Right now, I’m in Okinawa, combining a company trip and a family vacation. This is the third time the annual company trip has been to Okinawa. Employees vote from a given selection of domestic destinations that you can fly to from Haneda airport; Hokkaido and Okinawa end up being chosen every other year.
* Please refer to columns “Are Company Trips Really Fun?” (Japanese)& “GLOBIS Trivia (part 2)—How Did the Company Trips Come About?” (Japanese)
At this year’s party, everyone had a great time listening to music such as Haisai Ojisan (popular Okinawan music), Eisa Taiko (drumming for Okinawan traditional dancing), and dancing Matsuken Samba (popular music). When it was all over, my family and I switched into family vacation mode. (Employees are free to bring their families along on GLOBIS vacations.) On the third night, after almost all the employees had left, I encountered a man and his child in the hotel’s large public bath.
The man and his child were in the big bath. I say child; he was almost as tall as a first-year middle-school student. He was playing with a towel and a white cloth, chucking it around in the bath. The child was standing there, throwing the towel and the cloth into the bath over and over again, but the father didn’t raise a finger.
My second oldest son was about to put his towel in the bath, and I quickly raised my voice, telling him you are not supposed to bring your towels into the bath. The other kid heard me and stopped playing with his towel. Instead, he began playing in the bath with the white cloth. His father was nearby but still didn’t take any notice.
This bothered me, so I decided to say something.
Me: Just what is that white thing?
Kid: It’s a muscle patch.
Me: You do realize that you’re not supposed to bring muscle patches into the bath don’t you?
…the father remained silent.
I was about to tell him he should be telling his kids what they shouldn’t do, but I held my tongue. Things started to feel a bit awkward, so I went into the sauna and thought about whether I had done the right thing. On reflection, I decided I had done the right thing under the circumstances.
I then recalled an incident at a public bath in Seoul. I was in at a hotel in Seoul about eight years ago and was about to get into the public bath without washing myself down first, when an old man shouted at me in Korean. I immediately got out of the bath and went to wash with hot water. In fact, however, I had already washed my body before entering the bath, and so there wasn’t really any need to wash again, but it struck me at that time that the traditional Japanese custom of encouraging the society to ensure proper manners are observed was still alive and well in Korea, too. So instead of feeling annoyed at the old man’s scolding, I was actually impressed.
And once again, I was brought back to this present situation. “Am I,” I asked myself, “really wise enough to be scolding and warning other people?” “No, I’m not,” was my answer. I’m not yet finished learning as a man and still lack certain virtues. Nevertheless, I still concluded that I should certainly warn others when I see them doing something they shouldn’t be doing. I might appear selfish, but someone has to make the effort to raise the level of public manners for society as a whole.
Rules have always been a nuisance for me. The rules change from place to place and from country to country. They are decided by statesmen and powerful people.
The word, “rules,” seems so formal and ritualistic, so at GLOBIS we maintain a principle of freedom and responsibility that respects people’s independence by keeping the number of rules to the bare minimum. Also, I think that ventures are to some extent about breaking rules and changing what is thought to be “common sense,” and this freedom—this lack of inhibition—is vital. However, just because this is true for venture companies doesn’t mean that manners can simply be ignored.
Manners are not to be determined by people in power, but are more like norms of behavior created by society as a whole. Furthermore, this concept is appreciated world wide. A long time ago, when Japanese samurai visited the U.S. after the Meiji Restoration, people talked about the good manners of the Japanese. Good manners transcend borders, cultures and languages, and encourage others to think positively about you.
In terms of my own children, I want to raise them with a stronger emphasis on manners rather than rules. Manners are the same as etiquette. If you can’t get this right, no matter how smart or athletic you are, you are hobbled as a person.
Every parent feels the need for discipline, but that by no means makes it easy or pleasant. It seems like we have to constantly and firmly remind children about table manners, greeting people, and how to speak properly. This job of finding faults could well become annoying, but I intend to continue doing so for their own sake.
During vacations I can spend 24 hours a day with the kids, and while this is a great opportunity, I sometimes get frustrated as I cannot catch everything. But, I always tell myself that it’s important to keep at it.
I heard a typhoon will hit tomorrow night, so we are going back a day early, leaving behind the white sand and blue sea of Okinawa. I placed the duvet over the sleeping kids to prevent them from catching a cold, and the Okinawa night slowly passed by.
August 2, 2005