What is courtesy?
As a teenager, I served as a page in the Maryland General Assembly. For the first time, my thoughts appeared in print–an AP story on a bill currently under debate dealing with ratings on racy material like movies and books. The bill was among the earliest attempts at the rating system we now practice in the U.S. for movies (R, PG-13, PG). Those arguing in favor of restricting such material called it “pornography.” When asked by a reporter to define “pornography,” one of the Congressmen said something I’ll never forget, “Believe me, I’ll know it when I see it.” Not a viable definition for regulation, surely, but a no-nonsense answer and a personal hard-core truth–by our own individual definitions, we know it when we see it.
Pornography completely aside, I’ve been reminded of that quote since I arrived in Tokyo yesterday afternoon. But with reference to a completely different (dare I say “opposite”) topic–courtesy. I may not be able to define it–but I know it when I see it, and it’s rampant in Tokyo.
At home, I often wonder if I am a natural fogey, or if I have gently aged in that direction. Television shows (mostly the nightly “news”) rub my consciousness raw with yelling, name-calling and cynicism. Folks who have never met me assail my professional integrity through written and recorded accusations of whitewashing, lack of knowledge, croney-ism and fraud. Reporters pass along these apparently irresistible (and irresponsible) bombs although they, too, haven’t met met me, they don’t bother to call me either. Just buying groceries involves episodes of parents screaming at children, drivers using middle digits over parking places to save three feet of walking and folks blindly cutting of my disabled mother, who uses a cart to get around the store.
In short, I suffer from lack of courtesy in daily life. Tokyo, in a few short hours, is like a soothing balm to those raw welts.
“When restraint and courtesy are added to strength, the latter becomes irresistible.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
Tokyo is the cleanest city I’ve ever seen. Now, I’m not a true global city aficionado, preferring open spaces and green expanses to concrete. But I’ve been to Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris, Sao Paulo, New York, Los Angeles and a few others. When I asked Yama-san and Hijikata-san, my gracious hosts at supper last night, about it, they explained that the people of Tokyo are proud of the city, take the time not only to care to it, but also invest the money to make sure it is clean and presentable. From bus to taxi to hotel rooms, to me, this is a sign of old-fashioned (I wish it were new-fashioned) courtesy. And a far cry from both New York and Paris (where my first impression was of a metro stop that smelled so strongly of urine, it nearly rendered me unconscious).
Last night, we visited a casual dining (Izakaya) restaurant for supper. Here were the daily specials, in case you want to check them out:
Fortunately, the regular menu had full-color photos! Also fortunately, Yama-san ordered for us. The first thing on the table (a free appetizer) consisted of a small plate of roast beef, potatoes, carrots and roasted daicon radishes. I’ve only had this veggie raw and grated, so experiencing it cooked was new to me. I do have to say, I prefer it raw. But I was glad to see beef on the plate, first thing.
This meal contained many sharable dishes, including (sorry, grandma Dixie) some most delicious crispy fried chicken strips (I’m not a big fan of chicken) and the fattest chunk of pork I’ve ever imbibed whole (including my favorite, thick-sliced bacon from Rossman Farms). Yama san complimented me on my use of chopsticks, which I take as another sign of incredible courtesy, since I’d just fired a slippery slice of avocado across the table.
On the walk over to the restaurant, we made a quick stop into Lawson’s, a convenience store near our hotel, to take a look at the shelves. Yama explained that Lawson’s caters to young female customers by offering smaller portion, pre-packaged meals, and also low-calorie sweets. (I guess guys don’t like sweets as much? I don’t think my husband got that memo!) My schedule includes a thorough review of convenience stores and the beef’s opportunities in the”bento box” category. At the Beef Board’s planning meetings last week, I enjoyed hearing producer leaders discuss the growing popularity of bento boxes on American menus, as part of the American consumers’ demand for convenience and taste in one package.
On the walk back, we stopped by the prime minister’s residence to wave and say hi. The guards didn’t seem overly impressed with our courtesy in that instance.
Today, we have a full day of meetings and visits, including one that came up last night addressing domestic beef pricing in Japan, a visit with the executive chef at the Imperial Hotel, the chairman of Zensho and dinner with Takeichi san (1995 Eisenhower Fellow) hosted by Mr. Masami NAKAMURA, president of the Japan Management Association.