SBP Blog

Excerpt Wednesday – Japaneseness: A Guide to Values and Virtues

Michael Palmer - Wednesday, September 28, 2016

We’ve pulled this week’s excerpt from Japaneseness: A Guide to Values and Virtues by Yoji Yamakuse, a book that The Japan Times noted as “valuable for the way it lets us look at humanity through a specific cultural lens.” Indeed, the true beauty of Japaneseness lies in its ability to gracefully unfurl Japanese culture to reveal the country’s values, manners, and ethics. 

Yamakuse offers his readers a provocative tour through seventy-six core life concepts that are at the foundation of Japanese behavior, belief, and beauty. Here’s what he writes about thoughtfulness:

"Kikubari means to be mindful of all the delicate aspects of an occasion and to control and adjust your behavior accordingly. Kikubari is shown through action. It begins with attentiveness (ki o tsukau) and ends in showing consideration. In other words, kikubari is the behavior resulting from paying attention to the feelings of others. It is an inconspicuous sign of affection, an unobtrusive indication of fellow feeling.

Let’s say you wish to be considerate of another’s circumstances, but you do so in a rather obvious way: paying for their meal, for example. The result may be that the other person feels a sense of obligation and perhaps some emotional discomfort. If you are a truly considerate person, you might instead excuse yourself to go to the restroom and on the way catch the waiter to tell him you will settle the check separately and not to bring it to the table. Your goal is to make sure that there is a continuous feeling of well-being on the part of your guest and that nothing will disrupt the mood of the occasion. It is this type of unobtrusive consideration that lies at the heart of hospitality (omotenashi).

The Japanese people have long lived on the islands of Japan without much intercourse with other peoples. As a result, they have developed means of understanding one another without explicitly verbalizing their thoughts. This has given rise to the attentiveness seen in ki o tsukau, the unique product of a tightly knit community, passed down from one generation to the next."


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