Now Reports

A zest of zeal.

I am lucky enough to have experienced life in several different countries, yet after having lived in Japan for many years, I must say that the Japanese attitude towards work is, on the whole, the most loyal and self-dedicated that I have ever witnessed. It is no surprise that the Japanese work ethic is world famous, having seen their sense of civic order and respect for each other.

zest of zeal

Japan recovered after the horrendous Second World War in record time.and by the late sixties the country had become a world leader – this rapid transformation has everything to do with Japan’s work ethic, with everyone working in unison for the same goal. In my own household, my wife is not taking any vacation this year, as she is too busy in her company (which always comes first), even though she is contributing financially to my trip with our two children to France (nearing sainthood…). Most jobs, especially ones dealing with the public, are performed with what I would dare to call zeal.

Zeal, a powerful four letter word that the English language took from the Greek “zelos” in the fourteenth century, is often referred to when talking about work: “working with zeal”, for example. I don’t imagine that zeal, nor words;like enthusiasm, fervor, and eagerness, would be used alongside the word work when translated into Japanese, as their association goes without saying in the Japanese mind. ‘Work with all your might’ seems to be the basic definition of ‘work’ in Japan.

This starts very early in life. A young kid introducing himself or herself in a kindergarten, or simply saying good morning at the top of his or her lungs, will do it with something approaching zeal.

Even the most menial of jobs are performed with zeal, including some of those involving interaction with the public that make you wonder – and this is what I really want to talk about – if the job actually serves a purpose at all.

We’ve all seen those worksites on the side of the road: a great big hole, and half a dozen workers, using heavy duty machinery, with one guy in uniform and a helmet in front , gesturing frantically, indicating which way to go to avoid the obstruction. As though if it weren’t for him, kindly telling me where to go, I would have undoubtedly rammed into the workers, hit the heavy machinery and plunged to my death down the seemingly unfathomable hole… why thank you, Sir!

Not to mention the battalion of parking attendants placed in strategic spots at the mall, sporting equally great uniforms. They strut around with the same seriousness and zeal, as if to say, “Boy, aren’t you glad I’m here!” Well, I would be, if you could only tell me where to find a parking space… In all fairness, I have to admit that some of them do try and help, but most just gesture in one direction, which just so happens to be towards the entrance to the car park.

Another of my personal favorites is the girl who shows you which ticket counter has just opened at the train station. Now, after having followed the intricate waiting line, you find yourself facing the thirteen counters, which remarkably enough are, most of the time, all open, or at least ten of them. In France you’d be lucky if four or five were open (if there’s not yet another strike on, that is). When one does become available, it is made pretty obvious: a green light flashes, a small screen displays the window number and the worker behind the counter says, “next please”. But on top of all that, a young woman (and I hope this is not her only job) kindly tells you where to go, preventing you from bumping aimlessly like a ping-pong ball from one counter to another.

These are not criticisms – the sheer number of sales staff in department stores used to make me dizzy, but at least they all have a job. Thanks to the zealous Japanese way of working together, the trains run on time. A couple of decades ago in Mexico I would wait for a train and hope it would come on time – the Spanish word for wait and hope is the same- “esperar”. It might sometimes make things a little slower, but I think that on the whole this zeal helps Japanese society to work as well as it does – dodesho?


by Remi Charpentier, France, Freelance Teacher


Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn179, Nov. 2013)

Fukuoka City
Published: Oct 25, 2013 / Last Updated: Jun 13, 2017

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