The levels of courtesy and politeness in Japan are staggering and cannot help but remind one of how much of the general acknowledgment and consideration of others has passed out everyday life in the UK. I am sure there will be many who do still practice acknowledging and saluting others in one way or another, but I am convinced that overall we have dropped many of these small civil gestures, that help each one of us to feel that we matter, that others have noticed our presence and are saluting it.
The stroke promised by the word acknowledgment is an important idea for me. I have been amazed at the success of my smiling at people in the street campaign, practiced on the 200 metres between my house and the local shop. After just three months there are now people who smile as soon as they see me. There are, inevitably, some who just harden and embellish their grumpiness, but I am pleased to say that bothers them more than it bothers me. I no longer fear the fierce looks of others, I no longer shy away from smiling because they can or will not.
Coming to Japan has been a lesson for me in taking courtesy to another level. It means that whether you are a servant, salary-man (what the Japanese call general workers) or aristocrat, it is certain that you will receive your share of acknowledgment, simply for being, each and every day.
Back in the 1960’s when I formed my prototypical adult attitudes, I followed the school of Clint Eastwood, James Dean, Marlon Brando, sour looks, suspicious defensive eyes and shrugging off others as a matter of course. I thought this was the way to be above the humdrum, to single myself out from the crowd. Regrettably, I fear it just made me unpleasant and I apologise to those I might have offended or who felt rejected by my moronic attempt at ‘savoir faire’. You know who you are!