Understanding Japan (2): Structured mentality

By Eddy Montilla.

DRUM

An old axiom says: “We do what we think”. But if you are not entirely convinced of it, you can confirm it by watching some enormous Japan’s steel structures: They are safe, hermetic and framed like… the way people think in that country.

     The common use and selection of a word over others in a region is not something done at random or on a whim, but this selection represents the way of being and thinking of the people who live there. If you travel to Japan, frequent words that you will hear are “omou” (think), “yotei” (plan), “shinpai” (worried) y “anzen” (safe). These words can give us a clue about the basis on which Japanese personality is forged and established: Japanese people can only find peace of mind when all things are under control (I mean, everything is well planned and safe). Therefore, if possible, their activities should leave no room for improvisation. Let’s see an example:

     In Japan, the beginning of a new year is not in January, but in spring, when the fiscal and schools year really begin and new employees will make their “debut”. During this time, you can go to any ceremony and the person in charge of delivering the introductory speech will make quickly reference to the end of the winter, and above all, the arrival of the spring and well known Japanese cherry blossoms. In that regard, everything, every word is planned throughout to a point that you will find books to write speeches for all occasions: funerals, weddings, etc.

CHERRY-BLOSSOMS-2

     This kind of fixed and schematic mentality is instilled into Japanese people at early age until it becomes a feature of their personality and something very common. As a result of this, things should be inside a foreseeable frame. If something is out of it, anxiety and some kind of sense of unease will be haunting them, sometimes with terrible consequences. So, they will be working, as many hours as necessary until the unexpected and new situation turns into an old one, that is, something that can be handle according to the “handbook” they have for each case.

     Compared to other ways of thinking, the Japanese mentality provides one of the best chances for success thanks to its constant emphasis on planning, security and logical answers for problems. In fact, it has been the key that has kept Japan for so many years with a solid economic growth despite its situation after the Second World War.

     The other side of the coin, however, does not seem to be so good. Trying to keep everything under absolute “control”, trying to find perfection everywhere has created “uncontrollable” levels of stress that have pushed more than 30000 people every year to commit suicide for decades. If Tanaka, to cite an example, forgets the keys to open the place where a party will be held and Kawauchi forgets the drinking glasses, because of the delay that this situation creates, even though it has not started yet, the party will be considered a failure. And the most important thing: Since Japanese people do not forgive as quickly as they say “gomennasai” (ごめんなさい=I am sorry), Tanaka and Kawauchi will face tough times. Without any intention of falling into stereotypes, in the same situation, but with different people in a Latin American country, the party had probably started right there: in front of the closed door. Someone who, by the way, was not the person in charge of the drinking glasses would have gone to the house of a supposed friend near the place to get them and… at the end, everybody would have gone home joking about the problems they had to start the party, laughing and saying that they enjoyed the party a lot. This story can teach us that flexibility during contingencies is as important as planning.

     Japanese mentality shies away from uncertain situations. However, uncertainty might also be a “friend” when it comes to inventions. Note that most of greatest inventions that have changed the world have not come from Japan, but from USA, England, France, Italy and other European countries. Japan has improved them, as it has done with cars, bullet trains, etc.

     Finally, we can conclude that if some aspects that characterized the way of thinking and acting in other cultures, like a good dose of humor, flexibility and certain amount of drive in the face of the unknown is added to the Japanese mentality, we could have found an incredible method of thinking that can solve not only many of your personal problems, but can help to have a better world too.

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