Wa and Social Harmony

Updated: Jun 20, 2018

Photo: TODAY Online

Much of Japan’s society is held together by a philosophical glue named Wa. Translating to harmony, the cultural concept implies the perpetuation of peace, unit and balance among all members of micro- and macro-communities. Harmony has become embedded in the Japanese way of life, and has become something of a universally recognised cultural trope as well.

Writing this, then, from within an MRT car, becomes extremely poignant.

Photo: Yahoo! News

We can trace Wa back to its roots in the late Yayoi period beginning some 2300 years ago where it originated as a collective noun for the people who would then come to be the modern Japanese we know and love.

Under then-queen Himiko’s purview, the ancient kingdom established diplomatic ties with the neighbouring China, and both enjoyed an era of peace. 200 years from then, when the name Nihon came to be, Wa was instead co-opted to term the concept of ‘great harmony’.

Today, we see Wa today in a whole host of things, from respecting one’s elders and neighbours to the customary bow. Even within the workplace where pressure and competition is rife, the spirit of togetherness is tirelessly fostered; recognition is given to groups instead of individuals.

Photo: Tenor

While we aren’t too shabby ourselves here on our quaint little island, we’d all probably admit that we could do better, albeit an admission probably murmured under our breaths. Grand gestures aren’t needed, as, after all, the greatest sincerity lies in the littlest things.

Wait patiently for your turn at things without grumbling, keep left on the escalators, exercise a little more self-awareness, have some consideration for those around us, and give up our seats without first having three-minute debates about whether or not that uncle really needs to sit...then maybe, eventually, Singa the Lion will forgive us and come back to take his rightful as the only public campaign mascot (looking at you, Parley).