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Lessons from Japan - An Introvert’s Experience

I recently returned from a visit to Japan. It was not my first visit to Asia, but my first visit to Japan. In my readings about introverts and HSPs, I have heard it said that there is more acceptance of quieter, sensitive personalities in Asia. I would concur on that in the countries that I have visited - India, Nepal, Tibet. I’ve always put it down to their society’s  support of contemplative traditions. For someone to dedicate their lives to a spiritual search in these countries is quite normal. The quieter, more reflective are a norm.

Japan was new to me. Apart from some of its design aesthetics - garden design, Ikebana - and Zen Buddhism, I knew little about the country. I found myself visiting the country to accompany my wife on a business trip. I did little research before landing in the country and so what was ahead of me for the next two and half weeks was going to be a complete surprise….and what a wonderful surprise it turned out to be. Japan got under my skin in a very good way. I am under no illusions that such a short visit, along with not being able to speak the language, is going to get right into the bones of the culture. But trusting my experience and intuition, I’d like to share an aspect of the country which I believe goes towards making Japan such a comfortable place for the quieter, more sensitive folk.

The People of Japan

There was a graciousness, gentleness and humility that I experienced from the Japanese people. Initially I wondered if it was simply because I was a tourist, looking to be kind and welcoming to the visitor. But with time it became apparent that that was not the case. The act that caught my eye were the welcomes, the greetings and farewells. Walking into a hotel, store or restuarant being greeted by いらっしゃいませ, Irasshaimase” and a nod of the head. Similarly approaching people ahead of a business meeting, or being welcomed into the privacy of someone’s home - you were greeted with a bow. Departures are the same, the bow. It felt so much more than just a recognition or another variation on the handshake.

The Bow

A bow causes a stop and a seeing of the other person. To recognize the gratitude for them being there and what they give to your life, whether that be friendship, a customer, an opportunity to serve. It is a pause and a seeing of the humanity in that person, the common bond that you share with them, the wisdom experience that they have to offer. That stopping and seeing of someone lessens that predominance to judgment. There is acceptance. Such attitudes are the birth place of patience, respect and humility. Generations old and it can change a society.

By withholding judgement and seeing the other, we can allow our perceptions of them to be less important than what they are bringing, what they have to offer. While studying for my Masters at Naropa University we would start each class, sitting in a circle, with a deep breath and a bow to the center of the circle - to the collective wisdom in the room, and also to each person’s individual wisdom. Indeed, when we were not in class but engaging in the online element of the program, we were encouraged to bow as we sat in front of the computer - sounds odd doesn’t it? But we were imaging our classmates online, whether they were or not, and bowing to them and their wisdom. Try that before you next log onto Facebook!

So what does this have to do with introversion?

My sense of the people of Japan was a softness, a graciousness, and a patience to see and hear those with whom they were interacting with. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that no one is seen and heard in the West, of course not, but I do believe that there is generally a harsher, more aggressive nature to life with less patience in the West. And this is not to idealize a culture. I have read about incidents that run counter to my observation. But I would suggest that they are the exception rather than the rule. For all the crowds that there are in Japan, for me as an introvert and HSP the country felt easy and comfortable to be in. There was a comfortableness that allowed the mind to rest and be at ease…and while there is no doubt much more about the culture that contributes to this, I believe that the bow plays its part.

Your turn

Try it in your own way. Stop and mentally recognize someone before you engage with them. Stop and offer a mental bow and welcome - no words need be said, no visible action engaged in - just make it a practice to see the other. 

  • See your life irreparably wrapped up in their well being.
  • Now expand that out to everyone in your street,…town,…country …..And imagine if they were all doing the same to those who they met.
  • I might have joked about it above, but try a quiet bow before your social media time.

Use this as an exploration. Try it from time to time and see how it impacts you.

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