Uniquely Japanese- Omoiyari 思いやり

Japanese fans clean stadium of rubbish after a World Cup match in Colombia. The Japanese people are seen picking up rubbish and filling rubbish bags in amongst the blue seats of the stadium.

You may have heard the story about the Japanese fans at the World Cup match who remained after the game to clean the stadium. It made the news around the world. This kind of behaviour is not rare in Japan. A tiny country, with LOTS of mountains and a huge population that has little crime and enormous respect for personal space. Consideration for others is paramount, and some critics might say, even stifling.

I certainly noticed this the very moment I arrived in Japan, and have witnessed it on every visit. I only recently learned that there is a name for this cultural phenomena, that it is actually taught in the elementary school curriculum and is considered a form of social intelligence, necessary for societal harmony.

Omoiyari 思いやりmeans compassion, empathy, consideration and kindness. The meaning I read that I liked the most was the anticipation of others needs, in an altruistic manner, expecting nothing in return. The omou 思うpart means to think, and I wrote about this a few weeks ago. (Here is the link). The yaru やる part means to give or to do.

The concept suggests an ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. A respect for other people, the environment and things. When it is taught to children, they are taught to think of what the very best thing to do in any given situation is, and then to do it, the right thing. For your own and everyone else’s benefit. To leave something as, or better, than you found it. To ensure that any area you are responsible for is free of dangers or hazards.

I love this concept of personal responsibility being taught to children. It is not only taught overtly, but through other activities, such as school cleaning and school lunches, where thinking about others before yourself is greatly encouraged and rewarded. What this leads to is respectful behaviour in public places, like trains. Not fearing that someone will make a scene in public, usually… and clean and well maintained homes, public spaces and communal areas. I miss the social harmony of Japan, especially the wonderful quiet on public transport. Every time I catch public transport in Melbourne and I hear someone’s loud conversation of things I do not care to know about yelled into a mobile or cell phone, I pine for the peace of the most awesome train system in the world.

Photo Credit: Twitter @MaheMahakumara

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