6 Lessons Learned from the Japanese

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Having lived in Japan for two years, Anissa learned not only from the lectures at the campus but also from the attitude and the norms of the Japanese society. What Japanese people have is different culture, different language, different values from what Indonesians get used to – yet she decided to take some that she sees as good ones and use them as an opportunity to improve. Here are the lessons learned she noted.

Value the time

Photo: Bayu Prawiro
Photo: Bayu Prawiro

Japanese people are very punctual. If they say they will meet you at 4 pm, they will be there at 4 pm. If they plan to start an event at 9 am, the event will start at 9 am. It’s very unlikely for Japanese to be late. Even if they do, they will inform you in advance. This on-time habit of the Japanese shows that they respect the time – both one’s own time and the others’ time – because time is something that you cannot get back, once you lose it. This habit has a domino effect. If you don’t value your time, neither will others.

Be grateful for the food you have

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Setouchi food from Okayama

Here in Japan, I rarely see leftover from Japanese people plate. They usually order food in a portion that they sure they can finish, whether it’s in a single portion or in a family portion. In an all you can eat restaurant, they apply a charge for leftover food, thus preventing costumers to take food excessively and left some remaining. For Japanese, anything we have on our plate is a gift that nature brings. It might be something that ordinary for us, but who knows – it might be a luxury to others in a different part of the world. We should be grateful, don’t bite off more than we can chew.

Your waste, your responsibility

Segregated waste bin in Japan
Segregated waste bin in Japan

At the campus’ cafeteria, I have to bring back my dishes to the designated place before leaving. There is no office boy that will clean up the table after eating.

At the apartment, I have to segregate my waste: combustibles, plastics, and recyclables. The waste will be collected in different days, and I have to take the waste to the designated place too. Furthermore, I also have to buy a specific plastic bag for each waste – the more I generate waste, the more I have to pay.

What this system teaches me is that, as a human being, I should be responsible for what I enjoy. There is nothing I can enjoy without doing something to pay the cost – because I have to realize that there is someone out there cleaning up my mess. It teaches me to be mindful. To consider that, a little good deed you do might be something big for someone.

Be considerate of others

Photo: Bayu Prawiro
Photo: Bayu Prawiro

In Japan, it is considered rude to talk on the phone while you are inside a public transportation. Japanese society does not want to invade other people privacy, and it is considered as an invasion of privacy for someone to have a private conversation on the phone if there are others around who can hear and are therefore ‘forced’ to listen. Basically, they just don’t want to be involved in other people’s business. Regardless there are pros and cons of this attitude, I choose to look at the bright side: when in the public area, have some attitude and respect the others. Even though it is a communal area, it does not mean we can do as we like. Instead, we should behave in a way that we want to be treated by others.

Appreciate your history

Ruins and memorial park of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe
Ruins and memorial park of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe

If there is anything I am amazed the most from Japanese tourism, it is how they preserve their historical places. Living in Kyoto, I am well aware that temples and castles here are hundreds of years old – yet, still in a good shape to be visited. I once went to an Earthquake Museum in Kobe, where they put the chronology of the 1995 disaster as well as the sample story and experience of citizens. The museum was really fancy yet touchy at the same time, I could learn the history and empathize with the victims as well. In the port of Kobe, the Japanese even let some area remaining as it used to be after the earthquake – and this is often founded in other significant historical places in Japan. Through preserving its history, the Japanese people teach the younger generation to understand their nation better. Through understanding the history, it is expected that they will appreciate what happened in the past, learn to not repeat mistakes, and think what can be improved for the future.

Proud of your culture

Gion Matsuri in Kyoto
Gion Matsuri in Kyoto

Other than the history, Japanese people are fond of their culture. Regardless the modern era and the globalization happening around the world with Japan is no exception, traditional festivals known as “matsuri” are still being regularly held in many Japanese cities. From Gion Matsuri in Kyoto to Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo, from Yuki Matsuri in Sapporo to Awa Odori in Tokushima – Japanese people celebrate their culture with proud. The matsuri is held throughout the year – the schedule depends on the place – but the season with the most matsuri is summer. When a matsuri is being held, it is not only related communities that come to the event – it is the entire city (even sometimes the citizen from the neighboring cities). The old and the young generation are blended together in the street, enjoying the moment. Imagine if Indonesian celebrate their culture as much as Japanese do. I believe it will be much more beautiful than what Japanese has!

Closing remarks
When studying abroad, do not get stuck in lessons that you get in the class. Socialize, then observe the society of the country you live in. Travel, then learn their history and their culture. Open your mind to new things, see everything from many different perspectives. Hopefully, it may help you to develop and improve yourself, towards a good way.