Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Are Japanese the Most Polite People on Earth? Omotenashi is the Answer

Chidorigafuchi park/ Moat- cherry blossom season Tokyo
Unrequested help at the Store
We've read you can purchase tickets to the Nippon Professional Baseball League at 7-11. The clerk doesn't understand a word we utter, but a younger Japanese woman behind us responds affirmatively with one word of broken English, "Yes," then leads us by the hand upstairs to the automated kiosk. But does she stop there? Noooooooooo, this is Japan, thus she navigates us through the hieroglyphics, translating as she punches the buttons for us, insuring we get our exact desires. About seven minutes later, we have tickets for tomorrow's Tokyo Giants game.
(Editor's note: "Noooooooooo" is almost always sarcastically negative, not this time)

Based on her blushful, embarrassed reaction to my thanks, I'm concerned If I tried to tip her she might suffer a heart attack. Not wanting to be arrested for murder, I decide to save some money.
The likelihood of a complete stranger overhearing you, and volunteering to spend 7 minutes of their lives performing the identical task in the city of Los Angeles- approaches zero (mathematically speaking.)

The Taxi
uniformed white gloved Japanese taxi driver
The taxi door automatically swings open, the immaculately dressed driver's pressed uniform includes white gloves. Deferential and accommodating, he respectfully bows his head and thanks you after receiving his exact fare. While Japanese find tipping confusing/uncomfortable, failure to tip an American cabbie will often result in him spitting swear words into your face.

Make it Seen
At a Kyoto Temple, I drop my wife's sweater to free my hands to take a photo. After several shooting angles we walk away, leaving it on the ground; ten minutes later she feels a chill. I race back up the trail, scanning the ground, huffing and puffing, doubting I'll find it. To my surprise it's in the most visible place imaginable, nearly eye level on the gate!
Someone picked it up, and intentionally put it in a location the poor sap who lost it would be most likely to see it. Talk about thoughtful. Time and time again, similar occurrences play out.

Sparkling Streets
The streets of Tokyo are as clean as Singapore's, but unlike the harsh penalties used by the SE Asian island nation to discourage litter, Japanese are taught early and often to pick-up after themselves; littering laws are unnecessary.

Deeply embedded into Japanese culture is "omotenashi-" exquisite politeness with a desire to maintain harmony and avoid conflict.
The needs of an individual are subservient to those of the group/ society at large. No one will push you out the way or cut in front of you. Japanese never brag, especially about themselves. You'll rarely, if ever, witness a public disagreement. No one will rev their Harleys in the middle of the night (please commit hari-kari if you do;) as such behavior is simply at odds with the culture.
While other cultures are of the world are quickly becoming homogenized, Japan remains an island of propriety and self-sacrifice in an ever rising sea of selfish deuchebaggery. When it comes to politeness and hospitality, the land of the rising sun wins the gold, and it's not even close. Take a bow, Japan. 
Video: My omotenashi- honoring Japanese deer ancestors


  1. Japanese never brag? I'm guessing you don't speak much Japanese :)

  2. true, only can count to ten and thank someone. But certainly as a foreigner, they seem like the most UN-braggadocio people ever. Very meek, mild mannered and helpful. I'm sure if you live there, they become "more human" ... more "American" as they get to know you. Maybe ego exists in all culture and is just pushed below the surface in some.

  3. I just watched a show on Japan, and, it was like watching a different planet! Their kindness, and willingness to help others was so wonderful. I’m just SO impressed. People seem wonderful!


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