Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Importance of Politeness and Discipline in Japanese society

Japan is a country of polite people; at least a majority of people are polite. Very rarely we encounter rude people.

There are many mannerisms which are defined as polite, rude and impolite and people behave accordingly. Even the Japanese language has words which are polite or not so polite, formal and informal. Formal behavior is expected and informal behavior is acceptable only among close friends and family. Age and seniority also define the kind of behavior and mannerisms. For instance not using certain polite speech is considered rude when speaking to older people or workplace superiors. People hardly raise their voice (at least in public) and are not shy of apologizing to others.  We are by now used to so much of politeness around that slight rudeness surprises us.

We hardly see any person breaking a queue or doing something which is of inconvenience to others. Also arrogance and carelessness is rarely seen. Most often we are greeted with smiling faces even from strangers.

What amazes me the most is the way most Japanese people react to a situation or the way they behave. There is a kind of alignment in the way they react and behave. Even body language appears to be similar. 

Also there is an amazing discipline among the people. A lot of stress is given to discipline and they are taught to be disciplined from a very young age. I say this from personal experience. My three year old daughter attends a Japanese kindergarten. We have seen a tremendous change in her mannerisms from the time she started attending the kindergarten. The same child who previously never bothered to gather her toys after playing has now learnt to keep all her things in place. On a visit to her kindergarten we did get to see how they are taught to do their things with discipline and also at the same time being considerate to others. The children are taught to help her other children in doing their work – even simple tasks like helping them with their clothes or putting things back. Children also sometimes help the teachers with cleaning up and other such chores. I really appreciate this because it teaches the children at such a young age to be independent and disciplined at the same time teaching them an important lesson about cleanliness. Even at home parents teach the children to help in the daily chores such as laying the table, wiping the cleaned dishes or making beds. This is something to learn from the Japanese.

Perhaps this is why the “5S” process was invented by the Japanese. As most people are aware of 5S is a systematic program which is designed to achieve total standardization, cleanliness and being organized. This in turn provides a safe, efficient and productive work environment while making people more disciplined and responsible.

The 5 “S’s” stand for 5 Japanese words beginning with the alphabet S:

1.      Seiri – This means Tidiness as in throwing away all unwanted things and rubbish from workplace

2.      Seiton: This means Orderliness as in each thing should have a defined place  and should be kept in its place. By doing so it is easier to retrieve things and also facilitates storage.

3.      Seiso: This means Cleanliness as in the workplace should be clean. Every person should ensure that he maintains cleanliness

4.      Seiketsu: This means Standardization as in the manner of maintaining cleanliness should be standardized. This helps in maintaining uniformity

5.  Shitsuke: This means Discipline as in all the abovementioned should be followed regularly and on a daily basis

 To sum it up these 5 S ensures simplification, orderliness, commitment, efficiency,  These 5 Japanese S’s have been replaced by English S words which are Sort, Set, Shine, Standardise and Sustain.

Though at first the Japanese customs and behaviors may appear a bit difficult for foreigners to follow, the fact however remains that there is a lot to learn from this unique country and its people.


  1. Fascinating thank you. I look at my desk and think that I should print out the 5S code.