While I lived in Tokyo in the mid- seventies, milkman who delivered milk in houses went on a strike for two days against the milk dairies. However, before going on strike, they left two days milk supplies at their customers' homes so as not to inconvenience the house holders.

The Bank employees too went on strike against the management. Instead of stopping work and inconveniencing the customers, they did more work. They remained stuck to their chairs during their luncheon hour. The only symbol of strike was the black bands worn by all bank employees during the course of the day. The banks functioned smoothly. No rowdy demonstrations or slogans, no violence, no blockade of officers and no sit-ins. Ultimately, their demands were met to a great extent.

If a prominent leader of the country and a former Prime Minister of Japan died, no holiday was declared in government offices. There was no lowering of the national flag and no funeral procession with a million followers passing through the streets as in India. Everything functioned normally including the government offices. In Japan, no national holidays are declared on the deaths of the leaders or on the death anniversaries of leaders who are no more. Holidays in Japan other than Sundays are rare.

'Work is worship' seemed to be the motto of the Japanese nation. Rain or snow, the Japanese are seldom late for work. No lame excuses are made. If anyone is late, there will always be a genuine reason. Discipline and an honest day's work is the hall-mark of the Japanese nation. It is part of their psyche and tradition and not enforced by a rod or stick. Among the older employees, we may still find people who have had not used any earned holiday in their entire career, except on the occasion of a family tragedy.

Each office has its normal working hours but you will not see any employee leaving exactly at the closing time. Many of them stay late and work an extra two hours with no overtime paid. No one forces them. They genuinely seem to be motivated by commitment to their company or factory. Usually, even after work, the Japanese office employees do not go straight home. Instead, they unwind by sitting in a beer bar with a friend or a colleague. That is their after office entertainment.

Each company or a factory has a company flag and before the work starts, they line up the staff in disciplined rows to sing the company song where the Chief briefs them about the tasks ahead during the day. It may also be said to the credit of the Japanese employers that they take good care of their employees and treat them with respect. Management is always willing to negotiate on workers legitimate demands and grievances. I never heard of a lock-out or a violent incident outside or inside a factory during five years of my stay in Tokyo. Joining a company as an employee was equivalent of having joined the government for life. Promotion is guaranteed on the basis of seniority. If ten persons were appointed on a given day to similar positions, their promotions will be simultaneous unless there are strong reasons not to do so.

Relaxation or lazing around by not working during office hours on one pretext or other is unknown to Japanese people while it is common in many countries. The Japanese business corporations introduced to the rest of the world many human resource practices to ensure total well being of their employees – making them more productive. In large factories, it is a treat to see how the Japanese exercise at work and relax as well. Work is suspended at regular intervals as all employees join in for physical exercises. I have seen railway staff taking time off to do some exercises together - and the Station Master scavenging the station floor willingly. There is no shame in doing any task any where.

Japan does not have a class of people often described in the western world as the ‘ugly rich’. Many Japanese are affluent but they live modestly. There is no ostentatious display or flaunting of wealth through flashy cars, gaudy clothes and jewellery. Their houses are small, modestly furnished with typical Japanese furnishings – the ‘tatami’ floors which keep the houses warm in winter. Ceilings are low to protect houses from frequent earthquakes with thin partitions in the houses used as internal walls. Use of cement and steel is minimal, excepting in new multi-storey buildings which are also earthquake proof.

The top executives or Directors in Japan are well-paid but taxes are high. The ultra rich are only those who have shares in the successful companies or are part-owners of a companies. For the top managers, the greatest recognition comes in the form of the membership of a prestigious Golf Club paid for by the Company. It is on the Golf courses that the leaders of industry take business decisions meeting with each other socially. Golf is a rich and successful man's game in Japan, unlike in Western countries where it is within the reach of the middle or even working class.

Officers below the top level have to be content with their expense accounts. The expense account is a tax-exempt perk in Japan which enables the Japanese to enjoy themselves and make their clients happy too with their lavish hospitality. It also gives the boss an opportunity to invite some of his senior colleagues , where they all talk frankly and bluntly with each other under the influence of alcohol. All said and done at night in a drunken state is forgotten the next morning.

I had an opportunity of attending such a dinner with the executives of a major printing company which had done some printing job for our office. Initially reluctant to accept the dinner offer, I was advised by my local Public Relations agent that my refusal would be taken amiss and that it was a kind of routine way of saying thank you from a Japanese company. It also allows the Company executives to freely mix with the clients for future goodwill and more business. When I joined the dinner, the hosts were 12 – the staff of the printing company and the guests two - me and my public relations agent – a Japanese!

I liked the Japanese way of enjoying themselves on expense accounts – the way they acted, danced without inhibition, with joy, made dirty jokes with the girls invited for the occasion. I was even more amused by their frolics as I was not used to consume alcohol and let it be said to the credit of the hosts, they did not insist on my drinking. However, to keep up with their glasses of whiskey, I had to empty an equal number of coke glasses.

Japan is largely free of corruption as far as the common man is concerned. Dealings in offices are according to rules. All dealings with national government and municipal offices are transparent and as per the rules which are well-understood. There are no deliberate delays to extract money. Information is given willingly. I never saw a traffic constable having an argument with a driver. The accused willingly accepted their faults and paid the fine. Favours are seldom asked for or given. There is discussion on political corruption occasionally in newspapers but this corruption is usually for the sake of the party – individual corruption was seldom featured in the Japanese Press.

Tokyo has an extensive public transport network of underground rail connecting stations every minute or so. The levels of public honesty were amazing. I was in the habit of forgetting my umbrella or cap. My umbrella always chased me because it carried my telephone number and address. The finder would telephone my office and, if convenient, even leave the umbrella in my office. I met many foreigners who had similar experiences in Japan. Umbrellas, topcoats, or sweaters and even wallets with cash forgotten in the train were retrieved through the Lost and Found Department of the Railways . In five years of daily travel on those trains, there was only one thing that I never got back - a hand-spun woollen shawl sent by a relative in India for my wife. I had left it on my seat leaving no address.

Theft and dacoity are uncommon in Japan. Policemen are extremely polite. If you are a foreigner and approach a policeman for directions, there is a good chance that he will drop you at your address.

Another interesting thing that I noticed in Tokyo was the 'pushers' who helped you board a train by pushing you from the outside especially in winter months. Because of extreme winter, most Japanese wear heavy woollen top coats and during rush hour the compartment cannot accommodate all the passengers waiting to enter. At this time, the pushers helpfully push you inside the compartment, including the ladies. No lady objects to their pushing!

Aping the West has been a Japanese weakness. On formal occasions, Japanese are invariably seen dressed in black coats and striped trousers – especially while attending weddings and funerals – sometimes at cocktail parties too. At home, they relax in their traditional clothes. This was in direct contrast to the Japanese loyalty to their Emperor. I have seen many Japanese bowing their heads when passing by the Imperial Palace in the heart of business district of Tokyo in deference to Emperor. The Emperor is the fountain-head of all power under the Constitution. He is above criticism. Media generally does not find faults with any activities of the Emperor or his progeny. There is hardly any scandal associated with the royal family and the media respects this tradition.

During my stay in Japan, I was amazed to read the story of Sergeant Yakoi who was discovered in the jungles of Guam, a little known American Island in the Pacific. In 1973, Yakoi was still 'fighting' a lonely battle against the Americans- 28 long years after the war had ended. He was sure the Japanese army could not be defeated and as per the orders of his Emperor, he had to die fighting and never surrender to the enemy. Hundreds of newsmen from Japan and the rest of the world landed in Guam to meet this man and cover this unique story. Touched by his struggle in the jungle and patriotism, his countrymen offered him money and other help to enable him to settle down in Japan. Scores of young Japanese girls volunteered to marry the great patriot including young girls. Sergeant Yakoi chose a 44 year-old woman who had remained a spinster to look after five of his brothers and sisters after the death of her father. He then settled down in his small home town as a tailor which was his profession before the war!

However, the Japanese establishment was is no mood to make Yakoi a hero. Sergeant Yakoi expressed his desire to meet the King Emperor. The emperor politely declined telling newsmen, “He needs more rest.” Yakoi was a face of Japan which the new Japan wanted to forget. The new Japan’s focus was on moving on in the contemporary world through economic prosperity rather than war.

The sergeant was totally forgotten in a few years.

While I was working in Japan, the country had another patriot, a well-known writer and a candidate for the Nobel Prize for literature – Mishima. I had read English translations of several of his books and was immensely impressed. I was mighty pleased to my favourite Japanese writer at the 1970 Republic Day get-together of Indian students in Japan. He had visited and seen India and was very fond of the country. In a short conversation he talked to me about the Hindu belief in transmigration of the soul. He smilingly told me, “May be I will be born in India in my next birth.”

I liked him and we agreed to meet again for an Indian luncheon. But. that was not to be.

A month later, he was no more.

He committed 'Harakiri' in full view of thousands of Japanese soldiers lined up before him. Mishima, along with a few of his comrades, conspired to instigate the Japanese self-defence forces (a typically Japanese term for defence forces) to seize power from the existing democratic Japanese Government. The objective was to establish a military government to retrieve Japan's pride, as he called it. The strategy for achieving this could have been thought of only by a Japanese !

The plan was that Mishima (a very respected personality of Japan and a great orator) would go to the office of the Commander of the Self-Defence Forces. Mishima planned to take the Commander as 'hostage' with the help of his other supporters and would then seek permission from the Commander to address the soldiers. He was to appeal to the soldiers under his command to revive the old glory of Japan by becoming a great military power. If the soldiers responded positively to his call, he would lead the revolt from the front. And, if he failed to convince the soldiers, he would commit “Seppuku” suicide in full view of the forces.

Next day, Mishima with four of his supporters reached the headquarters of the Self-Defence Forces. Mishima had in his hand a traditional sword of a Samurai soldier of Japan. The Commander who already knew Mishima welcomed him and told him that carrying a sword in Japan was illegal. Mishima told him that he had registered it with the Government as a heritage item and offered to show him the proof. As the General moved forward, Mishima unsheathed his sword. His four supporters tied the general with ropes around his own chair.

As the General's Security guards came forward to save him, Mishima threatened bloodshed with his naked sword and stated that the General will be released only if he was allowed to address the soldiers. The General ordered his people to line up the soldiers before Mishima and he was permitted to address them. Over 2000 soldiers stood before Mishima to listen to Mishima speak from the balcony of the Army headquarters.

He exhorted the soldiers to rise against the current materialism of Japan and revive the old Samurai culture and glory of Japan under the flag of the Emperor. He continued his oratory but it made little impact on the soldiers. Mishima was a great writer and an orator but apparently he had not sensed the changed mood of the Japanese people. They had tasted democratic freedom and prosperity after centuries of feudal rule. And, they were not going to lose it.

After listening to him, some soldiers in the audience shouted, “Baka ne” - (He is a fool). Only a few said in low voice - “Taino Heka Bonzai” - Long Live the Emperor. The rest of the soldiers remained silent – unmoved.

Mishima was intelligent enough to understand that his mission had failed. His face showed the grim determination of death. He undressed the upper part of his torso – and sat down on his knees as if in a prayer. The Commander realised that Mishima was going to commit suicide and requested him not to take such an extreme step.

Instantly, Mishima thrust the naked sword that he had unsheathed earlier into his own stomach bringing out his insides and asked his colleague- the 25 year old Morito. to severe his head with the sword. Morito followed the orders of his leader and sat down in the same position as his master and asked the third colleague to severe his head. The other three had orders from Mishima to surrender quietly. They freed the general and surrendered.

Mishima’s death was the banner headline in the media the next morning. The whole country was shaken, stunned. Mishima was discussed, analysed and commented upon, criticised and ridiculed in the media and then forgotten--- totally.

After the event, the Japanese Prime Minister commented, “It was a sheer act of madness.”

Japan was no longer the Japan of the forties, I felt.

Another Japanese writer, Kawabata, committed suicide soon after Mishima. He was 75. and the only Japanese to have won the Nobel Prize in literature. He also left no note to explain his action – as per the old tradition! But, it was believed that he was unhappy with the way elders were being ignored in the new Japan.

Most foreigners visiting Japan regarded Japan as a mysterious country. But, I did not find this to be true. I had come to Japan with an avowed aim of knowing and understanding the Japanese. I and my wife made an earnest attempt to know and understand them. I started learning the Japanese language and was able to make some progress. My wife made friends with neighbouring Japanese women. They would meet at our home with English Japanese dictionaries in hand and succeeded in communicating with each other. Soon, an ex-Japan Airlines hostess who spoke English well joined their group in the park and the conversation became easier and the group larger. The main criticism of the Japanese those days among foreigners was that the Japanese did not invite foreigners to their homes for dinner. But, my wife and I were invited to their homes several times with the Japanese hostesses taking the trouble of making special dishes for my wife who was a pure vegetarian.

The real reason behind not inviting foreigners to their homes, I discovered was the feeling that their home and food was not good enough for foreigners. This was mainly because their homes were small. I saw some of my neighbours living and managing their families in two room flats. They had all the modern gadgets stored in one room which was changed into a bedroom at night. They found it more convenient to host foreign guests in restaurants and felt good that they could feast them lavishly on their expense accounts- it was not due to their stinginess or inferiority complex. It was more convenient to entertain them in restaurants on expense account.

The Japanese are a smart people. Having lived under the American forces for seven long years and having experienced peace and freedom during those crucial years leading to peace and economic progress, the nation decided that economic prosperity did not need acquisition of new territories and militarization of nation. They adopted the basic ingredients of the British and American systems. Although they retained their Emperor as the fountain- head of all power, the real power rested in the hands of the Prime Minister and his cabinet which was responsible to the Diet (Parliament). The Diet is patterned on the two British Houses of Parliament with the lower house elected every four years.

Before the American occupation, Japan, too, had a constitution but it allowed only one percent of the population the right to vote. The new constitution which Americans introduced gave every adult citizen right to vote, including women.

The Constitution guarantees all fundamental rights including that of forming labour unions. However, beyond these basic similarities, they devised their own peculiar system of governance which makes members of Parliament the most affluent members of society. They vote for raise in their pay almost every other year and have a number of perks at Government expense.

The Party System is not very strong. The Government has been largely in the hands of the ruling party called The Liberal Democratic Party, whose prime motto is Japanese Business First. It is a loose coalition of vested interests like the Corporate Houses, who support the ruling party financially at the time of elections. A majority of the Prime Ministers elected after the Japanese independence from USA have been retired bureaucrats who wielded lot of influence in the government and helped the party achieve its goals. The primary goals of the Government then were Japan's economic ascendancy and low expenditure on defence which was made possible with the acceptance of the American defence umbrella. On retirement, the senior bureaucrats were hired as Presidents of companies and brought into politics to keep the old network moving. The other well known opposition parties are Socialist Party. The Socialists could not make much dent in Japanese public opinion as Japan has little unemployment and the ruling party looks after its people well. Komeito is another reformist party of Buddhists and is against political corruption. The Communist Party has an insignificant role in Japanese politics.

Frequent elections are held but a vast majority of the Japanese vote for the status quo. Election propaganda is allowed only ten days before the election dates. People vote for their representatives not on principles but on how helpful they were to them. Within the Liberal Democratic Party, there are several factions led by a leader, often a rich and influential party man. When the candidates for Prime Minister come into the open, the different factions support one candidate or the other on the basis of money. The money is often provided by the Corporate Houses or the party leaders themselves. These financial dealings in the election of Prime Minister are well known to all concerned including the media. It is reported in detail but it is not considered a scandal. The Japanese seem to accept the fact that money is spent by the Corporate Houses to remain on the right side of the government.

One thing to be said in favour of Japanese democracy is that politicians do not loot or cheat the tax payers. The Government allocations are spent with scrupulous honesty and transparency on each project. The contractors and the workers maintain the quality of service in each work of infrastructure. There is virtually no corruption at lower levels.

As a nation, the Japanese are very sensitive and their feelings are hurt if anyone does not take them seriously or show full respect to their nation. General De Gaul, the late President of France, told some pressman in an informal meeting that today he was going to meet a transistor salesman. He was referring to his meeting with Prime Minister Akeda of Japan who was on a state visit to France. The news when leaked was extensively covered by the Japanese media and every newspaper in Japan criticized France for its arrogance.

Let us face it - politically Japan's role in the world of politics has been to follow the USA lead blindly. Till today, Japan does not enjoy the image of having an independent foreign policy – despite becoming the second largest economic power in the world. An American Economist, described the country as Japan Incorporated because of the influence of the corporate houses in shaping the policy of the Japanese Government.

The Japanese media was jubilant when a Japanese Prime Minister was invited by the President Eisenhower of USA for a game of golf at his ranch. The Japanese saw this as a sign that USA had now recognised Japan as its equal. It was talked about for months in the Press.

It is not difficult to understand the psyche of the Japanese if you take a peep into their past history. Japanese history dates back to sixth century B.C. and is shrouded in mythological stories. Only in the fourth century A.D., we are told that a few feuding tribes in western Japan made a primitive federation and elected an emperor. The present Emperor, it is believed, belongs to the same dynasty and is now 125th in succession.

The new emperor held his court in Yamato – also the old name of Japan. In later centuries, the Yamato court expanded into Korea. It was from here that the Japanese borrowed their Chinese script which they still use. However, not so long ago, they also invented their alphabets called ‘kathakana’ and ‘hiragana’ and today's Japanese is a curious mix of the Chinese script as well as alphabets. They are not willing to give up their Chinese script because all their old literature is written in this script.

In fifteenth century, Saint Xavier came to Japan to preach Christianity. He was so perplexed by the Japanese language that he wrote to his Pope in Rome, “Japanese language must have been devised by the Devil to deprive the Japanese people of the Christian truth.”

In the Middle Ages, the power of the King Emperor were usurped by some feudal lords. In 1603, Togugawa Iyeyishu became the Shogun (the military dictator) but he did not remove the Emperor. He and his family ruled Japan for 250 years. During the time, the common people were firmly ruled by Togugawa and his subordinate warlords, each having under his control a few hundred Samurai or professional soldiers who laid down the laws of the land for the people and enforced them with firm hand. Only the Samurai could wield the sword in Japan during that era. The Japanese habit to obey orders unquestioningly originated from the rigid discipline enforced by the Samurai for 250 years. To save Japan from the greedy eyes of foreign colonisers who had already grabbed some lands in other countries of Asia, Togugawa sealed the country, closing it to all foreigners. The Japanese citizens were barred from going out of the country for fear of death.

However, the world was shrinking and foreign ships wanted to anchor in Japanese sea ports to trade with Japan. An American commander Admiral Perry decided to challenge the ban and entered the Bay of Tokyo. Togugawa and his minions were frightened of the consequences of American long-distance guns and fire-power and allowed them to enter their waters. The other nations did not wait and threatened to attack. Togugawa had to open Japan to all foreign ships. This created a lot of trouble from the traditionalists. Afraid of popular uprising, Togugawa surrendered all his powers to the fiftieth King Emperor.

The year 1868 is a landmark in the history of Japan. It changed Japan from a feudal and closed country to a nation open to new ideas and technology. The chronological name of Japan was changed from Keio to Meiji. Edo was renamed Tokyo. The capital of Japan was moved form Kyoto to Tokyo. This great event of political significance is called the Meiji Revolution in Japanese history. A new Constitution was introduced based on the unquestioned authority of the King Emperor. In course of time, it led to Emperor worship as well as political consolidation of the country.

The new government abolished the system of Warlords as well as their Samurai soldiers, initially by paying handsome compensations as well as pensions. Later, the pensions were stopped in return for one time payment as happened later with the Maharajas of India. The Samurai used their compensation wisely and invested in setting up new business empires. Most of the owners of the present successful corporate houses are owned by the descendants of the old Warlords and the Samurai.

In the Meiji era, leaders emerged with outstanding competence. They travelled to other countries and came to the conclusion that the military position of a country can only be sustained by its economic power. They gave a new slogan to the country, ‘Rich country with a strong army.’ This led to the decision to introduce compulsory military service and compulsory primary education in the whole of Japan. Japanese were 100 percent literate even before the World War II.

The leaders of the Meiji era also realised that Japan needed a modern constitution to meet the challenges of the time. So, a new Constitution was promulgated in 1889 which provided that Emperor will be the fountain-head of all power in the country. The Diet or Parliament, composed of two Houses, will be established. However, in 1890, when first elections were conducted, only one percent of the population had the right to vote. Women were not allowed to vote. At that time, it was a façade for a democratic country. In reality, it was a totalitarian oligarchy which led Japan to a disastrous course of empire building and the World War.

Before the War, the Japanese Government decided to take on the West in all fields. It imported steel mills to serve as models; imported machinery for factories which were sold to the new entrepreneurs on deferred payment, encouraging an industrial revolution. The state sent the Japanese students on scholarships to get western education and technologies. They imported Western engineers to set up the machinery and launch the factories needed in the country. The government bought ships from foreign countries and heavily subsidised the shipping industry both for foreign trade as well as for domestic movement of goods. Transportation was one of the major thrusts of the new government. Railways were run by the government and these are still in the hands of the government. The financial system of Japan was brought in line with the West.

All the enterprises originally run by the State were later sold to private enterprises at good price. Many of these were acquired by the financiers who later came to be known as Zaibastu which formed the leading enterprising class. Now, often it is often termed as Japan Incorporated by foreigners.

After the War was over and the surrender of Japanese forces, the American rulers, with their reforming zeal, split these large business networks but, they again became large and secure through interlocking directorships, etc. The oldest of these companies is Mitsui – started some 300 years ago. It now claims to be perhaps the largest in the world. The other two large companies of Japan are Mitsubishi and Sumitoma. Between them, they can claim half the overseas trade of Japan.

How did Japan achieve industrialisation so fast? A story is told that during the American occupation, some American entrepreneurs wanted to start tyre manufacturing factories using cheap local labour and their technology. They came to discuss a joint venture idea with their counterparts in Japan, ready with written terms and conditions and expecting hectic discussion and bargaining on each clause. The Japanese partners' only question was “Where do we sign?” The Americans were pleasantly surprised.

The factory soon opened with great fanfare and everybody was happy. The Americans had not realised that basic infrastructure in Japan had not been destroyed and their trained and educated manpower could easily grasp their new technology. In two years, a couple of new Japanese factories were started in the same neighbourhood manufacturing better tyres and selling them cheaper. The American company had to fold up.

The Japanese willingness to learn from others, their discipline, their devotion to duty, loyalty to the company, care for each other, work ethics and good management-employee relations meant that this happened in all cases of manufacturing – transistors, TVs, tape recorders, music systems were all designed and invented in USA. The world's best cars and cameras came from USA or Germany. But within a few years, Japan, in its own factories, with its own imagination produced the same products with improved quality and at more competitive prices.

  1. Rondon and Nonsensu

The above two words in the title line are from English language – they stand for London and Nonsense – but these words are now part of Japanese language pronounced in the Japanese way. The Japanese language has enormous capacity to absorb and digest words from foreign languages and these words have since become unrecognisable part of the local lingo. In all languages including Hindi and English, foreign words are recognizable but not in the Japanese. It is partly due to the inability of the Japanese to speak a few English alphabets correctly – for instance, they cannot pronounce ‘L’, they pronounce it as ‘r’…Also they have a tendency to add a vowel behind every foreign word – this is how they started pronouncing simple English words like 'Nonsense' as 'Nonsensu'.

During my stay in Japan, I learnt to speak a little Japanese and I unhesitatingly pronounced the English words the way the Japanese did.

At times, English words pronounced and rewritten in English using Japanese spellings of English words created hilarious situations. General Douglas MacArthur who reigned supreme in Japan for 7 years of American occupation was a popular figure adored by the Japanese people because of his benevolent rule and the Japanese wanted him to be elected as the President of the USA. When there was a move in USA for election of MacArthur as the President of America, the Japanese wished him well and a group of his well wishers put up a hoarding in English in Tokyo to show their support for the General MacArthur. It read :-


(This story was related by a former Japanese Ambassador in his book titled “Japan Unmasked”. He was sacked.)

While walking through the streets of Tokyo, I used to enjoy their sign boards written in English with Japanese spellings. After the war, it became fashionable for the Japanese to put up sign boards in English along with the Japanese language for the convenience of American soldiers as well as the tourists.

Here are a few interesting signboards in Japanese English as seen by me in Tokyo streets.

    • Sleeping shop Tezuka (Tezuka's shop of bed spreads.)

    • Sunlight Soap, Liver Brothels

    • Specialist For the Decease of children (Doctor's shop)

    • Ladies Can Have Fits Upstairs. (Tailors' shop)

    • Adults – one tablet three times a day before passing away (doctor's written advice to a patient)

    • Head Cutter (Barber's shop)

A few more selected samples of Japanese spoken English are given below. I also used the same words to be understood by other fellow Japanese folks.

  • Shopping Senya (Shopping Centre)

  • Supa Makita (Super Market)

  • Bendo (Bed)

  • Stripo (Strip Show)

  • Biru (Beer)

  • Besubiro (Baseball)

  • Vishilnsu (White Shirt)

  • Browsu (Blouse)

  • Teribi (Telivision)

  • Miruku (Milk)

  • Tosoto (Toast)

  • Hemuag (Ham and Egg)

  • Farutsu (Fruit)

The Japanese did not have a written script till the fifth century AD. In the sixth century, Chinese books reached Japan through Korea. The Japanese adopted the Chinese pictorial script from those books. They did not understand the Chinese script totally – the two are different languages despite the common script. A few centuries later the Japanese invented their own alphabets called Hirakana and Kathakana but continued with or even without the Chinese script. That is why it is not easy to learn the Japanese language!

In the fifteenth century, Saint Xavier came to Japan to preach Christianity in Japan. He tried to learn Japanese language but failed and wrote to Pope in Rome – “Japanese language must be devised by the Satan so that the people of Japan cannot learn the Truth preached by Christ.”

According to scholars, a well-educated Japanese has to master at least 3,150 foreign words to be considered well-read. They have digested most of the technical and scientific words of foreign languages in the Japanese language – totally unrecognisable from the originals now.

  1. Common Geishas of Japan

A common question which Indian visitors often asked me was about the Geisha entertainers and their desire to meet one.

The only time I visited a Geisha entertainer in Japan was in the company of a very senior and respected journalist of Mainichi Shimbhun – one of the three largest papers of the country with a circulation of ten million or more. He was my host and seemed to be a frequent visitor to these girls. They knew him by name and showed tremendous respect and affection for him. One has as to make an appointment with the Geisha House for the girls to come to a particular restaurant. They do not entertain guests in their own houses.

The Geishas are no prostitutes. They are professional entertainers. Their patrons, usually rich businessmen already know them, invite them to prestigious restaurants in private rooms to entertain them and their friends or clients whom they want to befriend or please. As professional entertainers – they are experts in playing Japanese musical instruments – semasan – classical and folk dance, music as well as excellent conversationalists. They never take liberty with their clients, nor do the clients. They are at their politest best. If a guest takes out a cigarette, one of the girls has already taken out her lighter to light it. You can talk to them on current business, politics, investments or indulge in romantic conversations within decent limits. They are extremely well read and well informed. It takes a decade or more to train a geisha.

And, after the party is over, if you have become friendly with one or the other girl, and subject to her consent, the patron can take her. His guests too can choose a girl. These matters are not talked about. The patron, however, rewards them generously.

  1. A Nation of Polite People

No nation in the world can beat the Japanese in polite manners and politer services. Whether it is a small shop or a large store, they welcome you with a bow and a refreshing smile. They will spread all their wares before you and will thank you for patronizing them even if you do not buy anything from the shop. Shopping in Japan is an experience by itself.

There are many large Departmental Stores in Japan with several floors. At the entrance, two pretty young ladies will welcome you with deep bows and smiles – and they do it constantly as each customer passes though. On the floor, if you walk through each sales girl shows similar respect. Near the escalator too, one or two uniformed girls are standing and bowing as the customers move up the escalator. It is the traditional customer friendliness of the Japanese – no one speaks rudely to any customer.

However, when we enter a Japanese city, one wonders at the way the Japanese meet and greet each other on the streets. They do not shake hands as in the West or fold their palms as Indians do, but greet each other with a deep bow – as far as one can bend. Of course, Japanese smile all the time – it is a habit developed over the centuries especially during the feudal era.

Father bows before the son, the son does the same thing with his Dad. The difference may be that father's bow may not be as steep as that of the son. The master bows before the servant and the servant before the master. Sisters bow before the brothers reverently irrespective of their age and the brothers do the same - bowing is part of the Japanese environment and culture.

According to the statistics compiled by a leading Japanese newspaper – an office employee in Japan on an average bends his body to show deference to others 36 times in a day, a salesman in a shop 25 times in a day. The girls hired to welcome customers in Department stores bow on an average 2560 times daily!!

In Japan, women carry their small babies on their back as hill-women in India do in the Himalayan regions. To my amazement, when the mother bowed before someone she met in the street, I saw the child doing a similar gesture on her back!

During my stay in Japan, I saw a book of cartoons done by a French cartoonist. In one cartoon, he shows a formally dressed Japanese lady standing on the railway platform, bidding farewell to another lady who was standing in the doorway of the train doing the bowing action. Meantime, the train moves and when the departing lady in the train raises her head, she notices green fields and grazing sheep in the countryside!

In another cartoon, two Japanese businessmen are bidding farewell to each other – one on the lift of a building and the other from the outside. The man in the lift had extended his neck outside the lift door but his feet were inside. The lift suddenly moves with the neck caught in the closing doors!!

      1. A Nation of Gift Givers and Gift Takers

Another amazing fact for me, a pleasant feature of the Japanese life was the tradition of giving and taking gifts – formally twice a year, in June and December (Christmas) formally- but informally all through the year. No Japanese wanted to take anything without giving anything in return.

To promote India among the Japanese, our Tourist office stocked a lot of display material and other promotional goods like posters, Indian handicrafts to be lent to travel agents and private parties to decorate their windows and for holding India evenings. When the organisers came to collect the material, they would invariably bring to our office some gifts – usually packets of biscuits or snacks. They never came empty-handed – despite our saying no. They did the same while returning our goods. In our office, our staff seldom bought biscuits or snacks to go with tea - we were never short of snacks.

Japanese rewarded you for any service you rendered to them – gratefulness is shown in abundance and appreciation is genuine.

On leaving Japan, I gave a farewell party to about 200 Japanese friends – needless to say they left some 200 gifts for me – there were as many as 20 watches and 25 transistors and 25 pens. I had to generously distribute them to my Indian friends in Tokyo. I still have a dozen of Japanese dolls in my house displayed here and there - a reminder of my days in Tokyo.

It is difficult to dislike Japan once you have lived there.