The Concept of Kindness for Japanese
I happened to be in the discussion of a Japanese couple. They were expecting a guest. The guest phoned the Japanese wife and asked her if she wanted to meet him in the centre. She said yes and as she was already on the street, headed to meet him. But the guest showed up at the door of the house and the husband received him. He was little surprised as he thought that the guest would come with his wife.
The Japanese woman wasn´t so angry, she just laughed saying that the guest was "a little Latin". No offence to any Latin nation, I guess she meant that the guest was easy going. She thought probably the guest had changed his mind and decided to go to their house directly. I thought the same from my experiences during my staying in Spain.
Then the Japanese husband asked the wife if she confirmed the guest how far he was from the centre and how long he would take to get there. The wife said no. She said that was because the guest phoned her to meet up at the central station and she wouldn´t imagine that the guest skipped the meeting and went directly to the house.
Wait. Is it kindness that you control people so that you don´t waste time and energy? Am I away from Japan too long? His concept of "kindness" didn´t click to me.
The husband´s explanation was that it was her responsibility to ask the guest how long he would take to get to the centre and where exactly he could see the wife. That way, this misunderstanding wouldn´t happen. Since she didn´t do this, she had a lack of kindness. Because those "easy going" people are confused and nothing is certain for them, we should deal with them with sympathy. And that is 優しさ (yasashisa / kindness).
At this point, I left the room. The curious thing is all of us are Japanese and yet we all have different concept over kindness. I was in Spain and it happened to me several times that we decided to meet up at certain time in certain place but the person didn´t show up or he or she was with other people and didn´t remember our meeting.
I tried to think that maybe she´d forgotten, or found more interesting stuff or simply changed his mind. But for me, kindness is to give me a ring or a message that he won´t come. Or send me a sorry message later. But this Japanese guy´s theory, it was my lack of kindness for not sending my friend a confirmation phone call to make his sure to be there.
Gee, does it have to be so much mind game just to meet up with a friend? Japanese people are known to be kind. But recently it was questioned that they are worried too much about bothering others and use the word "sorry" too much. "Sorry, I need to open the cupboard", "sorry, I need to get some water", "sorry I like to use the bathroom quickly before you have a shower"… There are so many examples I heard.
Some Western friends admitted that hearing so much sorry is annoying and can´t consider it as the fact of kindness. It even makes them feel bad about being in the middle, they say. I understand both side of story. They are not apologizing but it´s more like "excuse me" for interrupting other person´s action. But in Japanese, sorry and excuse me are the same, "ごめんなさい (iGomen-nasai)".
Japanese are taught to think about others since they are small and in general they live try not to bother others. If they think their action or movement may bother others, they say Gomen. Is it a feeling of guilt? I don´t think so. It´s just an etiquette. You may ask whether they actually feel sorry? As I said before, this isn´t an apology and I think Japanese people say it as a precaution. If they didn´t say anything for interrupting other person and it actually bothers that person, it may cause a trouble. In order to avoid this problem, they say sorry before hand. And this consideration for others is for Japanese people, a kindness.
I personally think too much sorry is unnecessary. Since I discovered the way of saying like "can I get some water?", "one sec, I need to open it" or "watch your head, I´ll open the cupboard", I´ve stopped saying "sorry". Is my kindness fading? It´s true that too much humbleness can be a compulsion of kindness. What is Kindness to you?
More Japanese behaviour