Different Patterns of Behaviour

Different Patterns of Behaviour

To a few foreigners, Japan is a second home.  I am excluding the sentimentalists who are fascinated by the polite surfaces of Japanese life. Most of them are living comfortably sheltered from its deeper realities. Usually they can neither read a Japanese magazine or book nor speak more than broken sentences. These people are not at home in Japan, though they sometimes think they are. They are more like guests.

Home is a place not only of security and affection, but of quarrels and struggles. Furthermore, it is a place where in the middle of the quarrels and struggles we give—and find—love. In spite of all the faults, we want to be there. A few foreigners can feel that about Japan. They know all the defects, but still want to be there: it is home.  For still fewer of us, it is a sort of third home. We are the ones who lived in Japan in 1940 and again in post-war Japan. Britain has not changed so much: Japan has changed completely. Or so it seems, but has it?

I am often asked, ‘How much has Japan changed?’ If it is English people who are asking, I often say, ‘When you get home from work, what is the first thing you do?’ ‘I usually change’, they answer, meaning that they take off their working clothes, whether factory or office, and change into their comfortable home clothes. In English this is called ‘changing’. And I will tell them, ‘Well, that is how Japan changes’.

This does not mean that Japan is insincere. But there are certain attitudes—ways of thinking, ways of behaving, which are appropriate in one environment. But in a different environment, others are more appropriate. The clothes, so to speak, change. The man or woman changes them, but the person remains the same underneath the changes.

To some extent, this is true of all nations. Talking to foreigners, a Frenchman feels that they expect him to say something witty or clever. (Some Frenchmen admit that they prepare a few witty remarks in advance.) An Italian is expected to be charming. (Some of them say it is very tiring.) These are the clothes which they wear. Sometimes they take coat off; then the foreigner gets a shock.

A political quarrel in France can descend to personal insults which would never be tolerated in Britain, and the Italian Mafia is not charming. But still, though the clothes are only clothes, they do in fact reflect something of the nature of those who wear them. The Italians charmed the world with music, as we see from all those Italian words like allegro, piano, sonata and hundreds of others.

Though an English Savile Row suit and a first-class Italian suit do have many points in common, they are not the same. A typical Englishman wearing a good Italian-made suit does look well-dressed. But somehow he lacks the dashing air which the suit seems to need. Similarly a typical Italian in a Savile Row suit somehow misses the unselfconscious dignity. The clothes in both cases are largely the same, but there is a difference of style, and the foreigner often is not fully at ease in that style.

I sometimes have the impression that Japanese are wearing foreign designs of behaviour. They wear them very well, but there is something not quite natural about them. And this is because those patterns of behaviour have not been developed from Japan itself. But there are one or two exceptions where Japan has been spectacularly successful in developing a new adaptation—a new style of an accepted behaviour pattern.

One such example is industrial capitalism. In the earlier days of Japan’s industrialization, it was as ruthless as the Western model: in 1940 a friend told me how the workmen in his father’s factory had worked all day and slept under the machine at night. Japan gradually changed such practices, but they did not simply reform. They introduced entirely new concepts of management relations, almost undreamt of in the West.

When I lecture on Japan, I can amaze the audience by quoting the president of one of the largest electrical companies, who announced an extra bonus with these words: I am glad you are going to get this extra. I know some of you are short of money. But it will not make you happy, because soon you will increase your commitments, and you will be just as short of money as before. So you will be no happier. But what will make you happy is to know that you are making good-quality, reliable and cheap electrical appliances for the Japanese housewife. That will make you happy, and nothing else will’.

No Western company president would talk like that. He might talk of the good reputation of the company, which would make it successful and so benefit everyone in it. But he would not talk about happiness. That would be a private matter for each employee. A good management would make the company successful and give increasingly good wages and conditions for the staff. But how they use these advantages—whether they were happy or not—would be entirely for each individual and has nothing to do with management.

I once asked Shigeo Horie, then president of the Bank of Tokyo, whom I had known rather well for over 20 years, whether he felt responsible for the happiness of his staff. He replied: ‘Yes. Without any qualifications or reservations, yes’. I then asked Kiyoshi Hara, then president of Asahi Broadcasting Company, the same question. ‘Yes. I don’t expect that I shall always succeed’, said he, ‘but… yes, I do feel responsible’.  I must add also that both these two remarkable men expected their staff to be prepared to work very long hours, if necessary. They themselves did so during crises.

Once, when president Hara was having dinner with me, I noticed that he was very tired. I expected that after dinner he would go home to bed. To my surprise, he remarked that afterwards he would go to the airport to greet one of their TV teams which had just achieved a big success in Beijing. A Western company president would never do such a thing. The TV team would be exhausted and should be given the chance to rest. The next day they would be given a big welcome at the broadcasting station. In this Japanese case, the president himself was also exhausted. Still both sides would recognize the value of this personal greeting. Their very tiredness would make it all the greater.

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