Touring Japan was an amazingly refreshing experience. I will post a series of blogs, to cover different regions of Japan or different experiences I had in Japan.
Japan, it seems, is all about efficiency, but additionally, it is compassionate efficiency. That is to say, it is all about making things easier for others. And one always thinks of others, before self. You observe the efficiency in everything from the tender loving care with which the tiniest of gardens are nurtured that utilizes small spaces beautifully, to the way in which shoes are removed before entering homes, by turning around, so that when you leave, you can put the feet directly into the shoes, with ease.
But the efficiency of the toilets just bowled me over. The toilets have numerous settings, bidet and behind washing etc. When you flush the toilet, a tiny wash basin behind the toilet starts to pour water to fill up the tank. One uses that water pouring into the wash basin to wash hands. There is a slight inconvenience to reach over the toilet to wash hands, but it leads to extreme efficiency in water usage as the same water used for washing hands will be used to flush the toilet in the next round. Some toilets start playing music as you enter, so that you do not have to listen to the sounds of other people doing their job.
I was so fascinated by toilets and each time examined them carefully. In one toilet, I noticed a little contraption on the wall opposite the toilet. I could not quite understand Japanese writing but when I pulled it down, it came down as a little seat. And from the picture, I realized it was a seat for a parent to sit on while their little toddler was on the toilet. Fascinating!
In another toilet, there was seat to let the toddler sit while the parent needed to use the toilet. Now I wonder how exactly we used the toilet while carrying a child and with no place to put the child down. And then there was one where both a parent and the toddler can use the toilet, side by side. Compared to the US, while the toilets are much smaller in Japan, they include these little conveniences because someone thought about it.
Japanese efficiency is different from German efficiency. In both systems, the train comes on time and both countries are efficient because they both have a set of mostly rigid, unbendable rules, and they have cultivated a mindset to stick to them. But consider this fact about Germany. I read somewhere that “everything there has to be done exactly as prescribed (no exceptions). There is no point waving madly at the bus driver to let you on after he has closed the doors: the timetable leaves no time for compassion”.
It is a tad different in Japan. Similar unbendable rules underpin the efficiency, but the rules include compassion, thinking about the community, graciousness, and respect for others.
How so? There is a rule that after the train leaves the station, the conductor needs to make one round in each compartment. Then it reaches the next station and he or she gets up and again makes one round (in case anyone needs any help). Each time, whether the passengers acknowledge his presence or not, the conductor is required to acknowledge the passengers and render himself approachable, by bowing to the entire compartment, as he enters, and again, as he exits.
In another situation, we went to stay at a monastery. We were required to take off our shoes at the door (as is customary also in every Japanese home), and were given a set of shoes to wear inside the monastery buildings. All shoes were exactly the same and therefore interchangeable. One morning, we went to pray in the Buddhist temple. We all removes shoes at the door. Me and my friends were the last in coming out of the temple. I presumed that shoes closest to the door will be taken by the others, who came out before us. To the contrary, everyone coming out makes extra effort to take shoes furthest away, so it will be easier for others coming after them.
Before entering every temple, you are required to wash your hands with a ladle, by the water spigot. The hand washing is ritualistic and has to be done exactly the same way. And it was thus explained to me. You pour water over right hand, once that is washed, you hold the ladle with the right hand and pour water over left hand, and then you lift the ladle such that the water pours over the handle. The reason you do this is because after both your hands are cleaned, the water goes over the handle and it is cleaned for the next person to use.
I found Japan to be incredibly clean but once when I was looking to throw some garbage, I could not find any garbage bins. Then I asked someone how did they manage to keep the country so clean, without any garbage bins. She explained that in order to eliminate security threats and to lessen the work for the city, they have minimized the garbage cans, and people just take their garbage home!
Everytime one enters a place of worship, one is required to take off the shoes and wear another set of shoes to be used inside. One time, as we came out, I dumped the shoes given and promptly took my shoes and I was ready. The next one to come out was 81 year old Nakagome-San. She took the shoes of every member of our group and laid them on the floor such that each of them can put their feet directly into the shoes. I was totally ashamed that it had not even occurred to me that I should get everybody else’s shoes and keep them ready for them.
Thinking about others is such an integral part of Japanese mindset that with the Japanese, it is a habit. Thinking about the community and others, before self, is just how things are done and in the process, it enhances efficiency and ensures smooth running of the system. Unfortunately, in some instance, things have gone awry when majority in the group engage in something inappropriate, and no one would challenge the community or the majority.