With Faith in Fellow Human Beings4 min read

Many Japanese lack confidence in themselves. Even when they are expert at something, they are frightened of making some small mistake. This is perhaps because there is in Japan a bad habit of laughing at a mistake. All nations do this, but Japanese seem to do it more than others. When a foreigner comes up to me in London and asks, ‘Me from Hungary … where Westminster?’ I do not laugh at his baby English. I know that if I were in Hungary, I would speak baby Hungarian. I smile and point the way. He is not ashamed, and we both understand the situation.

But sometimes a Japanese, who has a wonderful knowledge of English, hesitates nervously before speaking. He feels he must prepare a good sentence in his head before he speaks it. His nervousness makes me uneasy too. His literary English is too good for a casual conversation. (I feel as though I am back at school talking to the headmaster.) If he makes a small mistake, I do not laugh at the one percent that is wrong but admire the 99 percent that is right. But his colleagues would laugh at the one-percent mistake and ignore the 99 percent that is right. And he himself feels embarrassed, thinking I am secretly laughing at him. As a matter of fact, I feel rather relieved. He has been talking better English than I talk.

In general, Japan has a good reputation in the world today. When Japanese go abroad, they can have confidence. I do not mean they should boast and brag or quarrel. There are some Japanese boasters, but it is often a sort of bluff. Daidoji Yuzan remarks that the boasters of his time often had no real achievements at all, and it can be the same today. I am speaking of quiet confidence, which is based on real achievements. Real achievements do not need high-pressure advertising.

Faith is the third element which Japanese lack today. I believe that the Budo spirit has to develop some elements which have not yet appeared clearly. Many of the old texts say, ‘When you leave your gate, you should assume that enemies are waiting’. In other words, the world is hostile: be prepared to fight it. Budo shoshin-shu reminds us of fubo-shobu, often translated as ‘do not forget the offensive spirit’, but I don’t believe this is right. The characters for shobu mean a contest and not ‘military glory’. Budo shoshin- shu makes it clear that it is fools and bullies who start quarrels and fights: the true samurai is restrained. He will resist them and does not himself start fights. But he is always ready if there is one.

In 1730 there were vendettas and feuds, and the clans mostly hated each other. Today it is different, though we foreigners are still surprised by how much Kanto and Kansai compete with each other. Japan is now one of the safest countries in the world. When they go abroad or they must meet foreigners, most Japanese think of them as potentially hostile: ‘When you leave your shore, assume that enemies are waiting’.

There 4s another current in the Budo spirit. It is the mutoryu idea: the master swordsman does not use his sword. He does not see others as potential enemies but as potential friends. Dr. Jigoro Kano does not use the word teki or enemy in his writings. In 1933 I heard him speak in London about jita kyoei, which he explained—in his beautiful English—as ‘mutual aid and concession leading to mutual benefit’. One principle of Judo, he said, was to learn how to appeal to the true human spirit which is in everybody. He told us that when we meet people, we should try to see not the outward form or their mental attitude alone but their true human heart. That heart, he said, is the same in them as it is in you.

I was impressed by his words which I heard when I was 18. I was taught as a child in London to beware of strangers. ‘Never speak to anyone unless you have been introduced to them’. This was the maxim from the 19th century, when London was a really dangerous place; women tried never to walk alone. Today it is safer, though not as safe as Tokyo. After hearing Dr. Kano, I got more faith in fellow human beings.

I went alone to live for a year in Germany and Czechoslovakia, and later lived in Japan and India. I went camping alone in the Himalayas. Somehow I had confidence that I would be able to meet the tribesmen. When I got to the mountain state of Tihri, by chance I met an official, who spoke of me to the Maharaja. The King was horrified and said, ‘Some bandits will rob and kill him’. So they gave me a horse and a guide. Such experiences give faith in human beings all over the world.

© Trevor Leggett