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Japan Can Teach The World A Lesson Or Two On Civility

By Kurt Campbell
April 14, 2023
My name is Kurt Campbell.I am a 33-year-old Guyanese man who has been practicing journalism in the small South American country for the last 11 years but following a recent trip to Japan, I believe in earnest that the island country in East Asia can teach the rest of the world a lesson or two on civility.

I returned home with a lingering impression of the marked difference in how Japanese people carry themselves in public and the exhibition of wide-ranging ethical values that differ from those in many other parts of the developed world.

I write from my own experience of being a part of an ongoing transformation in my country where an oil boom is spurring rapid economic development but has also put pressure on locals to adapt to outside influence in ways that are welcoming rather than with disdain or scorn.

There is a focus on developing the country’s tourism product and President Irfaan Ali has said himself that it must be accompanied by a change in the attitude of locals.

I also write from my own experience as a global citizen, having traveled to key destinations on each planet.

Guyana, although located in South America, is part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The first time I would travel outside of the regional grouping of member states would be in 2015 when I made my first trip to North America.

Oh, how I felt I had been exposed to the best the world had to offer. I’ve been blessed to return to North America repeatedly and I’ve ventured to places in Europe and the Middle East.

But none of the 32 countries I’ve visited in my life made a bigger impact on my global perspective of people like my recent trip to Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kyoto. It was a culture shock for me, beyond the language barrier, the people were noticeably different in the way they socialized.

In September 2022 I visited Japan while participating in an invitation programme called “Building a multi-layered network of Japan experts.”

Yes, I was blown away by the urban infrastructure which ranks among the world's best for transportation and mitigating floods and landslides, and yes there were lessons there too for my country.

But one thing that keeps coming back to me is the politeness, respectfulness and helpfulness of the people. In Guyana and other parts of the world, these reactions are earned, not given.

It's easy to be polite to friends or family but showing respect to a person you may never meet again is the purest form of civility and I saw examples of this genuine decency every day.

Japan's architecture, art, traditions and crafts were all impressive to me but the people’s boundless reserves of good manners and courtesy seemed something that definitely only Japan can offer. No other country contains the same characteristics.

At a time when there are roaring discussions in some parts of the world on losing the doctrinal grip on civility, Japan remains an example for the rest of the world.

Everywhere in Japan, people bow to show respect. The collectivistic society is big on - waiting your turn.

Standing in lines and not rushing or creating confusion in public spaces seems a cultural custom that spans nearly all circumstances, even disaster.

I came across many other scholarly articles about how Japan is a role model for civility but I write as one individual and from one peculiar experience.

And while I may also write from a narrow window of just one week of exposure to one the ground Japanese culture, I hold a deeper belief that civility in Japan is much more proactive than I experienced.
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