In her book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, Ruth Benedict suggests that if there were one virtue more highly valued by the Japanese than all the others, that virtue would be sincerity. Sincerity is certainly something I have seen a lot of in Japan, and is one of the major things I admire in the Japanese. I would say some of the other major virtues I admire in the Japanese are humility, obedience and the lack of cynicism.
In fact, from a Catholic point of view, these are all pretty important things to have. But Japan is clearly not Catholic, so where were they getting this stuff from? I tried asking my coworkers at lunch.
“Do Japanese children take classes on how to be a good person at temples or shrines?” I asked.
I was assured by multiple people that they had never heard of any such thing, and besides, most Japanese people weren’t actually religious. They just went to temples and shrines on special occasions because that’s what everybody did.
“Well then, do they learn it in Moral Education class at school?” I asked, knowing from my time as a teacher that such a class exists in Japanese schools.
“No, mostly what they learn in those classes is not to make fun of children with disabilities and to help little old ladies cross the street,” I was told.
And so I was left perplexed at how a country that seemed so indifferent to all things religious still managed to produce some of the most striking examples of Christian virtue I have ever seen.
As I understand it, Christian virtues are not something that can only be learned from Christianity–anyone who sincerely seeks the truth can deduce the natural law.
Ah–there it is again–sincerity. Perhaps the Japanese are on to something there.