Discipline: Japan's True Spirit
When it comes to spirituality, Japan is not a country that is often renowned. However, when it comes to the spiritual act of discipline, few countries are as dedicated as the Land of the Rising Sun.
When it comes to spiritual practices, most people initially think of things like scripture reading, praying, meditating, chanting, or even attending religious services. One that is not often noticed is discipline.
Spiritual discipline is the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of inducing spiritual experiences and cultivating spiritual development. For many, spirituality is a faith that can be turned on or off at any given time. They pray at their own convenience, and they turn to spiritual guidance when they cannot do things on their own.
However, for certain people, especially the island country of Japan, spirituality is the following through of spiritual actions, whether they believe in it or not. This discipline is part of the soul of the Japanese, and it has integrated itself into just about every facet of society.
It is difficult not to notice this culture of discipline. People lineup in an orderly fashion with zero prompting, children sit upright at their desks, and households put away or lineup shoes neatly. Many Japanese wake up early for morning workouts that are broadcast countrywide over speakers. Even after the horrific disasters in 2011, Japanese did not panic and loot their areas. Instead, they patiently waited to enter stores and buy supplies.
This is Japan's true spirit.
A lot of this mentality was taught through the country's adoption of Zen Buddhism. Zen was not introduced as a separate school of thought until the 12th century, and this is when Nanpo Shōmyō went to China, studied these teachings, and then brought his learnings to Japan and founded the Japanese Otokan lineage. Many others had similar journeys, and it seemed like Japan really connected with the Zen philosophies and practices.
Meditation in Japanese Zen Buddhism is known as zazen. It is seen as a means of insight into the nature of existence. The practice of zazen requires high levels of patience and discipline. The way to walk, the way to sit, and the way to rest your hands are all strictly taught and obeyed. Zazen teaches the Japanese that posture and concentration are of utmost importance, and this mentality carries over into other zen-like practices as well.
Many areas of Japanese culture borrow heavily from these teachings of Zen Buddhism.
Take for instance Japanese calligraphy. What is seen in most languages and cultures as an art form or a means of literary practice, Japanese recognize calligraphy as a spiritual discipline. There is a particular way to paint the strokes, and the order is incredibly important. The more disciplined the calligrapher, the more beautiful the kanji.
Activities like flower arranging, maintaining zen gardens, and tea ceremonies are more about the ceremonial preparation and presentation than they are about the activity itself. Tea times in most countries is an experience that lasts about 30 minutes and requires little-to-no discipline to accomplish. A formal Japanese tea ceremony can be 4 hours long and is a spiritual experience like no other.
The level of discipline required to accomplish these types of tasks to a satisfactory degree is immeasurable. For most Japanese, discipline is something they know they can never perfect, so the goal is to keep growing and growing in disciplinary practices until the day you die.
Japan's True Spirit
So to the naked eye, Japan may seem like a country with little spiritualism due to how certain foreigners might measure. Sure, they do not often pray. They do not subject themselves to religious scriptures regularly. They do not attend spiritual services on a regular basis. And they definitely do not evangelize.
But Japan does excel in discipline. From childhood to their last breath, Japanese are taught this spiritual way, and it is what sets them apart from the rest of the world.
It does not matter if it is getting on the train, watching pro wrestling, eating ramen, going out drinking, playing baseball, or even cooking, Japanese people commit with 110% of their being to be as Japanese as possible. It may not be the most free form of spirituality, but it is one of the most united on the planet.