So in Japan they have this social idea called the “Wa”. Wa (和 the same kanji as in 和食 washoku “Japanese food” or 和人 wajin an old term to distinguish mainland Japanese people) usually translates to English as “harmony”. It implies a peaceful unity and conformity within a social group, in which members prefer the continuation of a harmonious community over their personal interests.
“Wa is considered integral to Japanese society, and derives from traditional Japanese family values. Individuals who break the ideal of Wa to further their own purposes are brought in line either overtly or covertly, by reprimands from a superior or by their family or colleagues’ tacit disapproval. Hierarchical structures exist in Japanese society primarily to ensure the continuation of Wa. Public disagreement with the party line is generally suppressed in the interests of preserving the communal harmony.”
Coming from America, I had heard that Japanese people were generally quiet and respectful in public places. Once I got here, I almost couldn’t believe how well-behaved most people were in public spaces. People line up at designated spots to board trains and buses, and people don’t cut lines. People are usually quiet and “follow the rules”, spoken or not. Though I can’t speak for every Japanese person, the public consensus of consideration for other people is significant enough to be noticeable every time I’m out in public. You’ll often see people gently bowing to each other in public, even if just passing by someone in a grocery store. Bowing is something that I’ll have to unlearn when I go back to America.
Japan never ceases to surprise me, so when I bought tickets to a local music and comedy festival, I didn’t know why I thought things would be any less “Japanese” here. I was very excited because my favorite Japanese band would be playing at this festival, and I’d been hoping to see them since before I came to Japan. They got added to the bill a couple months before this concert, so I bought tickets. Two months later, I picked them up at my local Family Mart and set off to get to the concert.
I was nervous about being late to the concert since I had missed one of my trains, but I ended up getting there right when my favorite band was scheduled to go on. Once I walked into the room they were just walking onto stage. First, I noticed that there was a ton of room throughout the concert hall, including space at the very front. I picked a spot in the front but a little off to the side since I didn’t want to squeeze in between people here – something I wouldn’t think twice about doing in America.
The music started and I started to sing and move along to the music. I noticed that no one around me was doing the same. Okay, maybe the next song I thought. Still, no one moved. I took a good look at the crowd around me. I noticed most people were watching, not on their phones, but staring straight at the stage. . . Not moving. There were maybe a couple people bobbing their heads. So I thought back to this idea of the Wa. And how there’s this social concept that essentially prevents people from being selfish – in all aspects of life.
Now, it is totally possible that these people just didn’t like or didn’t know the music. But even in America, most people would be talking to each other, browsing on their phones, coming and going, etc. Not at this concert. It was almost eerie to watch everyone standing still, just watching. But there are many things our two cultures can learn from each other. I did continue to dance and sing along, though maybe a little quieter and off to the side.