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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:32 03/09/2007
Debate: Commentary (April 14, 2003)

Japanese Culture of Trust and Caring

Shumpei Kumon (Executive Director, GLOCOM)

There is increasing desire for peace and security among people in this world of international uncertainty and no end in sight of depression.

In order to achieve security we must be strong and independent, some say, by asking others for disclosure of information which should be analyzed carefully, then anticipating and preparing for encounter with perils.

We need not think deeply to recognize, however, that the real world is full of risks and hazards. Thereis no guarantee of 100% safety even with the support of others. What we truly aspire to therefore is not safety in an objective sense but rather to feel secure subjectively as an individual.

A baby who cannot take care of himself can feel at ease by the love and caring of his parents. Within such an environment, the will and power to live strongly and wisely in a world full of menace is nurtured.

Isn't it so, then, that the ability of a single individual to live in this world safely is limited to levels not much different from that of a baby? By trusting others and enjoying assistance from others we are able to live in a world filled with perils.

We should recognize that in the culture that we have nurtured through the ages we have unconsciously adopted a strategy to build the basis for people to feel secure by trusting and helping one another, thus providing for a safe society to such an extent that it can be considered safe based on objective standards.

This is why we have trusted the future of the nation to politicians and administrators, one's future and lives to teachers and doctors, and the safety of the cuisine we consume to chefs. Such trust is why personal information of individuals was revealed mutually without the fear of breach of privacy. And this is how Japan's megalopolises have enjoyed a high standard of safety compared with other countries.

This does not mean, however, that each of us has neglected cultivating physical, mental, and financial powers to become a "strong individual."

But such endeavor to advance oneself was not driven by the notion that others could not be trusted. It was the desire of the person to be better, so that he or she would not be a burden to others, and beyond that, to be capable of assisting others in a better manner. Sadly, though, such basis for mutual trust among us seems to be crumbling at a speed where the sound of the crash can almost be heard.

Should we accept the matter as a result of globalization and prepare ourselves for a culture of mutual distrust, or should we reexamine the merits of our traditional culture and consciously endeavor to maintain its values?

I feel that the latter is more desirable. I also believe as a matter of fact that the culture to support the coming information society will be closer to our traditional culture.

(The original Japanese article appeared in the March 3, 2003 issue of Kanagawa Shinbun)

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