Mar 18, 2011

Is Discipline a Forgotten Word ?

The recent Tsunami in Japan really shook me up. Watching the tsunami ravage a land that I have such good memories of was very distressing and painful. But amidst all the disaster what really struck me was the orderly and organized way things are still functioning in Japan. There was no mayhem and no lawlessness in the aftermath of this tragedy. I read a few articles including this one about the dignified way the Japanese people are conducting themselves. Even Vishnu Som of NDTV, said in one of his news reports that he was amazed at how stoic and calm the Japanese were in the face of this tragedy. If we had a situation like this here, there was bound to be some looting and fighting over the rations handed over at the evacuation camps. In case of Japan, food was scarce, so was water but there was no scrambling and no pushing or shoving. People were disciplined and calm; standing patiently in serpentine queues waiting for their turn. Even in big cities like Tokyo that faced a scarcity of food, there was no chaos. A friend in Tokyo sent me a email in which he wrote : “Few shops have food today. There are long queues of people waiting to buy water or necessary food items but everybody is waiting patiently in lines and only taking what they really need.”
 I am not really surprised! I have worked with the Japanese people long enough to understand the way their mind works. Values and ethics are too deeply ingrained in them and Honor is extremely important. The feeling that if you do something wrong, you disgrace your family and your nation is very strong. I think the main reason for this is that Japan is a homogenous society. It is not a melting pot of diverse religions and cultures and languages. So unity and national pride that they feel is tremendous. They also have a tremendous Sense of responsibility and accountability towards the nation and society. There is a strong sense of community and team work and they always put” We” before” I”. They are also extremely disciplined people.
I have had so many firsthand experiences of the Japanese sense of discipline and honesty. The Japanese trains during rush hour are extremely crowded, so much so that they need “pushers” to push people inside so the automatic doors can close. But while waiting for trains, not one person steps out of line. People queue up and wait patiently for passengers to get down before they board. Now compare this with getting in and out of Metro trains in Delhi. I was trying to get off at the Rajiv Chowk Metro station once and there was such a rush of people trying to get in that I was pushed back and hit the door on the other end of the compartment. Can you believe it !
 In Japan rules are meant to be adhered to and the fact that they can break the rules doesn’t even occur to the Japanese. There is no “chalta hai” attitude there. In all my years in Japan, I have never seen anyone jump red lights, break queues or jaywalk.
Once in Tokyo, I dropped a billfold filled with cash in front of the bank ATM. I was extremely worried and was not really expecting to get it back. But nevertheless I went to the police station and found that someone had already deposited my wallet there. I told my Japanese friend how nice it was that someone returned the money to the police station. She looked at me as if I was crazy and said well what else could he do? The money wasn’t his?
 Japan is definitely not crime free. They have their share of crime but by large the people are honest. I Never have to worry about security and safety while in Japan. And you can be dead sure you won’t be cheated by anyone there.
The Japanese society is certainly not perfect. Homogenous culture is also perhaps a reason why Japan is such a closed society and they find it so difficult to deal with or open up to foreigners. Japanese Society has its pitfalls, some of them very serious ones but I have to give them this, they are the most ethical and disciplined race I have ever met. And I honestly believe that you can only behave in such a dignified manner in the face of tragedy if you have been practicing ethics and discipline in your day to day life.
 I sometimes wonder why so few of us in India are conscientious. Aren’t all of us taught ethics and moral values when we are kids? And god knows we have enough national pride stuffed down our throats!
Then why are so many of us so uncouth and undisciplined and dishonest? Why can’t we even do the basic things like standing in queues and not jumping red lights? Why can’t we be a bit more considerate towards others and why do we always put “I” before “We” in India ? Is it because we’re so overpopulated, is it the economic disparity? Or have we simply forgotten what ethics and discipline is all about?
 I’d be interested to know what you think!

(Note – This post is in no way trying to belittle Indian society or praise the Japanese society to high heaven. I have simply pointed out a few issues that I have noticed. I am an Indian and I love my country very dearly. But that will not stop me from discussing the things that I don’t like! )


  1. I agree with you about these traits on Japanese. My friends who have worked in Japan would swear by Japanese work ethic. Personally I have never interacted with a Japanese client. However,my experience with Germans have been extremely professional, delightful and disciplined.

  2. "Values and ethics are too deeply ingrained in them and Honor is extremely important. The feeling that if you do something wrong, you disgrace your family and your nation is very strong."

    These are real values and morals and ethics. We read in school about how not a elbow will push you on a crowded railway station in Japan.

  3. First time here and read an excellent post.

    We read so much about ethics, culture, national pride in our textbooks but we learn little (and reading is just one of ways to learn things) because we don't see people around us and the society we live in, at large, practice and uphold the values and lessons we are taught in schools. It all comes down to hypocrisy and leads to disillusionment and frustration.

    Whenever there's a chance to cheat or dodge rules, there are people who won't give a second thought before doing it. Following rules is like a punishment to them. They always want an easy and quick way ignorant of the fact that rules are for our convenience only. We act selfish and put an blind eye to the problems faced by others because of our actions. The day we'll become considerate and put We before I, the day we'll change but I wonder if that day will ever come. I'd choose to remain hopeful though.

    Kudos to Japanese for such dignified conduct even in this hour of crisis. We can learn a lot from them. I've written a veritable post here. Sorry for taking up so much space, but your post prompted me to voice my own opinion. :)

  4. @Prats - yes their work ethics are commendable. We can learn a lot from them.
    @IHM- they are extremely disciplined
    @Ajay - Welcome here and thanks for the comment. Youve hit the nail right on the head !

  5. Ruchira san,

    Regarding discipline, sense of responsibility and team work, I feel activities in school days have some effects on us. As you may know, in school, we clean classroom, bathroom, gym, auditorium by ourselves everyday as a team. In every functions, like, music festival, sports day, class events, etc., kids have to take initiative and teachers mainly play supporting roles. You may saw on Sunday mornings that kids organize street/park cleanup activities. And also, we are encouraged to do sports, like, baseball, football, swimming, volleyball, etc. I feel these day-to-day activities were the practical place of learning for me.

    I am not sure whether we Japanese consciously possess a strong sense of national pride or not. (Most of us never be touched by national anthem/flag.) In school, we didn't have class in which national pride is taught/discussed (maybe because of historical reason). (Although, some drifts to the right can be seen now a days). Instead, I think we have some senses of attachment to Japan as our home. You must know that the current afflicted areas are port towns where you can enjoy the beautiful indented coastlines as well as green slopes and hills, and, of course, delicious food (seafood! Japanese Sake!!). Naturally, our hearts go out to these places. Such environment and nature is, I think, one of the important sources of humanistic sensibility and imagination, especially for future generations.

    I am so sorry to write so long...
    Thank you for your concern!!

  6. I agree too! From the VERY few books I've read by japanese authors, and from many other instances, I think japan is a lovely country with some of the best peoplle in it.

    They're responsible, disciplined and prepared.

    I think your article is a wonderul analysis -- and you REALLY did not need taht disclaimer at the end. :)

  7. And "sheesh" on all the typos!! :roll:

  8. @Ren san - Thank you so much for commenting. Yes I agree, Japanese are trained and prepared since childhood to behave in a certain manner. I think they also learn by example since their parents, teachers etc also behave in a disciplined manner. This disaster in Japan is indeed very upsetting and you must be feeling really bad sitting so far away in India. But given the resilience of the Japanese people, I am sure they will overcome this hurdle too. Gambare !

    @alphabetworld- Thank you !Yes it is a wonderful country !

  9. Could not agree more! I just love their attitude! I am too surprised to see no panic in Japan. Even if we learn 20% of it, it would make a lot of difference! Very nice blog! Loved it!

  10. Great post at the right time Ruchi!
    I cannot stop admiring the attitude of Japanese on any sense!
    They are the most hard working people! And building a city equivalent to superpower country from the shatters isn't new for Japan!

  11. Had read this post of yours and couldn't comment that day , quoted this post of yours to many after that and now i am here ...we all saw how japanese were calm and composed and the same thing kept tinkering me ...why we can grow up to practice what we have been drilled with in our childhood..
    as you say...
    I sometimes wonder why so few of us in India are conscientious. Aren’t all of us taught ethics and moral values when we are kids? And god knows we have enough national pride stuffed down our throats!

  12. Agree with you that why dont we say "WE" and indulge too much in I me me me..
    THe problem is our society and culture I blame them for it, and our own attitude.. WE learn all good things in school and college but the moment we get out all that is out of the window and we get ready to make a living..
    and in all that we forget the basic values we learnt..

    WE have seen how Japanese have stuck together. and its not just the tsunami that got them together they are like that in general.

    THe race to become rich at any cost , always wanting to put the other one down to make us look good has got us here and our leaders dont help us either ...

    I liked this one hope to be WE fingers crossed ..


  13. `@vaish – yes, they have doen it before (after WW2) and they will do it again !
    @Sangeeta – Thank you for telling others about this post. I wonder why we are so undisciplined ! Grace under pressure is what the Japanese denote !
    @Bikram – Welcome here. Yes I becoming WE is a day I look forward to as well !

  14. I respect the Japanese a lot. They are very disciplined and hardworking. Once some local magazine had put up a photo of a notice board in front of a factory which read - "People who come to factory to work on Saturdays and sundays will be fined"!!

    About our discipline, less said the better. Somehow, a lot of our people think that by breaking rules, they get some special privileges that the people who follow them don't. They think they are too clever. But they don't understand that sub-consciously they are developing a negative attitude, and that will hit them hard later. People often learn this by experience and still believe that if they cheat others, they can get away with it and live happily! As long as this mind set doesn't change, no one can save us. At least we can contribute a bit by not being like them and setting a positive example.



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