"If a man keeps cherishing his old knowledge, so as continually to be acquiring new, he may be a teacher of others." (Confucius) - Edo manners set examples -
“Seeing is believing,” so says an old saying, meaning that it is better to see it by yourself rather than hear about it many times. Some of you may have come to Japan to study with this saying in mind. Once you were here, you may have been baffled by what you saw in Japan, as it was quite different from your earlier image about the country. Some of you may have been disappointed with “bad Japanese manners.”
It is true that the manners of some Japanese raise some concerns. There are those who do not give up their seats on trains or buses for the aged or physically handicapped people, who do not apologize after bumping into people on the street, and who do not return greetings in the corridor of the apartment building. These manners are frowned on by most Japanese people. “Well-fed, well-bred,” so says another adage, meaning that people become courteous and good-mannered only after they have enough clothing and food. In today’s material rich Japan, it is sad to see many people well-fed, but ill-bred.
Against this backdrop, the Edo (now Tokyo) Shigusa, or behavior of people in the Edo-era, is attracting attention as an example of good manners. This Edo behavior initially referred to a kind of teaching in that era on building good human relationships for merchants to promote their businesses. It then began to spread among ordinary people. The teaching discouraged people from arrogant attitude toward others and childish actions that inconvenienced others around the offenders. The following actions were recommended as good manners.
Kasa kashige (tilting umbrella): This term refers to an action of tilting one’s umbrella away from the other person as they pass each other on a street when it is raining so as to avoid hitting each other with the umbrella or rain drops.
Kata-hiki (pulling one’s shoulder backward): An action of pulling one’s shoulder back to twist one’s upper body so as not to bump into the other person as they pass each other on a narrow passage.
Kobushi koshi ukase (rising to one’s feet a little): An action of rising to one’s feet a little (fist distance) on a boat or other vehicles so as to make space for other passengers to sit down. This action can be taken by a group of passengers together.
Ukatsu ayamari (apologizing for careless mistake): When someone steps on one’s foot in a crowd, not only the offending party but also the victim apologizes, saying “That’s OK, I was being inattentive myself.”
Eshaku-no manazashi (courteous gaze): This rule requires one to nod politely as a way of greetings when one exchanges cursory glances not only with acquaintances, but with strangers. Don’t just walk by with a blank expression on the face.
Edo was a metropolitan with its population already exceeding 1 million after 1800. The Edo shigusa was a people’s wisdom to live comfortably in that densely populated area. Nearly 200 years after that, there appear many things that we can learn from the Edo Shigusa. These Edo behaviors are often referred to in TV commercials and education programs, and are being taught in ethics classes at some elementary schools and junior high schools.
The Edo Shigusa does not require any special knowledge. In fact, there are many who have these manners without knowing the Edo Shigusa. Manners similar to the Edo Shigusa are found in other countries, too. For instance, it is a common practice for people to offer their train or bus seats to the elderly or those with physical handicaps. One also often sees people holding the door to the others to let them in first. In Mongolia, they shake hands after one inadvertently steps on the other’s foot. This action is based on a belief that “they will become enemies after their feet bumped into each other.” Backgrounds of these actions are not the same, but they are similar to the Ukatsu ayamari (apologizing for careless mistake) as both the offending and offended parties meet half way.
Whether it is the Edo Shigusa or these overseas manners, what lies behind them is consideration for others. These actions naturally come forth if you put yourself in others’ shoes. “Once in Rome, do as Romans do,” they often say, but, as you former international students know it well, it is not easy to adopt the host nation’s language and customs. But this Edo shigusa can easily be put into practice even if you do not understand the language grammar or do not able to use the chopsticks well. Its implementation will certainly make living more comfortable for yourselves and those around you.
There is a saying that goes “Sode Furiau-mo Tasho-no En,” meaning even a chance meeting is due to a previous life’s karma. It emphasizes the importance of these seemingly trivial meetings as they have occurred not haphazardly, but as a result of fate. It exhorts you to react kindly to others who happen to take seats next to yours on a train or to those who pass you on a street. It will be great that, sometime and somewhere in the world, you and I exchange the glances of “Eshaku-no manazashi” and do “Kasa kashige” as we pass each other on a street.