Why I am in love with Japan ! (Part II)

Ever wondered why Japanese gardens are so serene, beautiful and peaceful? Many Japanese aesthetic principles are used to make them so beautiful. These principles have overlapped into their personal behavior and lives. I feel these principles can be applied in your life to make it more beautiful.

Few of them are:

Wax/plastic fake food display outside a restaurant in Japan

Shibumi — refers to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty. This is followed in life as in the gardens they make. The seven elements of Shibumi are simplicity, implicity, modesty, naturalness, everydayness, imperfection, and silence. Have you visited any Japanese restaurant? The food is presented beautifully. Outside the restaurants, they have wax replicas of each item on the menu. Customers before ordering can see the portion size, ingredients, colors and make an informed decision.

Seijaku — Tranquility or an energized calm (quite), stillness, solitude. Many Japanese practise ‘Zen’ philosophy and Seijaku is integral part of it. It is reflected in the gardens and in many areas in homes and offices. One of the most beautiful gardens I visited was inside the Asahi Brewery.

Shizen- Naturalness. An absence of pretense or artificiality. Just like their gardens, even Japanese people do not believe in pretense.

Muji brand known for its simplicity and minimalist designs

Kanso — simplicity, uncluttered. In thoughts and in life. The food they eat is natural, the simplicity of traditional clothes, the artifacts they own, the minimalist home decor. Popularity of brands like Muji globally is because of this principle of Kanso which they follow.

Yugen- It has multiple meanings, but the one I like the most is ‘Profundity’ meaning great depth of insight or knowledge. As Deming would have put it ‘Knowledge is not important, understanding the system of profound knowledge is’.

My brother-in-law stayed in Japan for 2 years. He was there when 2011 earthquake and Tsunami hit Japan. He mentioned to me how people are queuing up to take soups distributed by fellow citizens, no rioting, no robberies occurred. He has in fact forgotten his wallet at public places only to find it couriered to his university by strangers ! What makes a society like this? Can it be replicated? That is a topic for a different blog all together maybe.

Braille on the footpaths in Japan

Why is Japan culturally so ahead of other countries? Why are people so polite and respectful of others? Why do people care for disabled and the old so much? By the way, there is Japanese braille on footpaths, roads, metros, elevators, on vending machines, beer cans, even toilet seats have braille!! so that the blind can be empowered. Traffic signals have bird chirping sounds for the blind to cross easily, staircases have special lifts for disabled, toilets are made disabled-friendly.

The famous Japanese toilets

There is pride of workmanship ingrained in Japan. Every Japanese product is high quality and superior..take my word for it ! I used a 'Made in Japan' Fujitsu Laptop which did not ‘hang’ once in 4 years during my entrepreneurship days. Even the smallest Japanese product would be made keeping the ‘customer in mind’ including ease of packaging, utility, convenience and aesthetics. To get an idea of ‘customer in mind’, please use one of the Japanese toilets from TOTO. This was one thing my brother-in-law missed the most when he returned to India :)

Another interesting thing we noticed was that a luxury large passenger bus was completely managed by one person i.e the driver. We thought how would he park the vehicle without any assistant/conductor? But as it turned out, he did park the bus easily because of simple positioning of various mirrors giving him a wide angle rear view and practice.

easy rotating seats on a Shinkansen in Japan

Similarly, when you travel in Shinkansen (bullet train) from point A to point B — all passengers are facing in the direction of the train. The same thing happens when the train travels back on the same route from point B to point A. This is because at the destination halt, all seats are rotated to face the direction of the train. This principle can also be used to explain SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies) in a manufacturing setup to reduce changeover time.

When we think of Japan, few of the images that comes to our mind is manufacturing, robotics, anime, cars etc. However, let me tell you a secret. Japan has the highest service standards in the world and what the world should learn from them is not how to manufacture efficiently but how to raise their customer service levels! The moment I left Japan and landed in Singapore, I could feel the difference and the apathetic service standards at the Changi airport itself. The brand was same ‘Starbucks’ — its the people that were different and that is what mattered !

But despite all this why is Japan struggling? New inventions are rare nowadays in Japan and economy is slowing down. What could be the reasons for the same? To answer these questions, we will have to dig deeper in history and come up with some insights. I will leave this topic as stated earlier for my next blog !


(The above two part series on Japan is inspired from dining table talks with my wife Nishi Podhar who runs www.altiusct.com and consults companies in Japanese productivity improvement techniques )