), when you have to leave someone after a conversation or a meeting or if you have to intrude someone's personal space in line with your work (salon staff, security personnel for body checks, etc.). Think of it as next-level "excuse me" or "pardon me" in our own languages.
Generosity and ingenuity especially when sharing one's culture
Last but not least on our list is Japan's openness and generosity to share their own unique culture to the world. In an era where we're always walking around eggshells to avoid call-out culture, Japan embraces cultural diversity and invites people to immerse themselves in the Japanese culture without judgement or hostility — as long as there's mutual respect present. In fact, traditional clothing and art-related experiences, as well as their openness to having foreigners try out prayer plaques (ema) and lucky charms (omamori) during shrine visits, are some of the country's biggest tourism drivers. This is because they believe that cultures should meet and interact rather than be isolated from one another. Other manifestations include the availability of sake-making and geisha lessons that tourists can try.
Aside from these values, here's a Japanese state of mind you can also incorporate into your daily lifestyle.