The Japanese are known for being hardworking. But are you wondering are Japanese people happy?
The world today is obsessed with Japan, be it Japanese culture, traditions, cinema, anime, or beauty routines. Japan seems to be trending all over the world. While we keep checking out all of these different Japan-related things, one question that keeps popping up in everybody’s mind is: Are Japanese people happy?
This is a question I am pretty sure most of you have already thought about. Today, I will bring to you a detailed guide about Japanese people and their happiness living in Japan.
There have been several reports and surveys that claim about the happiness index in Japan. These surveys all point to one thing – Japan is not a very happy country.
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For an outsider who has no knowledge about the cultures and norms of Japan, these reports may seem like an absolute portrayal of happiness (or unhappiness) in Japan. But, I would request you not to rely entirely on these reports.
As someone who has lived almost my entire life in Japan, I can show you how the concept of happiness differs in Japan from the rest of the world. Continue reading to know an insider’s viewpoint on this question.
Are Japanese People Happy?
The World Happiness Report of 2019
A survey was conducted in 156 countries by the United Nations and the result came out in the World Happiness Report. As per this report, the happiest country in the world is Finland. As compared to this, Japan ranked on number 58 in the happiness index.
The ranking is given based on six different factors.
- GDP per capita
- Social support
- Healthy life expectancy
- Freedom to make life choices
- Absence of corruption
When it comes to life expectancy, Japan was placed on the second spot. For freedom, Japan was placed on a very low pedestal at 64th place. The same was seen in the case of generosity where Japan ranked 92nd. It also ranked at number 24 for GDP per capita.
All of these factors together definitely declined the country’s status as a major economy. These factors also worked together to show that Japan’s happiness level is continuously falling. This basically means that as per the survey, the people of Japan are not really happy and content with their life.
I am someone who has lived in Japan almost my entire life. I speak Japanese and I have been working in a cross-cultural company for a long time. As somebody who’s been living in Japan, all the surveys that were posted in western journals really make me feel very skeptical.
The happiness of people in a country is based on several categories and factors such as cultural nuances and values. These factors also affect the answers people give.
When I went through the surveys and reports given in the World Happiness Index, as well as other western-centric surveys, I realized that most of these questions and parameters were designed from only the Western perspective.
These reports did not take the Asian, particularly Japanese, views, and beliefs.
Difference in the Concept of Happiness Between Nationalities
The difference between the changing perspectives about happiness between different countries can easily be proven with a very simple example.
If I were to take the answers of a Japanese and an American by asking them the same question, the answers could be relatively different. So, if I asked one American and one Japanese if they are happy the answers would look something like this –
The American will simply say “Yes, I am happy.” The Japanese, on the other hand, would try to explain the answer based on his or her cultural norms. This is just one example.
No matter what question I ask, the answers given by the Americans and the Japanese would definitely differ because the cultural assumptions in both countries are very different. Every answer that is given by a certain Nationality is entirely or at least shape to a great extent by the cultural values followed in their country.
Japanese concept of happiness
If you ask any Japanese or any other person who has been living in Japan for a very long time, they will tell you that the Japanese are extremely happy and content.
For them, the definition of being happy is very different from what others deem the term to be. The Japanese find themselves to be very happy because they are supported by their family, friends, and colleagues.
In return, they extend the same support to their family, friends, and colleagues. This exchange of love and support between the Japanese is what they define as happiness.
As in every case, there are exceptions to this rule, even in Japan. But when we are talking about the Japanese people being happy, yes, I strongly believe that the Japanese are very content with the life they lead.
Where is the stereotype ‘Why are Japanese so polite?’ come from?
One phrase that you will come across quite commonly is – ‘Japanese people are so nice and polite.’
Friendly and polite people are found in almost every corner of the world, but this is one stereotype that is particularly tagged on the people of Japan.
The major reason for this is the hospitality that is widespread throughout Japan. This basically means that the Japanese bestow a lot of kindness and generosity towards their guests.
This is an engraved quality in every Japanese person. We have always been taught that we need to be polite and generous to everyone. This is a belief we all follow, and that is why us Japanese are known to be extremely polite.
The Japanese also put in a lot of effort and go that extra mile for their guest. Another reason for this stereotype may be because Japanese people always make sure that they stick strictly to the rules.
This means that they pay special attention to social norms, etiquettes, and manners. For example, if you lose your wallet in Japan, you do not really have to worry because it will almost always be returned to the nearest police box.
Communication between nationalities
The Japanese are extremely courteous and helpful. If you are visiting Japan for the first time and you have lost your way, you can simply stop a local person and ask them for their help. Believe me, you will find a very friendly and kind person who will go that extra mile just to help you.
Concept of laughing Buddha in Japan
The two major religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shintoism. I have always tried to decipher the meaning of happiness and so I started looking for the Buddhist definition of happiness.
Although I have lived in Japan for a very long time, this research helped me understand Japanese culture and the in-built traditions a little more. Buddha has always been described as ever smiling and when portrayals of Buddha are made, he is always depicted with a smile on his face.
The smile, however, is not the smile of a self-satisfied materialistic man. Instead, this smile on Buddha’s face comes from the deep equanimity from within.
During my research, I found out that the Buddhists really believe in detaching oneself from the cycle of craving that in turn gives you suffering. This is known as peace of mind. As per the Buddhist religion, you need to detach yourself from needs, wants, and passions.
Doing this will take you to a level of bliss and well-being. So basically the path to happiness is mindfulness for the Japanese.
This is probably the reason why I personally believe that Japanese people are very content with their lives. We always try to keep ourselves separate from the materialistic aspects of life and we also try to remain in the present rather than delving into the past or future.
These values help us be happy and content with the lives we have instead of wanting something more.
The Concept of Ikigai
Ikigai is Japan’s secret to a long and happy life. This concept basically means that you need to have a life purpose that helps to add Joy into your life and it may even help to add some extra years to your life.
This word has no English translation, but if we look at the essence of this concept, this basically means that every morning when we get out of our beds we feel worthwhile.
If you visit Japan and live with the locals, you will realize that every single person is extremely dedicated and they have a sense of perseverance.
This is a very natural thing for the Japanese. The concept only means that you need to have some purpose and satisfaction in your daily routine, even if it is not career-related. This is probably the reason why the mortality rate is very high when people retire.
Another thing about Ikigai is that it is rooted in the family and in the community. This basically means that Japanese people are always there for each other during their failures and successes.
This is in contrast to the Western concept where people are encouraged to show their uniqueness. Every individual has their own definition of the concept of Ikigai. It basically means doing something that comes from within your soul and makes you content. It is in those mundane things that you do in your daily life.
Happiness, a concept!
I hope this guide helped you understand the broader perspective about the concept and definition of happiness for the Japanese. Happiness is something that comes from the cultural norms and values followed by Japanese people. Looking at everything from their perspective, you will be able to say that yes, Japanese people are happy.