You are on the streets, and an old Japanese lady is sitting on a bench, enjoying the weather down the road. As you are approaching, she looks at you with a smile and says, “Konnichiwa,” with a short nod. You smile back, and you reply with “Konnichiwa,” and you do a short nod. A few minutes later, you see some small children hop around, and as you pass them by, they look at you, and they all say “Konnichiwa,” and they all do a short nod. You smile back, and you reply with “Konnichiwa,” too, along with a short nod. The smile remains on your face the rest of your day thinking: “Thank god, I love Japan.”
“One kind word will warm for three months of winter (一つの優しい言葉は、冬の三カ月を温める)” is a Japanese proverb often used to remind people that being kind to each other will keep the relationship strong and will help you through tough times. Keep everyone as your friend, and they might help you in the future when you need them the most. It also means that it only requires a single word to make a person happy. One word that will remain in the receiver’s heart. I, personally, love this. Being kind to people not because I would like something in return, but they will be kind back. You could maybe translate it to simply ‘Karma.’ This form of kindness in Japan can be felt everywhere and anytime.
Of course, I can only share my experiences here in Beppu, as this is called the ”countryside” of Japan. Oita prefecture is located on the Kyushu island (all the way in the south), and far away from the big industrial areas. It might be the case that the people in the south are a bit kinder than individuals that live in the metropolitan area. Though I did meet Japanese people in the Netherlands, and I noticed their friendliness, and came from different cities. And my four-day visit to Tokyo was not sufficient enough to assess their level of kindness. Still, even then, I could notice the kindness of the people.
Here in Beppu, the locals are quite kind to the international students. I have read some stories of people being harassed by, for example, a drunk person that would cuss and shout to the foreigner for being a foreigner. At moment of writing, I have been in Japan for six months. I have NEVER been discriminated against by the locals. The contrary, in fact: I have been showered with kindness, so to speak.
Wherever I go, there is always someone who would greet me. This has a quite positive effect on me. Over time I found myself doing the same thing. I would greet strangers on the street, and they will always greet me back. If not by words but at least by a short nod. Receiving and giving greetings from random people brightens your day. In my home, country barely anyone would greet you on the streets. Only if you knew each other, you would greet the person. Whether you are in a small town in the countryside or in a big city, no greetings.
One day I was travelling with a friend of mine from Oita back to Beppu by train. In the train compartment, there was something very peculiar that caught my eye. The train guard walked passed us and walked towards the door that led to the next train compartment. This door is a sliding door. Before the train conductor opened the door, he turned towards us, made a deep bow, and turned back to the sliding door. He opened the door, then walked through the door, turned again, made a deep bow (towards us), and then closed the door. Between the two train compartments, there are two doors. When he reached the second door, he did the same thing, bowing, opening, going through the door, closing the door, and bowing again.
The reason why I found this so intriguing is that nobody in the entire compartment paid any attention to him but me. He could have walked through the door without bowing, and no one would have noticed. This leads me to the second level of kindness, which is respect. This form of bowing is an act of kindness and respect. The train guard respects us and greets his travellers even though no one paid any attention to it.
It is not just the act of greeting that makes the Japanese so unique. When you are in a store, you find yourself in a narrow space with another Japanese person deciding what to pick. When the person notices you, he will immediately back up and do a short bow, which indicates that you can pass him. The person will say “sumimasen,” meaning my apologies (for standing in your way). Where I am from, you will need to ask the person to let you pass, and this person pretends he didn’t see you. Probably thinking: “You can walk around.” The Japanese are harmonious people, and it can be felt everywhere. They will always put themselves on the second spot. The other person still always be favoured before themselves.
Kill Them With Kindness
The reason why the title of this post is called “Kill them with Kindness” is because I noticed something intriguing regarding the behaviour of my fellow international students. At APU, we have people from all over the globe. All with different views on the world, life, philosophy, and whatnot. But yet the kindness of the Japanese has a contagious effect. Everyone that I know has adopted the Japanese cultural behaviour and made it their own. We greet, bow, thank, nod, apologise, smile to strangers in some specific situations we probably would have never done in our home countries.
Imagine yourself in your home country’s capital, and you have forgotten your laptop on a bench in the metro station. Would your laptop still be there one hour from now? The answer would most likely be “No.” In Japan, you do not need to worry. Your laptop will still be at its location and, yes, even in a big city. The Japanese will not steal your laptop. As such, the kindness and respect of the Japanese changed the international students too. When an international student finds an iPhone 7 lying somewhere, the student will take photos of the mobile phone and post it on the “Lost and Found” Facebook page to return the phone to its rightful owner. I would see the most expensive item posted on the Facebook group by international students to return the items to their owners. The students could just take the expensive items and make it their own, but instead, the Japanese’s kindness makes them honest and caring too. “Don’t do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you” ~Confucius. If you one day lose your item, you would be grateful to the person who brings it back.
I could keep writing about all the details of the Japanese’s kindness, but then I would be writing a book instead of a blog :P. Japanese culture is truly a unique culture where people care for each other and are kind to each other. It feels like being a part of a big family, even as an international student.
“Are the Japanese 24/7 kind to every single person all the time“. No, of course not. Let’s be realistic. They are just like you and me also mere human beings made out of flesh and blood. The Japanese also feel frustration, hunger, tiredness, and stress. You could meet someone who had a bad day and would ventilate all his anger on you just because you were there at the wrong place at the wrong time. Furthermore, I know that the Japanese are very competitive,. When it comes to work and money, they can become as vicious as any other salesman worldwide.
This blog post is based on my experiences as an APU student in Japan. I am aware of the many stories about working in Japan, and it is hardships. Whatever country you visit, there will always be some people that would give you a hard time. However, the ones that do give you their love and kindness will outweigh the bad ones by large. Just remember to return your love and kindness to them. Personally, I think that Japan is not only called ‘The Land of The Rising Sun’ because of its geographical location but because the Japanese are the ones who will brighten your day.