The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun's June 12 issue.
* * *
"Public nudity is forbidden. You should not subject yourself to the ridicule of foreigners." "Urinating in public is inexcusable." These government exhortations were often carried in newspapers of the early Meiji era (1868-1912).
The government was apparently trying to get the people to quickly change their ways to avoid the contempt of Westerners coming to Japan after the country opened up to the world.
The government also had schools teach children "essential Japanese manners."
In school report cards, the subject of "moral training" was listed above "Japanese [language]." Listed even higher was the "code of conduct," which covered public manners.
So wrote Kenya Yokoyama in his book "Meiji-jin no Saho" (Manners of the Japanese in the Meiji Era), published in a pocket-size edition by Bungeishunju Ltd.
The essential manners covered a wide range of behavior, including "greetings," "salutations," "attire," "table manners," and "making visits or receiving visitors." Running throughout these manners was the time-honored Japanese ethic of knowing one's place and respecting others.
Foreign media praised the behavior of the Japanese in the wake of the recent devastating earthquake and tsunami, saying such things as, "There was neither robbery nor rioting," or "I marveled at how patiently people endured hardship." Foreign countries also gave Japan much support and encouragement. These reactions may have had something to do with Japan's culture of respecting others.
Three months have passed since the March 11 disaster. The number of burglaries in Fukushima Prefecture, particularly of houses left vacant by evacuees near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, increased 40 percent during the March-May period from the same period last year.
And some have fraudulently sought donations for victims of the disaster. Others have tried to swindle disaster victims by claiming they could extend loans from the unconfirmed M-Fund the GHQ allegedly obtained from the former Japanese military forces after the war and charging up-front commissions for arranging the loans.