Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Taking Responsibility

Japan is a funny place sometimes.

I just finished reading an article about how one of the professional sumo wrestlers is retiring from the sport because he hit an opponent who beat him after the match had finished. As a way to take responsibility for his actions, he is quitting his career voluntarily. He submitted his resignation to the body that governs sumo wrestling and wrote an apology to his trainer for bringing shame to his trainer and the stable of sumo that he trains with.

All of this because he slapped a man.

Now think about American baseball. How many brawls have you seen in which entire teams of players clear the dugout and charge the opposing team? How many times have you seen a batter charge the pitcher's mound after being beaned accidentally or otherwise?

Now hockey. How many fights have you seen on TV between two hockey players? I remember one incident where the guy was beating the crap out of an opponent with his stick. Screw slapping a guy once in the face, this guy was full on hacking the other player with a wooden stick.

I am not even touching the issue of cheap shots in boxing.

Even basketball is no stranger to a good brawl here and there.

I guess my point is that if the sense of dignity and responsibility that pervades athletes and people in general here in Japan were to ever cross the Pacific Ocean, there would be no one left to play professional sports in the US. The Japanese have an extreme awareness of shame. If a Japanese person thinks they have shamed their company, school, team, and heaven forbid, family, they will go to extreme lengths to redeem themselves. Or at the very least, to keep the shame they have brought on themselves from spilling onto their family, friends, teammates, and coworkers. If it means quitting the thing you love, that is the price you pay for your actions. In reality, its not that big of a price when you consider how much ritualistic suicide intermingles with the rest of Japanese culture. During WWII it was very difficult to take Japanese prisoners; most of them would kill themselves before Allied forces even came close to capturing them. On one of the Southern islands, I forget which, there is a huge tunnel complex that the Japanese used during the war and when you see pictures of it, it looks like a huge close-quarters gun fight took place throughout the tunnel system. What really happened is hundreds of Japanese soldiers killed themselves when it became evident that they could no longer defend the island.

Another interesting thing to look into is the numbers of lawsuits between private Japanese citizens. In the States, suing someone is basically considered your God given right that must be exercised the very instant someone offends you. In Japan, lawsuits between private citizens are very low. Unfortunately, the numbers are increasing annually but compared to the United States, virtually no one sues another person here. If an accident happens or you offend someone, you apologize and strive to make things right. Once you have apologized or paid a reasonable price for your actions, the ordeal is behind you and both parties move on. The courts are not usually involved. Sometimes, simply saying you are sorry will avert legal action. The Japanese legal system has actually been know to issue lesser punishments to people that have apologized sincerely to all of the parties involved.

I guess I am just kind of inspired by the whole thing. If it were one person that were taking responsibility and that was an isolated incident, I would not be writing this post. Japanese people as a whole put a much higher value on responsibility, shame, and integrity than Westerners do and its sad that we don't think more about our actions in terms of how the Japanese view things. At the very least, it would help out the American legal system a ton.


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