I’ve just returned from a holiday in Japan. We (my wife and two kids 12 and 14) went to Tokyo, Hakone (a National Park) and Kyoto.
We chose Japan because we wanted to experience a genuinely different culture to our own, and that is certainly what we found.
I’d like to share a few observations about what we saw and draw a simple conclusion as to how we might improve our own lives and our businesses.
(Please note – I’m not suggesting that a 10 day holiday makes me a Japanese cultural expert! These are just my thoughts from our short time in this most complex and fascinating of countries).
- The Japanese are an extraordinarily cheerful and helpful people. Respect is the watchword. When we arrived at one train station the cleaning staff were lined up along the platform
- Streetcrime is almost non existent. Leave your wallet in a restaurant and someone will run after you with it. Why? Partly because there are local police on every block, who use bikes and
know all the locals. But also because of the culture of respect.
- The subway ticket barriers are always open. They only close if you do not swipe your card. Subtle, but amazing how different this makes you feel to the London equivalent of a closed barrier that you have to open.
- Vending machines on every block which sell water, iced coffee, juices, even hot coffee in cans! Occasionally a Pepsi or coke. Compare this to the vending machines in UK schools and sports centres which sell fizzy drinks, chocolate and crisps.
- We went to a Sumo wrestling tournament. Staff went round the crowd collecting rubbish from people.
- This is a typical Tokyo manhole cover:
- The bullet train has a rule that all mobiles must be switched to silent in the carriage. Respect for others.
- One taxi driver in Kyoto spoke excellent English, learns one new word each day. Why did he go to this effort, I asked. Because, he replied, I want people to have a positive impression from their visit to Kyoto. Imagine that from a London cabbie!
- Japan hotels have a system whereby, for a fee of around £8, luggage can be transferred between hotels. We sent 3 bags from Tokyo to Kyoto while we went to Hakone. On arriving at our accommodation in Kyoto, the bags were waiting for us. Why has no-one set this up here?!
- My daughter (who much to her delight, was asked several times by groups of school kids around her age to be photographed with them) observed that in Britain it’s cool for teenagers to be surly and stupid. In Japan it’s cool to be clever and nice.
- You don’t tip in Japan, but you can give gifts. We gave a bar of Somerset chocolate to the driver who took us to the airport and you’d have thought we’d given him a new car! His face lit up, he was utterly delighted – because the gift showed that we thought he had done a good job.
- Ask directions of a Tokyoite, and they will stop what they are doing and walk you to your destination (we had this experience several times). Imagine that of a Lond… oh, you get the idea.
Of course, Japan isn’t perfect. They could do with a lot more chairs, for example. Sitting crossed legged under a table 1 foot high isn’t easy when you’re 6 foot tall. And they do like their rules. I crossed an empty road when the little man was red and got told off by an old chap on a bike.
But it is at all times respectful. Wonderfully, happily respectful.
We had dinner with a friend one evening in Tokyo. Shiho has lived in Britain for 17 years and is now back living in Japan, and she summed the difference between Britain and Japan beautifully:
In Japan, there are a lot less reasons to be angry.
Mrs B commented that there were memorable people in Japan. When we looked back on holidays in the UK, Italy and France, we couldn’t recall too many people we met. And yet in Japan there were several, mainly taxi drivers, waiters, guides, people who went out of their way to make our lives a little more pleasant.
Maybe the key is as simple as this: Be respectful. Create a world where there are less reasons to be angry.
Could this be the key to a happy life and a successful business?
(Here’s a picture of a bamboo forest which has no relevance but I think it’s rather lovely):