During a recent leadership workshop I attended in Norway, one of the attendees was from Japan, a place I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting. During the week we got to know each other well and as a result I learned a lot more about Japanese culture.
Some of my opinions I’d already established such as the importance of respect, one of the eight virtues of Bushidō. This is “the way of warriors” and is a Japanese collective term for the many codes of honour and ideals that dictated the samurai way of life. This has clearly had an impact on Japanese culture, even today.
During the workshop I also learned a lot more about the stresses at work caused by another of the eight virtues, the sense of loyalty and duty. In recent years there have been growing concerns in the country, especially the impact of the 10 lost years of no economic growth.
Five years ago, changes were introduced in order to deal with the very high suicide rate in Japan and in the subsequent years there has been a decline in the number of people taking their own lives.
In 2014 on an average 70 Japanese people committed suicide every day, and the majority were men. Seventy-one per cent of suicides in Japan were male and it is the leading cause of death in men aged 20–44. By 2016, suicide rates had reached a 22-year low of 21,764 with male deaths falling by 1,664 to 15,017 and those of women decreasing by 597 to 6,747.
Whilst there are changes for the good taking place it will take some time in order to get to where the country needs to be. It is still common for personal lives to be impacted negatively as a result of work pressure and it is good to know the changes in the last five years have seen a big move towards a more work/life balance.
One other thing I learned about Japan last week was how people dispose of their garbage. In cities across Japan you will not find garbage bins and the streets are spotlessly clean. This is not to say that people on the move do not generate garbage, but they all carry their own bag in order that they can take their waste back home with them.
As I write this piece the Rugby World Cup is taking place and in recent days Typhoon Hagibis, the worst storm in decades, hit the country. This was the day before Japan was due to play Scotland in the last of the first-round games. This was a crucial game with both Japan and Scotland playing to go through to the next round.
Everyone was convinced that the game would not take place due to the typhoon but as a result of truly heroic work to clear up just hours before the game the two teams played as planned. It was a great game of rugby and Japan were very deserving winners giving the country a huge lift at a time of tragedy.
Yes, meeting Keisuke on the leadership workshop and watching the Rugby World Cup have shown me what fantastic people the Japanese are.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at email@example.com