Episode 9: Shugyo: Training for Intuitive Wisdom

Episode 9: Shugyo: Training for Intuitive Wisdom

Shugyo: Training for Intuitive Wisdom

Most Westerners prize practical knowledge and hands-on experience above all other kinds of learning. They are also condition to approach work and other challenge is directly, aiming for the “the shortest distance between two points”.

It is therefore, inevitable that Westerns in Japan, and those working for the Japanese companies abroad, will be mystified and frustrated by a great deal of typical Japanese behaviour, for to the Japanese the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line; indeed, both practical knowledge and experience can be a handicap in functioning well in a Japanese environment.

I know this sounds bizarre, but bear with me as we explore the Japanese code word for intuitive wisdom training.

Americans, in particular, are extremely inpatient for results once they begin any kind of training or enterprise. And you have to chuckles at the novice foreign students of Zen Buddhism and how they pester their masters, wanting to know when they are going to “learn something“ the new foreigner employee hired by a Japanese company wants to put their experience to work immediately, almost always causing distress and social discomfort amongst the company members.

In Japan, the cultural element in training and work often and take precedence over results. This is particularly true in the early stages, but generally applies in perpetuity. 

In the Japanese value system, the way things are done outweighs what is done. 

For example, young students practising the ideograms used in writing Japanese are expected to learn more than just mechanical strokes necessary to reproduce correct characters. They are also expected to learn form, order, aesthetics and harmony.

The first obligation of young employees of Japanese companies hired directly from school is not to learn work routines so they can immediately become productive. No no, not that indeed, the first obligation is to learn the company philosophy and culture, so their personal behaviour in the work decisions they make in the future will be “correct”.

One of the most important words in the Japanese corporate world is “shugyoo”, which usually translates as “training”, but shugyoo has far deeper and broader implications than this English translation implies.

Shugyo in its full Japanese contacts is better translated as “apprenticeship” in the old, traditional sense of the word, when it refers to a young person being apprentice to a journeyman or to a master for at least 10 in sometime as many as 20 years.

The goal of shugyo in a Japanese company is for the new employee to gradually absorb knowledge about the company and how it functions, and to determine intuitively what the responsibilities and duties of the new employee are. 

Like the apprentices of old, new employees get little or no direct feedback regarding the work performance for many years. Managers and supervisors do not stand over newcomers, instructing them about what to do and how to do it. The employees are expected to figure that out for themselves.

You can be assured in this strict and hierarchal society things are not made easy for Japanese students or apprentice workers. 

The Japanese believe that the harder something is to learn and the more effort  it requires to learn it, the more valuable than knowledge or the skill. 

Furthermore, the ultimate goal in Japanese training is perfection, which cannot be achieved, so theoretically there could be no end to training or to learning, and shugyo is seen as an ongoing process.

This Japanese attitude about learning is in sharp contrast to that of the western mindset, again, particularly Americans, who after reaching a certain level, tend to either rest on their laurels or take so much pride in their learning that they do not open themselves up to learning more. 

There is another important characteristic in Japanese training and employment that sets them apart and motivates them to continue learning and striving to improve. 

Because they receive no direct, explicit feedback about their work, they never know where they stand. In this atmosphere, peer pressure and the fear of bringing shame on themselves and their coworkers forces them to continually strive to improve their performance.

The true challenge for any foreigner entering a Japanese company is to have a clear understanding of the concept of shugyo and internalize it when navigating the mysterious complex Japanese corporate work culture.

Thanks you so very much for dropping by today to the Land Of The Rising Son. If you found this podcast to be interesting and informative please share it on your social media, and as you do so Amaterasu Oomikami will continue to shine on you, as she does on everyone. And until we meet again next time here in the Land Of The Rising Son; sayonara, sayonara, sayonara.

Episode 8: Equality

Episode 8: Equality


The concept of byodo, or equality, among people is a western invention that apparently evolved from the Christian theological beliefs that all human beings are created equal in god’s eyes. 

Of course, and as we know, there has never been a time in history of any society when all people were treated as equals, however,  Americans as well as others have passed laws over the centuries that tries to force the foreign concept upon not only the Japanese, but are readily spreading their version of freedom and democracy and equality all over the world now.

This is such an alien concept to the Japanese, they have no such historically based concept for them to conceptualize what the occidentals paints as equality.

Is Equality A Myth - Land Of The Rising Son

Neither of Japan’s two main religions, Buddhism and Confucianism, have ever recognize or taught the principles of byodo or equality.

In fact these two belief system are based on exactly the opposite premises. 

Over the centuries the primary structure of Japanese society was based upon inequality, that is, on the categorization of people in carefully delineated classes and ranks, with individual behaviour determined and control by institutionalized and ritualized inequalities. 

This exceptionally foreign ideas to the Occidental mindset is exceptional in that it has created the unparalleled and orderly society of Japan, a society that I have chosen to live my entire adult life based upon the societal harmony and the conventions which are fundamentally adhered to in Japan. 

The Japanese Salarypeople - Land Of The Rising Son

Although, as I say this, it obviously also comes with a price and what those in the occidental mindset perceived as inequality is indeed that price.

The American military forces have some success in introducing the idea of equality during their occupation of Japan which was from September 1945 to May 1952. The feudalistic structure of the family was outlawed giving wives and children rights they have never had before. 

And yes, political reform gave people more rights as voters, and workers got the right to bargain collectively. However, these booming decrees coming from up above alone will never be enough to make the Japanese change their entire culture in a short period of time, or, from where I sit, ever. And undoubtedly the concept of inequality continues to prevail in virtually every nook and cranny of this society, even until this very day. 

Right around the 60s as Japan accelerated its rise to become an economic superpower the first postwar generation of young Japanese began to demonstrate many characteristics of equality in their relationships among themselves, and the pace of the trend, was to speed up from that time on. 

Showa Family circa 1946 - Land Of The Rising Son

But make no mistake about it, these demonstrations of equality among the young did not extend outside their own personal spheres. 

Inequality to the very day remains the prevailing principle in schools and in all economic and political organizations.

No matter how strongly individuals in the younger generation may have embraced the concept of equality in their private affairs, even to this very day, they were forced to conform to the prevailing concept of inequality the moment they begin their education and join the workforce. 

In today’s Japan, people generally claim they are inherently equal to everyone else, but this is only “in principle“, and what we refer to as tatemae, or “the constructed reality to which everyone pays lip service.”

Despite the general acceptance of the principle of all people being created equal, the lives of the Japanese continue to be based upon the concept of fubyodo or in other words inequality.

In practice, the Japanese continue to recognize that sex, age, education level, school attend, and family background determines a persons rank in the overall hierarchy of it every group or organization, and that rank establishes both guidelines and limits to what and how an individual can do things. 

Is Sameness a Strength or a Weakness - Land Of The Rising Son.jpeg

It is therefore very important for foreigners dealing with Japanese and professional organizations, companies and government agencies to be aware of the general lack of equality in Japan, and how this affects the individuals with whom they have direct contact.

The main factor where foreigners are concerned is that the behaviour of the individual Japanese who they deal with is controlled by the reality of their hierarchical rank within their organizations, and the behaviour that is approved for that rank. With the rare exception, even executives of the highest rank cannot act on their own initiative.

All Japanese are also extremely sensitive about the extent of the responsibilities and privileges that come with their place in the hierarchy, and they are very protective of their own turf.

If a person does not follow a precise protocol in dealing with people higher and lower in rank, considerable trouble can result for all people involved. I have seen this played out time and time again. It is very interesting to compare the concepts of the Japanese and those of a Western mindset. So, for example in English it is said “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” where as here in in Japan they say, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” If somebody puts their hand up in Japan, and it’s out of place, they just get hammered down. Where in Western setting, perhaps the person putting up their hand would get a promotion for being proactive. 


Also, keep in mind that even though the image of the Japanese is one of groupism there is still plenty of self-interest here as there is every where one may go. For instance, some managers in Japanese company will sometimes keep things to themselves, either because they think an outsider proposition has no merit or would not be benefit the said manager, or because they think it is a winner and they want to get as much credit as possible by keeping it to themselves for long as they can.

Indeed Westerners, and the Americans in particular, often have much difficulty understanding and accepting the limitations ranking puts on the Japanese behaviour, and they often expect, and sometimes even demand responses from the Japanese that would seriously endanger their image. This is a grave flaw in the thought process of Western mindset and they would be best to obtain a deep understanding of this Way of Japan, equality or, should I say truthfully, fubuodo, inequality. 

For the Japanese do not understand, nor really, to any extent have an inkling of how they would go about to change this system to where all became equal, and for which the Japanese already know and understand here in the Land Of The Rising Son, that equality is a myth and is only to remain a “constructed reality to which every one pays lip service.”


Thanks you so very much for dropping by today to the Land Of The Rising Son. If you found this podcast to be interesting and informative please share it on your social media, and as you do so Amaterasu Oomikami will continue to shine on you, as she does on everyone. And until we meet again next time here in the Land Of The Rising Son; Sayonara, sayonara, sayonara.

Episode 7: Nation of Nitpickers

Episode 7: Nation of Nitpickers

Nation of Nitpickers

When Westerners first encounter the Japanese writing system, which is an application of the much more ancient and complex Chinese system, they look at it from several different perspectives.

In my particular case I stand in wonder as to the aesthetic aspect of written Japanese, or actually one can say that Japanese is drawn in stylized calligraphy. 

Most are overwhelmed by the sheer complexity and the enormity of the system, and never bother to learn it at all. 

Nation of Nitpickers

Episode 6: Shikitari; The Herd Instinct

Episode 6: Shikitari; The Herd Instinct

Episode 6: Shikitari; The Herd Instinct

One can say that to the Westerner eyes that Japan is the land of contradictions, everything good or positive about Japan always seems to have a flipside that is negative or unfavourable. Indeed you could say this about all societies, but here this contrast may appear to be much more pronounced.
The Herd Instinct

Episode 6: Shikitari; The Herd Instinct

Episode 4: Ongaishi: Covering With Obligation

Episode 4: Ongaishi: Covering With Obligation

With only a few exceptions, virtually every interaction with the Japanese of any kind begins with, and is based on, a personal obligation as opposed to what some would regards as higher principles.

The Japanese have traditionally been known for their generous hospitality that they typically bestow upon visitors and on people with whom they want to develop a professional or business relations.




Episode 2: Reiwa Era, The Future Of Japan

Episode 2: Reiwa Era, The Future Of Japan

Episode: 2 New Hope For Japan In Reiwa Era


Japan is now at a critically important juncture in its long and rich history. In this rapidly changing world, the Japanese will always continue to honour their ageless traditions, all the while continuing to modernize Japan, and more so play a primary role in the harmonious cooperation with its neighbours to build a better future for our children and the coming generations.


Imagine my surprise when I landed in Japan on January 11, 1987, only to actually have arrived on January 11 in the 62nd year of the Showa Emperor’s reign. Bright eyed and bushy tailed, hopping off the plane at the Narita International airport, commonly known as the New Tokyo Airport, even though it is situated in Chiba prefecture.

And there starts the journey of perplexing paradoxes and confusing conundrums of the most peculiar and extraordinary kind, here, in the Land Of The Rising Son. 

Fast forward almost 2 years later to the day, and all of the sudden I was confronted with an extra extremely solemn mood throughout Japan, on both the radio and TV, and in the mood of the citizens indeed. Even the occupying Arm Forces Network, the American military radio station beaming out of the Yokosuka airbase was playing solemn music in light of this grave occurrence for Japan.

The emperor has passed away.

The now deceased emperor’s actual name was Hirohito, but they are given the name of their era posthumously, that he is now forever known as “Emperor Showa”.

I never really gave it much thought, the emperor. The Japanese imperial family is quite insular and still remain somewhat mysterious and indeed enigmatic to its own citizens. However, there was some of a more open and embracing stance when Emperor Akihito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne on November 12, 1990.

To give you a little perspective and some insight into how important the monarch is to the Japanese citizen we, have to look at the long and rich history of the Emperors of Japan.

I just said that about 2600 years ago, around 660 to 585 BC the first emperor Jimmu was a direct descendant of the sun goddess, Amaterasu, and fundamentally this time period is officially declared as the beginning of Japan, so this means that the Japanese monarchy happens to be the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world, and indeed in light of this, the Japanese are proud of, and respect, and love their royal family dearly, make no mistake about this.

The passing of Emperor Show was of significant importance and a time of deep reflection for the Japanese due to the historical consequence of Emperor Showa and the time period he was reigning over Japan. Just as we have now arrived in the new era of Reiwa, there is also a renewed sense of hope for the Japanese now that Emperor Naruhito has ascended to Chrysanthemum Throne, that he, along with Empress Masako, continue his father’s legacy as a representative of the citizens and residence of Japan as peaceful and harmonious people.

Upon the passing of emperor Showa the Japanese calendar changed to a new era name which was known as the Heisei era. This is the name of the area where the new Emperor Emeritus Akihito ruled over Japan during some very extraordinary and extremely trying times for the nation of Japan.

As I have seen with my own two eyes up and close, the Japanese are extremely diligent workers with an unwavering commitment and loyalty to their company.

For example, and now that I know the Japanese intimately, it doesn’t seem so odd, or not such a miracle that they they became the second large economy in the world during the Showa and Heisei period after meticulous efforts by the Japanese government and industry to work together, along with the dedicated citizens of Japan to rebuilding Japan from the ashes of World War II; which includes the nuclear annihilation of two major Japanese cities, and the fire bombing of Tokyo which is regarded as the single most destructive bombing raid in human history.  41 km or 16 square miles of central Tokyo were destroyed, leaving an estimated 100,000 civilians dead and over 1 million homeless.

There are also some other significant events in Japan during the reign of Emperor Emeritus Akihito, for example: the great Hanshin earthquake of 1995 which destroyed a lot of Kobe, and then in March 2011 the devastating tsunami and earthquake that wiped out a large portion of the north eastern coast of Japan killing tens of thousands.

Emperor Emeritus Akihito was out and about comforting the citizens and reaching out, unlike no other emperor until this point had ever done in the history of Japan. This was highly out of Imperial Household Agency protocol and a very positive legacy that our cherished now retired emperor has left for his son Emperor Naruhito to continue, and the citizens and residence of Japan to embrace wholeheartedly.

I’d be remiss not to mention that Emperor Emeritus Akihito was the very first emperor ever, to marry a commoner.

He married the commoner Michiko Showed who was born on October 20, 1934 and raise in Tokyo. As the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, and received a very careful education in such subject as learning English and playing the piano, in which she has actually become an accomplice classical pianist. In August 1957 Ms. Shoda met the Crown Prince in Karizawa Nagano, which is near Tokyo,  and the engagement ceremony took place on January 14, 1959 and the wedding taking place in a traditional Shinto Ceremony on April 10, 1959.

Here is something to get your mind around:  this was the very first time a commoner had ever married into the Japanese imperial family, which broke more than 2600 years of tradition. I think this is when we first start to see some cracks in the iron grip that the Imperial Household Agency had on the cloistered lives of the Japanese royals, and as we could have had all probably foreseen, there would be some issues going into the palace as the first commoner to marry a Japanese Prince. This incredibly elegant and thoughtful lady was a true gift to the Japanese people, as they could feel themselves just a little closer to the royal family, with this commoner now as their Crown Princess and eventually the Heisei Empress who was by the side of Emperor Emitrus Akihito as he put a more accessible and human face on the Japanese royal family, in the face of the bureaucratic and indeed tradition-bound Imperial Household Agency.

Imagine what it’s like to be born into the imperial family of Japan, with your destiny to become the 127th Emperor of this island nation. This is the fate of the new emperor, Naruhito who will reign over the Reiwa era. According to some reports, the crown prince said that when he was a child, he thought it was very unusual that all of these people were always looking and waving at him. What else are you supposed to think when you are 5 years old?

As normal as a child could get being raised in the cloister world of the imperial royal household agency of Japan, he enjoyed music,  mountain climbing,  and was a fan of the Yomiuri giants baseball team, which is common for people who are from Tokyo actually.

Emperor Naruhito graduate from Gakushuin university in March 1982 with a bachelor degree in history and he entered an intensive English course before entering Middleton college in Oxford university where he would study until 1986.

Emperor Naruhito seems to be a very caring and warm hearted individual. He loves to travel the world and broaden his horizons. In fact he actually made an official visit to Bhutan in 1997 as the Crown Prince and he flew on the Bhutan national carrier where he was joined by groups of backpackers during the stopover in a Kolkata. There, he chit-chat with these people freely, and where perhaps, for a fleeting moment in his life, he could feel like a normal human being sometimes.

One of his most important visits the Emperor made as Crown Prince was a week-long trip to Vietnam. This trip was to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between Japan and Vietnam. 

Looking into the future, this is one of the most important relationships between two countries in the world. The Vietnamese hold very similar core tenants to Japanese and both have old, proud and rich cultures, interestingly enough, both of these societies also practice ancestor worship.

Last year in December, the Japanese government announced that the crown prince would be proclaimed emperor up on the abdication of his father on April 30, 2019, and the Reiwa era will begin May 1, 2019. The tentative date of the enthronement ceremony is October 22 of this year.

There’re two main reasons why this is a significant turning points for the nation of Japan. Firstly and foremost, Emperor Naruhito was born after the war. And, secondly, and just as important if not more so, is the background of our new Empress, Masako.

The former diplomat and now empress Masako Owada was born on December 9, 1963 in Tokyo Japan. She was following in the footsteps of her father, who is the senior diplomat and the former president of the International Court of Justice.

Highly unusual for Japanese people Empress Masako and her family were sent to live in Moscow when she was just two years old and she attended kindergarten, in Russian.

At the age of five The Owada family moved to New York and she attended public kindergarten there as well, in English. One can only imagine how her personality was formed living in such diverse environments from such early childhood. When Empress Masako was eight years her old family returned to Japan and there she enrolled in Futaba Gakuen which her mother and maternal grandmother graduated also attended, not at the same time of course. A highly talented individual from the get go, this is where Empress Masako learned how to play piano and tennis, where she joined a handicraft club and became interested in animals, so interested in fact that she decided to become a veterinarian at that time period in her life. 

As you may recall from an earlier statement Empress Masako spent several of her childhood years in different language environments, including Russian and English, and it was during this time at school that she acquired for fourth and fifth languages; German and French. It was also here, that this extremely energetic lady along with one of her friends revised the softball team where she was the third baseman, and after three years of working together they became the district champions; now how about that for a truly awesome Empress?

Her father being an international diplomat they found themselves returning to the United States again in 1979 where they settled in the Boston. She graduated from high school there and during her time there she was the president of the national honour society, a member of the school math team and French club, and she also continued her softball legacy by joining the softball team, and won an award for her German poetry, and to top that all off participated in a stage play called MASH. No seriously, how about that for a truly awesome Empress?

Just in case you thought of story couldn’t get any better, it does; she graduated with the Bachelor of Arts with honours in economics from Harvard in 1985.

You kinda have to wonder how Empress Masako felt when the crown prince of Japan came searching for a perfect bride. And come searching he did, at a tea for the Duchess of Lugo in November 1986 while Empress Masako was attending the University of Tokyo. As you may well imagine, the Crown prince was immediately enthralled by this extraordinary woman, and based upon what you just heard, I can imagine you would feel that she’s pretty incredible as well, I know I do.

You could see why it would have been difficult for Empress Masako to entertain the idea of marrying the Crown Prince, as she was already on an extraordinary trajectory in the foreign diplomatic field, and in my personal opinion was destine to become an important ambassador, or high-level foreign affairs bureaucrat. And, that is why she refused the crown prince proposal for marriage, not only once, but twice, and only relenting after the third proposal and under the realization of the Crown Prince’s unconditional love and deep respect her as an extraordinary woman she conceded and gave the Crown Prince her honorable hand in marriage. They were married in a traditional Shinto ceremony on June 9 in 1993. 

Now, her husband Emperor Naruhito has ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne, and as the former Crown Princess and now Empress, we the citizens and residence of Japan are deeply hoping that our Empress, Empress Masako will resume her duty as the extraordinary diplomat that she is, and show the world the true face of dignity ,honour, and sacrifice, and the true essence of Japan and what it means to be Japanese.

Japan is now at a critically important juncture in it long history. In this rapidly changing world, the Japanese will always continue to honor their ageless traditions, all the while continuing to modernize Japan, and more so play a primary role in the harmonious cooperation with its neighbors  to build a better future for our children and the coming generations.


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