When I asked Yamamoto san about what she desires to be in the future, she smiled and said, ‘a sweet maker’.
Japan doesn’t dream big. It believes in doing small things of life with utmost perfection! It tries to dig out creativity and innovativeness at every nook and corner of the work they do and hence two people doing the same given work shall never yield two analogous results. It is a culture that it has defined.
I reached Japan on 11th November at a time when everyone in India was in their beds. Temperatures dipping to 8 degrees and a mild wind that floated the essence of autumn over it and over the next one week we experienced Tokyo, Yokohama and Musashino. From the Tokyo Metropolitan building to Sankien garden (Tagore stayed at this place for 3 months in 1916!) to Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse to Meiji Jingu, Harajuku to The National Diet Building (Parliament of Japan) and the list goes on. We were given first-hand experience on Japanese culture, tradition and the long legacy of heritage that Japan bears on its responsible shoulders. It was a proud moment for me when I was given an opportunity to work with them by being selected as the Group Leader of my batch.
Japanese people are undoubtedly strongly rooted in their culture. It is a misconception that globalisation and culture cannot go hand-in-hand. Japan makes it happen in the finest manner possible! You wouldn’t be lucky enough to find too many English signboards in Japan. Everything is Japanese. From phones to restaurants (Even McDonalds!) to even the instructions on the MRI and CT scan devices at hospitals! People do not eat lot of fast food. The probability of finding an American or Italian fast food joint is much lesser than in India. Hence, you don’t find obese Japanese easily. People consume lot of rice, veggies and meat. Seafood is very popular in Japan. From Salmons, Shrimps to Squids and Octopuses; I have tasted them all! There are no hawkers or general stores in Japan. You have supermarkets and convenience stores. Chains like Family Mart, Co-Op and 7 & 11 are found at walkable distances. If people live a corporate lifestyle in their cities, back at their homes they still use Tatami mats and take Furo.
You cannot find better hospitality than in Japan. Even if language is a barrier, people still try to decipher your gestures and help you out. Our Japanese coordinators Ichihashi-san and Ikeda-San are the epitome of ideal Japanese hospitality. Like a mother who takes care of her child, they took care of us.
Japanese are very honest people. A shopkeeper literally ran to give a bag that one of the girl members of our group left it behind in the shop! On escalators, both at stations and malls, people stand on the left side and those in hurry walk on the right side. Queues are made before the train arrives and when the train doors open, ones who wish to come out are allowed at first. Yes, there is a crunching session during rush hours but discipline makes it simpler. The roads are mostly 4–laned or 6-laned and there are separate lanes for bicycle riders, pedestrians and blind people! The lane for the blind people has a different texture for them to feel. You could rarely see some bikes on roads for people mostly commute through their outstanding transit system or use bicycles or cars. School children travel through trains and have a sense of self-discipline. Though mobile phones are allowed in the schools and hairstyle is never an issue but students understand that they need to pay attention when a teacher teaches, that they must prepare for tests and that they must always have a respectable individual identity.
On the fourth and the fifth day of our trip, we had a homestay with a Japanese family to get a first-hand experience of the Japanese lifestyle and a day in the life of Japanese. Along with 2 other batch mates, we stayed with the Suga family and that was where we savoured the essence of their hospitality! Our host mother Kaoru-san was a wonderful cook and a beautiful calligraphy artist who wrote personalised messages for us on the Japanese hand fans! Hayato, their elder son has also visited India and he loves to eat samosas! Kenken, their younger son is a brilliant boy and our host father took all the care that we needed…
I remember when we visited the campus of the Asia University; I gave an impromptu vote of thanks which the official liked it so much that he actually asked me to join the University and that is where I realised that Japan respects talent and not nationality…
The most striking thing in Japan is the realisation of its citizens of a national identity which is much more important than a religious one. Everyone introduces themselves as Japanese and not from a specific caste or religion. People believe in dignity of labour strongly and that is why I chose to mention a small anecdote over it in my opening lines. I cannot say that I desire to be a Halwai when I grow up unless I belong to the family of Haldiram or Ghasitaram but they can say it with confidence. I have not encountered with many Japanese stating that they desire to be engineers. This happens because they believe in themselves much more than the monetary outcomes of a profession.
During 2011 Fukushima disaster, the press offices were destroyed. Reporters wrote the newspaper on the city walls so as to help victims to know about relief centres and further progress! This was not something that was expected. This is what comes from within, something out of the way. Today, these newspapers are in a museum in Washington D.C. We had a pleasant moment when we made our own newspaper along with our team members and wrote about our experience in Japan at the museum.
The unfortunate part is that though they show altruistic behaviour towards us but they are not able to trust the Indian scenario. People believe that doing business in India is a challenge due to bureaucratic hurdles. During our visit to Kyorin University’s Department of Medical Sciences (A Renowned institute in Japan), the doctor who asked Srishti Kumar, my group member who is from DPS Bokaro and me to join him in a tour around the hospital’s 16 operation theatres (We actually went inside the O.T when an operation was in process), Phlebotomy services centre and radiotherapy centre commented on Indian Medical services stating that for a blood test in Japan, people wait for five minutes unlike in India where they wait for one hour! It reflects the negative image of our country for which we are responsible completely. These impressions are a hindrance to India’s growth and development and we must resolve to change our attitude in our working spaces.
Culture cannot be inculcated in five years of time. It takes generations. We are a much more diverse society than Japan and have a strong tradition to our name but we haven’t been able to sustain it and that is what makes India and Japan so different. Culture doesn’t imply only to arts and heritage, it also includes our thought-process and our behaviour.
A nation is defined by its culture and culture is built by people. Japan has realised its potential as a nation and has evolved as a mature society. People have their own expectations and opinions. Though history and nature haven’t been kind on them yet they ‘stretch their arms towards perfection’ with their passion and willingness to learn. No one is complacent or has an arrogant attitude. Every individual respects other and this is how they have laid the foundation stone of a powerful society.
On the last day, we presented our findings, observations and action plan to officials from Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and Japan International Cooperation Centre and our group came down to a consensus that we shall be adopting garbage disposal techniques in India that we came across in Japan starting from our school, family and friends and contribute to our Hon’ble PM’s ‘Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan’.
Aung San Suu Kyi during Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture stated a very important observation which is quite applicable to Indo-Japan relations, “Relationship between two nations is relationship between its people and not between its governments because governments come and go and that is what democracy is all about…”