Changing perception: Land of the rising sun

Changing perception: Land of the rising sun

Japanese Ethos

Changing perception: Land of the rising sun

A traditional tea ceremony in Japan. photo by author

The temperature — a cool 15 degrees, welcomed me as my plane landed on Fukuoka airport. It was the beginning of a whole new vista of Japan, with a great deal to learn and a lot to appreciate. It is generally believed that Japan is a nation of robotic workers, of bland uniformity. This, I soon learnt was not at all true. I went through the formalities in a foreign land, rather dazed by the strangeness of it all.

It was not long before I gathered that politeness, precision and punctuality, rule the lives of the Japanese. Early on during my visit, I also realised that that the Japanese were impassive and calling them inscrutable was a misconception. Generally, they believe that the country’s reputation depends on its citizens and therefore, as individuals, they strive to nurture that image. Such pride, patriotism and punctiliousness in daily doings gives them a dignity that is unmatched.

I realised this while walking on the streets and suddenly, it began to drizzle. A lady emerged from somewhere and held an umbrella over my head to protect me from the rain! I was really touched by her concern. Crime is almost unheard of in the country. Everything is in miniature and to borrow a word from their language, is ‘karaii’ (cute). ‘Kaizen’ (improvement) is the essence of Japanese existence.

To begin with food, Japanese love their fish. While cooking it, they use chicken and vegetables minimally to preserve the fish’s natural flavour. It’s extremely different when compared to Indian cuisine. Japanese food is completely bland without any traces of ‘masala’. Salt too is used sparingly. But the presentation is brilliant, a feast to the eyes. As I am a vegetarian, I faced a few problems and had to survive on bread and butter, salads, boiled vegetables and fruit. Since I believe that familiarising oneself with the food of the place one visits is an important cultural experience, I tasted and developed an intense liking for vegetarian versions of Japanese food such as green tea, pumpkin soup, vegetarian sushi and tempura! Also, I was awed by the intricacies of wearing a kimono and the nuances of a traditional tea ceremony in Japan.

Another unique feature of Japan is that they have turned gift-wrapping into a fine art. In fact, gifts are so beautifully wrapped, that it seems a sacrilege to open them. Flowers too have a special place in Japanese homes and are aesthetically arranged in their personal spaces. I understood why ‘Origami’ (paper folding) and ‘ikebana’ (a style of flower arrangement) were so popular. As for their etiquette of greeting people by bowing forward and changing footwear (one each for the house, rest room, garden....), it is like their religion.

Japanese are religious by nature and they visit temples, shrines and celebrate traditional festivals. However, their society is totally free from religious compulsions. People of Japan are also particular about cleanliness. Most of the country is squeaky clean. Women here have adopted the western dress, but they still retain their innate elegance. The country is truly an inspiration and revelation.