DOING THINGS RIGHT

Lessons for Kenya from Japanese culture of respect, honesty

The success of Japan as a country and companies has been pegged on the culture of integrity and honesty

In Summary

• Bowing is one of the primary ways the Japanese show respect to other people

• This culture can be traced to the seven oath or basic rules of Aizu-han or Samurai clan for male children below 10

Pupils have lunch at Bairin Elementary School in Yokohama on July 10
Pupils have lunch at Bairin Elementary School in Yokohama on July 10
Image: ELIUD KIBII

Normally, when you greet a Japanese, they will bow, or ojigi. This is because the Japanese culture places heavy emphasis on respect, and bowing is one of the primary ways they show respect to other people.

Theirs is about respect for each other, respect for work and respect for time. Children are taught to behave respectfully in the presence of adults, and this transitions even into adulthood, which among others has contributed to a society that is respectful and honest.

Teenagers in school are introduced to a form of the Japanese language called “keigo”, which is words, phrases, and conjugations used in formal or official situations.

During an observation visit to Bairin Elementary School in Yokohama, I noted that children as low as Grade 1 serve lunch for themselves, take the dishes back to the kitchen for washing, and go back and clean their classes.

School principal Hideharu Kuroki said this is intended to make the children responsible and self-reliant.

Interestingly, even in restaurants, people take their utensils to a designated area after finishing their meals.

INTEGRITY AND HONESTY

The success of Japan as a country and its companies is been pegged on the culture of integrity and honesty. Miyagi Africa Association president Isaac Yaw Asiedu, who is originally from Nigeria, says the Japanese have been taught that to be successful, you have to work hard.

This explains the low corruption levels in the country. Japan is the 18 least corrupt state out of 175 countries, according to the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International. Corruption rank in Japan averaged 19.33 from 1995 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 25 in 1998 and a record low of 14 in 2011.

This culture can be traced to the seven oaths or basic rules of Aizu-han or Samurai clan for the male children younger than 10 years: Must not disobey the elders, must make a bow to the elders, do not lie, do not be a coward, do not bully the weak ones, do not eat things outside the houses, do not speak to women outside the houses and you should not do what ought not to be done.

Hideyo Noguchi, the celebrated scientist who developed the vaccine against yellow fever, lived by the mantra, “Honesty is the best policy”.

PLASTIC BAGS

Tokyo and other cities are crystal clean, despite the fact that plastic bags are still used to pack, and that there are no dustbins on the streets. They live by the mantra: Do not litter, your trash is your business. You thus have to put any papers in your bag or trash it in bins around malls and stations.

On August 28, 2017, the government of Kenya effected a ban on the use, manufacture or importation of plastic bags. Last month, President Uhuru Kenyatta banned the usage of single-use plastic products in all protected areas as Kenya seeks to curb plastics hazard.

Plastic waste is, however, still littered in various cities, and tonnes of it and water bottles are collected from oceans, especially during coastal clean-up days.

This probably points to the need to change the attitude around plastic use, rather than banning it altogether.