Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Why I Like Japan Reason #5: Honor System

In the picture to the right (which I did not take), there are freshly harvested vegetables up for sale. You will notice there is no person guarding them. On your honor, if you take a vegetable you pay for it. There are thousands of these unattended vegetable stands all over Japan. Local farmers put some produce in a box or stand on the side of the road and passing motorists stop, shop, and pay. It's amazing.

In many ways, Japan is a country run on the honor system. It's a very trusting place, on a whole. I love this about Japan. Spend just a little time here and you'll find your faith in humanity restored (at least until the national elections come around again).

To some people Japan is easy pickings. I once had a foreign woman break down for me all the ways to cheat the Tokyo Metro. You can buy a kid's ticket at half the price. No person will ever see the ticket—you buy it from a machine and then put it in a mechanical gate. Or, as the amount increases by distance, you can buy a ticket to the closest station and then go as far as you wish, feigning ignorance at the other end.

Yes, you can do these things (and more, I'm sure) but why would you? It ruins it for everybody. When I was a kid, trick or treating on Halloween, I would occasionally come across a bowl of candy sitting unattended on a porch with a sign that said, "Take one." Of course, I would take only one. It's unfair to the next 50 people if I take it all. But more often than not I would find the bowl empty. If I listened hard enough, I could hear the greedy kids who took it all, still laughing from down the block.

I don't want to live in a place where people take it all. I want to live in a place where the remainder of the candy is left for those who come after. It's called the "honor system" for a reason. When you take all the candy, when you screw the Tokyo Metro, when you steal from old farmers barely able to make a living, you may have made some small material gain but you have lost a whole lot more. You've lost it for everyone.

This is part of an ongoing series of articles exploring my fascination with Japan. Previous entries include:


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