“Where Are All the Trashcans? And Why Are You So Close to Me?” – Insight Into Japanese Selflessness

20140806_230858After having been part of the TOMODACHI Inouye Scholars Program and visiting the beautiful Japan, I and my fellow group mates have been immersed in the culture and way of life. One thing to note was how very thoughtful the mindset of the average Japanese person was to their fellow man. The importance of manners, order, and respect are very highly regarded in this country and it is evident in the customs and traditions.

For one, Japan was very clean though this was not due in part to the overabundance of trash cans because as hard as I looked, there were none to be found in the busy metropolitan areas. I later learned from one of my Japanese friends that this was due to the ban on trash cans in public areas created in the 90’s. The reasons for which you can view here: http://thisjapaneselife.org/2012/02/08/trash-cans-in-japan/

So instead of throwing away their trash in the streets, the Japanese are environmentally conscious enough to pocket most of their trash and throw it out in their own home. This was to my dismay, as I was very fond of eating from ice cream vending machines and you could probably guess how messy that turned out. Overall, the people of Japan are different from Americans in one very important aspect being their inclination to favor collectivism over individualism; where the good of the group is prioritized over the self. I saw this in the way they handled their lack of trash cans, their lack of space at certain times on the train, and their casual way of leaving bikes unattended not having to worry about them being stolen.

This is due to the Japanese having two seperate mindsets; “tatemae” the outer self and the “honne” or inner self. Having these two separate outlooks allows the typical Japanese person the ability to be up close and personal to a fellow train patron without feeling uncomfortable or be aware of how littering would cause an unwanted trash build up overtime. In short, the tatemae is based on the want to maintain social harmony while the honne is used in private settings or informal environments. Looking from the outside in, Japan was a very polite country especially when dealing with visitors like us.

This wonderful country welcomed us with much kindness and warmth which made a very large impression on all of us on this trip from the way store clerks would always greet you at the door, to the extreme patience when dealing with us foreigners on the other side of a language barrier. They were so nice, my roommate Sergey told me of how he went to the local public bathhouse without shampoo or body wash but was graciously lent some by some of the patrons bathing there. Even the custom of giving gifts or “omiyage” to our hosts was quickly and constantly reciprocated.This form of “eastern hospitality” had definitely made this trip one to remember and gives me a reason to return to Japan again and again.

I fell in love with Japan and truthfully, it is a place full of structural beauty and historical richness but i would be remiss if I would not call to attention the truly amazing and people who live there and made my experience unforgettable.

-By Brendan Tomas

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