The deriving force behind the actions of the Japanese 日本人による行動の原点とは

Today I will touch on a subject that could look like something that has nothing to do with a martial art. On the surface it would seem so, however, you will be surprised to find that it is closely connected with Bushido. I decided to write about this because so many westerners do not know about this fact, even though they speak a lot about the subject of Bushido and respect it a lot. I felt that it is my responsibility to dig up this hidden truth and explain what is behind the behaviors of the Japanese.

I will introduce three separate incidents even though there are many more that would reveal the true essence of the Japanese attitude or mentality. One response is from this year and the last one is way back from 70 years ago. Many of the readers are interested in the occurrences in Japan so they may already know or have read about them. After your review of these three incidents, I wonder if you can point out the common cause or the reason for these attitudes or mentality. If you cannot then this article may still be useful to you as I will present a common cause for all of them at the end of this article.

OK let’s list those three incidents and I will start from the newest one. The first one was shown at the World Cup in Brazil (2014). The second one was after the huge earthquake and tsunami in the Fukushima region three years ago. The last one is the kamikaze operation that started in 1944.


1) World Cup Brazil, 2014Soccer clean up 2

Many people have watched the World Cup games in Brazil this year. But I suspect not too many readers watched the game that was held on June 15 where the Japanese team met the team from the Ivory Coast. The Japanese team lost but that is not the reason why I picked this incident. Here is a part of the report from Yahoo Sports that came out on June 15, 2014:

The Ivory Coast came from behind to beat Japan 2-1 in their first 2014 World Cup match, but despite the tough loss, the Japanese fans in attendance at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil still made time after the final whistle to clean up after themselves.

The entire article:

The Japanese spectators did this in every game ever since the Japanese team joined the World Cup event in the 90’s. It is interesting that the spectators of the other countries picked up this good deed and cleaned after the games. The stadiums have a professional cleaning crew and the crew will clean up the place after the games so there was no need for the spectators to do this. Then, why did the Japanese spectators decided to do this? The author of this article wrote, “But this respectfulness wasn’t just limited to the fans. Before the clean-up began, the Japanese players lined up and bowed to their loyal supporters. The author concluded it was from respectfulness and he was partially correct. I will write about the hidden part in the conclusion of this article.

2) Tohoku earth quake and tsunami

On March 11th in 2011, a huge earthquake (8.9 magnitude) and the ensuing tsunami caused by the earthquake hit the Tohoku region of Japan. In this disaster nearly 16,000 people were killed and more than 2,600 people are still missing.

It was a terrible disaster and I hesitated a little about adding this event as all those who survived suffered a lot. After more than three years, they have not been able to recover fully even though much work has been done and it is still continuing today.

line up-a-7-eleven-despite-limited-access-toI decided to add this as it was widely reported by the western media that there was no looting in the disaster area. Instead, people had just formed long but orderly lines outside grocery stores and convenience shops. This was not an uncommon thing in Japan because we saw this behavior after another huge earth quake that hit Kobe (my hometown) 20 years ago. However, non -Japanese people praised this behavior and were puzzled why the Japanese did this. Outside of Japan, a lawless and looting atmosphere is very common after such a natural disaster. An American publication, The Week published an article on March 15, four days after the disaster. It’s title was “Why is there no looting in Japan?”. The article tried to find the reason and they thought it came from Japan’s education in discipline. The article concludes the Japanese culture is not “superior” but it is only “different”.

Here is the article:

Obviously, the writer could not find the real reason. I will explain and bring up the real reason after introducing the third incident.


3) Kamikaze project that started on October 25, 1944kamikaze-attack

This incident is the major reason why I decided to write this article. The first two incidents received reasonable understanding by the westerners but this one, obviously, did not.

Combined from all the records of suicide attacks from Army and Navy, more than 14,000 soldiers volunteered and died in the operation. Many of the readers know that Kamikaze was a suicide attack using fighter planes. However, the suicide attack project had many other vehicles for the same purpose such as a mini-submarine, Kaiten and a jet or rocket engine devices that were a man operated flying bomb, Ohka. The suicide attack bomb was called Baka bomb by the American soldiers meaning “stupid” bomb.


Now I have listed three acts by the Japanese. The first two acts were praised by the non Japanese people but the last one is typically considered as “meaningless”, “pointless” or “wasteful”. I am aware that this was indeed a very desperate tactic and too many young people were to die.

But what I want to bring up here is that there is one thing that is common among those three responses. In other words, there was the same motivation and principle behind them. And the short answer is that it was “Bushido”. Some of you may be surprised by my statement. You may agree with the Kamikaze incident but you must wonder why it is so with the other two. Once you understand what Bushido is truly all about, hopefully, you will realize that it is the common principle behind those incidents. I have already written an article about Bushido in the past so I will ask the readers to read it if you wish to read the full story on this subject. Here in this article I will pick up some of the explanation I used in that article.

bushi no seishinHere is the summary: The ancient Japanese adopted the teachings of Confucianism, Gojo no toku (五常の徳), five Confucian virtues. The five virtues are Jin (仁)、Gi (義)、Rei (礼)、Chi (智) and Shin . These five virtues are also called Gorin no michi (五倫の道), five ethics. The Japanese added two more ethics of Chu (忠) and Kotei (孝悌). On the other hand, they dropped Chi (智) and Shin (信), and consolidated the idea of Kotei (孝悌) with Chu (忠). They kept four virtues; Jin, Gi, Rei and Chu from this list and added the new virtues of Yu (勇), Makoto (誠) and Meiyo (名誉) to complete the 7 principles as the Samurai spirit.


I will explain the concept behind each virtue briefly: 1) Gi (義), 2) Yu (勇), 3) Jin (仁), 4) Rei (礼), 5) Makoto (誠), 6) Meiyo (名誉) and 7) Chu or Chugi (忠義).”

Two most important virtues for samurai were Gi (義) and Yu (勇). They were considered to be the twin concepts that cannot be separated.

1) Gi (義) means justice, righteousness or morality. Samurai considered their duties, obligations and responsibilities as something that they had to defend and execute even risking their life.

2) Yu (勇) means bravery, courage and decisiveness. The concept of Yu is unique as it not only demands enough bravery to face a battle or death but at the same time the decision process must be quick. Indecisiveness and procrastination are considered not meeting Yu.

3) Jin (仁) means benevolence, kind and humane but what does it really mean? It means that you are kind to all kinds of people including the poor, sick and handicapped. This character does not seem to fit a typical samurai because he seems to be ruthless. This character was selected for the ruling layer of the samurai class. They believed the most important virtue for the ruling class is benevolence and kindness to the common people.

4) Rei (礼) is something we karate practitioners are very familiar with. Thus the general explanation is not necessary here, however, one thing we must remember is that Rei is not only an expression of the respect but also consideration for others. I have pointed out that the act of the Japanese spectators at the World Cup game in Brazil. This was a good example of Rei. They cleaned up the stadium after the game. The Japanese people consider trashing the stadium as disrespectful to the football teams and the game itself. We, the karate practitioners, understand this as we would consider it disrespectful if it happened in our dojo. As we clean our dojo after our training, the Japanese spectators cleaned the stadium as they do in the other games. This is the act of Rei (礼).

Bushido kakejiku





5) The concept of makoto is an important but also a difficult one to understand. Many of the readers know Dojo Kun in Japanese and that it’s second principle is “Makoto no michi o mamoru koto (誠の道を守ること)”. The translation is “Be faithful”. I have already written about the full translation of Dojo Kun also. If you are interested in reading the full meaning you may want to look for this article in my blog. In any case, the translated word of faithful can be confusing and misleading so the true meaning of Makoto must be explained here. Makoto refers to a figure without a lie, or a falsehood but with truth and sincerity. So, an overt or an excessive action in greetings or behavior is considered not Makoto thus lacking the true essence of Rei which must be performed with sincerity and without falsehood. Interestingly, lying was considered as weakness rather than as an evil. Now, weakness was considered by the samurais as dishonorable thus a Bushi was expected to deliver what he promised. This is what Bushi ni nigon wa nai (武士に二言は無い) means. There is no taking back of a samurai’s statement.

6) Meiyo (名誉) means reputation and fame but it is not necessarily tied to popularity. A samurai did not look for nor make an extra effort to earn Meiyo. Simply by being a samurai was Meiyo so most of the time all they had to do was to simply uphold the samurai way, Bushido and completing his task or responsibility.

Even though all seven virtues were important, the most effort they made was to avoid all the negative things that would bring haji, a shame, to his name and to his family. The negative things included showing fear, acts of cowardice, not upholding justice and failing in his task or responsibility. In such a case a samurai would choose seppuku to keep his honor or Meiyo.

7) The last virtue is Chugi (忠義) which means loyalty towards a samurai’s lord. Rei and Chugi were two unique and important requirements. One thing I need to add is that the samurais were taught that value and judgment had to be measured by the country (the war lord’s territory), one’s family and individual (in that order). This is something that would not be accepted by the western world, but it was that way then and in some ways the trend still exists in Japan.

When you put all those virtues together, the summary is that the selfless and brave actions and activities would benefit not only the family but also the general public. This is why the soccer spectators cleaned up after the ball game. This is the same reason why the residents of Fukushima Prefecture, after the earthquake, lined up in front of the super markets and bought only what they needed for that day. It was not because of a discipline that they lined up or cleaned up. It was self respect, love for the neighbors and self-honor to do the right thing.

Those two acts caught the attention of the non Japanese people and were publicized in newspapers. However, there are many other acts in Japan that westerners are impressed and amazed by. They all come from the same principle and let me give you some examples. Train scheduleOne interesting example is the punctuality of the public transportation (trains and buses) in Japan. I have mentioned this in my Facebook posting under “Seven Wonders of Japan” recently. Almost every train arrives on time. If you plan to take a bullet train (fast and clean) you better be on the platform a few minutes earlier as they leave ON time. Even the buses are pretty much on time so be prepared if you are taking a bus from your hotel to the airport or vice versa. This is simply because the drivers care about the passengers and they do not want to cause a problem by being late.


Another example is that you will witness not only the automobiles but the pedestrians also heed the traffic light no matter what time it may be. Even if it is 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and there may be no other cars in sight, they patiently wait until the light turns green. It is certainly not because they are afraid of getting a traffic ticket (especially pedestrians have no possibility of receiving a traffic ticket). They respect the rules and they want to do the right thing even if no one is watching.


Another example is the case of lost and found (I included this in “Seven Wonders”). If you lose a cell phone or a wallet in Japan, including Tokyo, there is a good chance that it will turn up and be returned to you. So, if you visit Japan and if you lose something important such as your cell phone, wallet, camera or a passport, do not give up too easily. Report it to the police station or at your hotel. They will help you. It may take a day or two but it will turn up if you contact the right place. One Japanese TV station did a documentary on this very subject. A TV person would leave behind a wallet in a restaurant in one case and on a park bench in another situation. The scenes were monitored by a hidden camera. They tried a dozen times in both situations. Guess what, all the people (24 of them) who discovered the wallet (some cash was in it) brought it to the restaurant staff or a park guard. Those people could have left with the wallet but none did. Sure, you can say that the TV program could be rigged or fixed. I believe the result and the Japanese would not be surprised to hear this as this kind of kindness or help happens all the time. Does this mean we have no crimes in Japan? No, we have some criminals and some people do steal things but the crime rate is extremely low and rare when you realize there are more than 12 million people in Tokyo.


mujin hanbaishoLet me give you one more example that will be amazing and almost unbelievable for the non Japanese people. It is the kiosk stands in the countryside that is self service and unmanned operation (also in “Seven Wonders”). The kiosks stands are run by the farmers and they sell mainly vegetables and fruits but the farmers may sell other things. The farmers come in the morning and drop off their goods (vegetables or fruits) and they are gone till later in the evening when they return to pick up the leftovers and the money.

At a kiosk stand you only see the vegetables or fruits with the price tags. You also find a box or a bucket where you are supposed to put the money. You find them in the countryside all over Japan. The people there pay and they do not steal. They have self respect so nobody needs to watch them. Oh, they even have a parking lot, a hot spring bath and a park with the same system. Can you imagine this? No camera, no ticket and no attendant. It is totally up to your conscience and honor.

The Japanese people consider this natural and normal. Is this because of the education or discipline in the school? Yes and no. We learned this value in school but it is not only from our teachers but we learn this from all of the seniors around us such as our parents, relatives and the adults in the neighborhoods. The Japanese, in general, share this virtue among themselves and the root is from Bushido and its principles.


Now I hope you can see the point I am trying to make with the Kamikaze. During the war the American soldiers called the Kamikaze attacks as “stupid”. These attacks, though suicidal and seemingly meaningless, were truly a desperate tactic and might have looked futile. Those young pilots (in their teens and early 20’s) knew that most of them would not even get to reach their targets (the US ships) but that did not matter. They believed that their selfless action would protect their families and the citizens back home. They believed the cause they had weighed heavier than their lives. Wouldn’t you fight, even if you are unarmed, against an armed intruder if you detected an intruder was going to kill your children or your family members? No one would call your action as meaningless or stupid even if you get killed for doing this. Kamikaze pilots action was to them the same. They wanted to defend their family members by sacrificing their lives. This is exactly what the bushido principle calls for.



I call these pilots the samurai because they happily sacrificed their lives for the country and the families. I have a great admiration and pride for what they did and I will not forget about the bushido they showed with their lives.