As I mentioned before, I’m currently on a trip through Asia. The first stop on my trip was in Tokyo and having spent a few days there, I’ve come to realize one very important lesson that we can learn from Japan. Well, I don’t know if it it applies to Japan as a whole, because I spent the majority of my time in Tokyo, but I imagine this lesson comes from Japanese culture in general.

This lesson sounds obvious enough and on the surface, some people may scoff at its importance. They’ll say things like, “I already knew that. Why are you telling me this?” Realistically, reading the words that I am typing may not be enough for you to learn this lesson, no matter how well I attempt to express it. This lesson can only be learned by spending a few days surrounded by Japanese culture, picking up on their little mannerisms and innuendos.

The lesson that I am talking about is personal responsibility. The concept of personal responsibility permeates every aspect of Japanese culture, as far as I can tell, and it represents a certain mindset that could seriously improve the quality of life and the nature of our society. Let me provide you with a few examples.

Walking through the city of Tokyo, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any trash cans on the streets. I could walk around all day and only find one, maybe two garbage cans. With this kind of configuration, you would think that there would be litter everywhere. You would think that people would throw their gum wrappers every which place and random pieces of newspaper would flutter in the wind like tumbleweeds. This is not the case. Tokyo is substantially cleaner than most streets in Vancouver and definately cleaner than some other larger cities like Los Angeles and New York. No garbage cans, yet no garbage. How can this be?

It comes down to personal responsibility. If you have garbage to throw away, you throw it away in your own trash can (at home). You do not rely on public facilities and the garbage cans of others to get rid of all of your rubbish. Your garbage is your problem and no one else’s. Interestingly, you will find recycle bins for aluminum cans and plastic bottles. These are typically placed next to vending machines.

Another fascinating idea is that the Japanese love their children, but they do not coddle them. Kids learn from a very young age that they need to take care of themselves. As soon as they can walk, they do. You won’t find very many strollers, because a stroller shows that your child cannot walk. Passers by will assume that there is something wrong with your child if he or she is being pushed around in a stroller. They’ll ask why they can’t walk themselves.

Continuing with children, grandparents typically do not provide daycare for their grandchildren. Personal responsibility is the reason yet again. If a couple has a son or daughter, that child is the couple’s responsibility and not the responsibility of the grandparents or anyone else. Take care of yourself and take care of the things (or people) you produce and own.

We can all learn to be a little more responsible, whether it be responsible to the environment (recycle, reuse, minimize your trash, etc.) or responsible for your own needs and those of your family. Even in their old age, most Japanese men continue to work so that they can appear useful to society, to demonstrate that they are still contributing.

Personal responsibility. Take a moment to consider how you can be more responsible.