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Polite, Clean and Organised

    Great country, Japan

    What words do you associate with Japan?

    In recent years, more Britons have been visiting Japan for sure regardless of the long-haul flight. As I hate long flight and I don’t go back home as often as I should, I admire the enthusiasm of curious travellers paying a visit to the far east not only once but more than twice.

    They typically spend about two to three weeks starting from the urban area of Tokyo, and then covering from the northern island of Hokkaido to the tropical paradise of Okinawa, including the area which I have not even visited during my twenty two years of life in Japan.

    After Rugby World Cup in 2019, I had a surge of middle age men reporting how great my country is. Guys who have just returned from Japan come up to me with a huge excitement and say how polite people are, how clean the cities were, and how organised everything was.

    So statistically speaking from my own experiences, the words associated with Japan the most are,

    • Polite
    • Clean
    • Organised

    After listing these words, they usually add ‘I loved it!’ Of course, who doesn’t love polite people, clean cities, and punctual trains?!

    Football fans

    Japan doesn’t have the best football players, but for sure we have the best fans in the world!

    My British experiences

    Until I left Japan, I never thought that things like politeness, cleanness and organisation are specific to a certain society or culture in the modern world. Especially where resources are, any civilisation would cherish these wonderful qualities.

    However, the reality was ever so slightly different.

    In the first year in London, the boiler broken down in my flat. Boilers simply don’t break down in Japan. And of course, there is a familiar story to you. The British Gas engineer who turned up in two days later didn’t have the right parts and he rather abruptly said he had to come back again in the following week to fix it.

    During all this time, I was taking cold shower in the middle of February. Cold shower in my perception is something that only happens in prison or war zone. That was my christening.

    And tubes, busses and trains. Signal failure is a part of everyone’s life, But why does a train signal fail in the world where planes are flying and computers are running? Someone said 6 o’clock train only comes at 6-ish. Because it’s Brit-ish.

    When my Japanese friend had a car accident, she was stuck in an ambulance for three hours. The paramedics told her not to move just in case that she might have picked up neck injury. But what was she thinking, she was desperate to go to the toilet. It turned out she didn’t have any major injury but she was worried about potential cystitis. being stuck in an ambulance for three hours is unheard of in Japan.

    Let me tell you one more story because I can’t help telling you. Cling film. It sticks to everywhere it supposed not to and it doesn’t stick places it supposed to. In Japan, cling film sticks just in the way we wish.

    A big question

    The huge gap between the qualities British people appreciate and the inability to provide them left me with one question.

    What makes a country so polite, clean and organised? And if we, everyone in the world, like it so much, why don’t we turn our place of living into the place like Japan?

    I traced down the secret behind the valued qualities to one factor.


    We humans are a bit lazy and irresponsible, and politeness, cleanness and organisation only come with an effort and hard work.

    For us to be able to experience these great qualities, someone has to provide it. The world is a bit selfish, and we just want to receive it.

    Everyone contributes

    In Japan, people seem to have naturally come to a consensus that we should mutually contribute to clearness or punctuality or the great service. We adopt this attitude I expect good service, and I also provide it when it comes to my turn, mostly without even noting it.

    But is it that difficult to provide a bit more care into our everyday life and the society? If we do, there will be a return as well. We will be able to live in the clean, polite and organised society. Why don’t you try a bi? Tiny attention to detail could change our daily life dramatically.

    We can start with a small thing. When you visit a coffee shop next time, just make sure to put your cup and packaging in the bin and return the tray to the counter before leaving. If you can extend a bit further, wipe the table and remove the crumbs.

    I was shouted…

    You won’t believe it, but once in Japan, I completely forgot to clean the table at an international chain coffee shop after snacking with my British colleagues. A middle age lady shouted at me. ‘What the hell are you doing? (well, she might have been a bit politer, but it sounded like that to me with fear…) You got to take care of your own rubbish!’

    She was absolutely right. I just spent too much time in Britain!!! And I forgot our good custom…

    If you clean the table, the next customer will enjoy the clean table. If the customer before you cleans the table, you will enjoy the clean table! Same at the football stadia. Have you seen the news that Japanese fans were picking up rubbish after the match of World Cup in Russia last year? If you pick up rubbish, you will get the clean ground and you feel good about it!

    Work harder or poorer service?

    That applies to your workplace as well. You might want to leave bang on 5pm. Your client is asking you to get done something asap. You spend half an hour and get it done today. You might feel like you have given up of precious 30 min of your day, but let’s just flip the roles now.

    A terrible migraine hits you and you are in immediate need of a pain killer. You rushed to the chemist, and the shop keeper was about to close. You beg the guy to sell the medicine you desperately need. Ten passed five, you are relieved with a box of paracetamols in your hand.

    Well, in Japan you can rely on many of 24 hours convenience store where you can pick up pretty much anything, but I don’t expect that much level of service or commitment because that will technically require you to give much more. But a small potion of giving away doesn’t damage your life much.

    Responsibility is the key

    You just need to put a tiny bit of extra care to everything you do. Then there is always the chain of good acts. Please don’t forget rights to be served well always comes with obligations to serve. It’s always mutual. That’s anyway at the core of our society.

    But if you give that tiny bit of extra and the society becomes a bit politer, cleaner and more organised, isn’t it something worth a try?

    I would be really happy if you could share this Japanese value with more of the Western people :)