At the last FIFA Men’s World Cup (Russia 2018), Team Japan won the hearts of many across the globe. Yes, you read that right. They won many hearts not because they were spectacular in performance but because of their exceptional conduct throughout the time they lasted in the tournament. This exceptional conduct gave them the edge over Team Senegal, fellow contenders for the second qualifying spot beyond the group stage to the round of 16 as they both had the same number of points – 4 points each. Japan however, emerged victorious due to the application of the rule of fair play which considered the number of fouls and yellow cards each team had at the group stage.
— م🇵🇰 (@OMDItsme) July 2, 2018
Although team Japan eventually crashed out of the Russia 2018 World Cup, after losing to Belgium (2-3) in the knock out round of 16, they left as winners because they had won the admiration of the whole world. Ordinarily, given the nature of the sport, you’d think fans would only be concerned about score lines and their favorite players living up to expectation, but team Japan brought out a different side of football lovers all over the world by their exceptional acts of responsibility and respect. What did they do?
😔 Lose 3-2 in the 90th minute to Belgium.
🗑 Still stay behind and clean rubbish from the stands.
🇯🇵 Take A Bow, Japan Fans. 👏 pic.twitter.com/BsGwUx6MkZ
— SPORF (@Sporf) July 2, 2018
They cleaned their dressing room sparkling clean and left a note of appreciation, saying Thank You to the fans for supporting them at the world cup. In addition to the commendable conduct of the team at the games, Japanese fans were reported to have cleaned the stadium every day after the games were done, irrespective of whether their team won or lost the match. That’s an incredible community spirit. One that can’t be faked or bought.
This is the Japanese dressing room after losing dramatically to 🇧🇪 in the 94th minute.
100% cleaned. Left with a “thank you” note in Russian.
Win with class, lose with class. 🙌
We all ❤️ Japan! 🇯🇵 pic.twitter.com/W9z862Txjx
— 433 (@433) July 3, 2018
To say that the world fell in love with them would not be out of place because the news of their exceptional conduct was all over social media due to the fact that football fans couldn’t stop talking about them for days. It goes to prove something, that the world does care about responsible behaviour and responsible leadership but many people are not disciplined enough to seek responsible leadership or be responsible leaders.
Now, in all of this, there’s a question that begs for an answer. Why did the Japanese team and Japanese fans behave this way at the world cup?
Was it just to show off?
The answer we seek, lies in the Japanese culture which influences the way children are groomed and brought up. The Japanese culture teaches children the value of respect for others from an early age. Therefore as adults, they reflect those values that they have imbibed all through their lives. Of course, this is not to say that the Japanese are perfect, but in them, you will see the readiness to hold people accountable when they go against the values that the society holds dear.
A few years ago, I stumbled across an internet video with a caption that read something like “15 things you didn’t know about Japan”. I was curious because at that time, I had begun acquainting myself with the innovativeness of the Japanese through literature and personal research, so I was curious to find out these things that were so noteworthy, they had to be captured in that form. Although I did find most of the information from that short video clip interesting, one particular point made a significant impression in my mind.
This point made reference to the behavior of Kindergarten children in Japan and how they related with one another. That section of the video-clip opened with kindergarten kids cleaning their classrooms in a coordinated manner. The point expatiated further that Japanese kids were responsible for cleaning their classrooms and they did so without adult interference. So, when any child messes up the class, he/she is called to order and made to clean up the mess by his/her peers who worked hard to clean the class. The reason this practice was adopted in the culture was to teach children the value of respect for one another’s work. When we work together as a group to achieve a common goal, it will be nearly impossible for us to let one person or a few people ruin our hard work. And because each pupil contributes what he is meant to contribute to the cleaning of the classroom, he knows he has a stake in it and will certainly not appreciate anyone messing up his hard work. This ideology goes beyond the kindergarten, it permeates community living and family, work and other inter-relationships.
Reflecting on this, I remember my time in Secondary School at one of the Federal Government (Unity) Colleges in Nigeria. It was a day and boarding school with more than 90% of the student population as boarders. I was a boarding student and for boarding students, the responsibility for cleaning and taking care of our hostels, classrooms, dinning hall and toilets were ours. Each student had a “duty” assigned to her and could suffer severe consequences if she failed to carry out her duty. These rules however, did not apply to the most senior classes (SS3).
In my Undergraduate days, I stayed in the hostel accommodation provided by my University between 2007-2010. It so happened that the hostels were built in the early post-colonial era and had a specific capacity. However, as the years went by University enrollments exploded and without enough new hostels, the old ones were re-organised to carry more people which invariably put more pressure on the facilities.
At the time I was in the University, we had cleaners, mostly middle-aged women. Like the job role implies, it was their job to clean students’ hostels. They cleaned the hallways, lobbies, courtyard and toilet ends. They did this everyday with the exception of Sundays and the last Saturday of every month which was reserved for students to clean as per Sanitation Day in accordance with the regulations of the department of students’ affairs. One key thing I observed back then, was the fact that whenever students cleaned up the toilets and hostels, they were generally vigilant and were quick to take actions against anyone who messed up their work.
And so, it hit me.
I came to realize that the toilet facilities were not in a horrible state because the water supply infrastructure in the hostels were insufficient and ineffective, they were in a horrible state because the people who used them were not responsible for them. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that Nigerian Universities need better funding and need creative ways to get more funding outside the Government’s budgetary allocations, but it does point to something, that we would all benefit more from public facilities and resources if we took up the challenge to be responsible for them.
Sometime in 2019, a sitting Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was caught on camera assaulting a Lady at an Adult toy store somewhere in Abuja. He did not only assault the lady, he instructed his security escorts to manhandle her and got her arrested with his influence. As you would expect, this sparked an outrage amongst Nigerians with many individuals taking to various Social Media platforms to express their displeasure and making calls for the Senator’s arrest. The outrage helped the lady regain her freedom but it did little or nothing to change anything as this man went back to work almost immediately, like nothing happened. He did issue a half-hearted apology several days later but it sounded like a broken record because all he did in that press release was to try to absolve himself of blame. And as if to say “to hell with whatever the society thinks”, he was given several awards by some money for hire organizations few months after the incident occurred and was still in court. Subsequently, the case was dismissed citing a lack of diligent prosecution by the police. Well, suffice it to say that it sounded like a huge joke to many Nigerians but in the end, the Court acted within its powers. Providence was eventually kind to the victim more than one year later when the case was re-tried at a High Court in Abuja and she emerged victorious, winning 50 Million Naira in the Civil Suit against the Senator.
Accountability breeds responsibility.
You can’t be accountable without being responsible, they go hand-in-hand. When people are accountable, they understand and accept the consequences of their actions for the roles in which they assume responsibility. You are responsible when you take charge of things entrusted with you. When you accept responsibility, you are committed to generating positive results, and this is what it means to take ownership.
This ownership culture is what the Japanese have that helped them recover from the devastating impact of the Second World War on their people and economy. This ownership culture fuels the community spirit, as well as the innovative and enterprising spirit of the Japanese that has seen them grow into an economic super-power, and time and time again, quickly fix problems caused by natural disasters anywhere in their country. The origins of this ownership culture can be traced to the Japanese shame/honor culture developed in the middle ages when Japan was ruled by Feudal Lords.
In medieval Japan, being a warrior was more than just a job. The Samurai warriors (also known as Bushi) lived by a strict creed known as Bushido (Warrior’s Way) with a value system anchored on eight virtues (Justice, Courage, Respect, Compassion, Integrity, Honour, Loyalty, and Self Control) which required them to live and die in the service of their Lords. No form of disgrace was tolerated under the Bushido, therefore any act deemed disgraceful, be it cowardice, defeat, or disloyalty was enough reason for death by Seppuku – ritual suicide by disembowelment. There are two forms of Seppuku: the voluntary and obligatory Seppuku. People could choose voluntary Seppuku if they did something that they felt they shouldn’t have done or if they were found wanting in a role, while obligatory Seppuku like its name implies is more of a punishment and leaves the offender without choice. Ultimately, suicidal death was accepted as a means to wipe out shame or disgrace from a person and (or) his family.
Although Seppuku as a judicial punishment has long been abolished in Japan since 1873, voluntary Seppuku has not died out in Modern Japan as there are numerous records of (voluntary) honor-suicides by prominent people over the years. In Modern Japan, it is common to hear of political/ public office holders resigning after failing to deliver 100% on their promises or committing suicide when found guilty of engaging in corrupt practices or benefiting from the proceeds of corruption.
By a large extent, the Japanese society holds everyone to the same standards. Therefore when you are found to have committed a crime, done wrong, or done something disgraceful that brings shame to your name, family, or community, you are expected to do something to remove that shame – this is responsibility.
Holding everyone to the same standards also means that the citizens (families, communities) are the gate keepers. This makes it difficult for one person or a few people to make nonsense of their collective efforts.
This is by no means an attempt to white-wash or paint Japan as the best. However, the world that we find ourselves in today is constantly evolving and the onus lies on us to learn and evolve too. It wouldn’t hurt to pick a few lessons from those who have done well in certain areas where we fall short. If we must grow, we must learn. It is the only way to go.
Ogechi is a business communicator, story teller and an unconventional thinker who loves to help people and businesses find better ways to express their messages. She is a creative and cultural enthusiast with a penchant for learning about people and places around the world. You’ll find her reading something, trying out a new recipe, or just really talking when she isn’t helping people communicate better.