Compassion – Japanese Style


I have the good fortune of spending some time in Japan with my best buddy Ian just now for the Rugby World Cup. What an amazing place. I have been before but they were just fleeting visits. This time I have had the chance to explore and get off the beaten track, to walk and to drive, the cities, towns and countryside.

Tokyo is a crazy mix of new and old, fast and slow, noise and tranquility, but as soon as you get off the expressways and leave the main roads you enter a different world.

However, I was struck by a consistent theme, no matter be it in a crowded city, travelling the roads, using the public transport (pretty awesome and a great example of what you can achieve if you invest in infrastructure, but that’s another blog) or running through country lanes. There is no rubbish anywhere. None. No litter, no plastic stuck in hedgerows, no cigarette butts, no dog poo!  The streets are clean, the roadside spotless, the public transport shiny!

Yet, there are no rubbish bins either and no street cleaners. So if there is nowhere to put it and no one is picking it up, that means that the people of Japan as a nation, take responsibility for their own rubbish. They don’t chuck it. They take it home.

Then I stumbled across this article, “What Japan Can Teach us about Cleanliness” on the BBC News website and it dawned on me what it is all about, (link below).

The article is right. It is all about respect. Respecting each other, the towns and cities and the planet. You don’t need an army of picker-uppers if the collective will of the people is to show each other basic respect. Japan has created a coherent collective culture of respect so it is not about enforcement of a compliant public, it is the outcome of commitment.

We talk about “showing respect”. In other words, respect is not just a thought process, it needs to be demonstrated through visible actions for it to be seen. If I do not act on my respectful thoughts and feelings then, in reality, I am not being respectful.

This is the same as compassion. If compassion is “empathy with positive action”, then that could also be used to define respect. You can see that I am being respectful of and to you as I am doing the things to you that you enjoy/need/feel good by; and that is being compassionate.

The good people of Japan know that littering is bad in so many ways; they are practicing compassion but being responsible for their own waste; they are respecting themselves, each other, the planet and all sentient beings.

Compassion and respect go hand in hand; they are inseparable.

Thank you Japan; there is much we can learn from you.


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