“Superiority” is measured by true modesty in Japan

There is a famous old saying in Japanese, “the boughs that bear most hang lowest.”  This means “the greater you become as a person,  the more modest you become.”  The origin of this phrase is not known.  However, this concept still holds true in Japan.  The current Japanese Emperor, Akihito, who is the highest in rank in Japan is considered the most humble person in Japan.  This video footage was taken when he visited the earthquake victims in Kumamoto in 2016.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was also kneeling down when he met with the earthquake victims. This kind of “modest attitude” is somewhat expected of a great leader in Japan.

In Bible, a very similar concept of a “great” person is stated.

42 So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those regarded as rulers of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and their superiors exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  44 and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.…

New Testament, Mark 10:42-44

The famous Japanese company called MINOLTA also lives by this motto.  The corporation’s website explains the origin of the company name.  They took the first letters from “Machinery and instruments Optical by Tashima.”  It also comes from the Japanese word, “Minoru (crop bearing) ta (rice field).”  It is explained that they wanted to remember the founder’s mother’s word to always be modest as in “the boughs that bear most hang lowest.”  The concept of modesty is valued even in the business world in Japan.

There has been no known written religious dogma or rules to make people modest in Japan but this tradition has been cherished for millennia.

In the first Japanese formal history document edited by the government of that time called “Nihonshoki” which was completed in AD 720,  the Emperor Nintoku’s word is recorded.  It states the following:

The reason for the Heavenly Person (Emperor) to be standing is for the People.


Book of Emperor Nintoku, Nihonshoki

From the ancient time, it has been known in Japan that the leader (the Emperor) existed to serve the people.  This may be closely related to the fact that modesty is still highly valued in the Japanese society.

The most “powerful women” at home are the Japanese wives


It is often misunderstood by the rest of the world that the Japanese women are mistreated, subordinate to men or powerless in Japan. It is simply not true.  It is mostly because none of them know this simple fact that a majority of the Japanese wives control the finances at home.

60% of wives and 20% of husbands control finances at home in Japan.

-Sompo Japan Survey, 2013

The Japanese wives are actually “most powerful” at home compared to wives in other cultures.  The majority of the Japanese women are solely responsible for making domestic financial decisions. When a man makes a big purchase, he would have to ask for permission from his wife in most households.  The average Japanese husbands receive weekly or monthly “allowances.” The wife may or may not work. It doesn’t matter how much money she makes. It’s probably because most Japanese men know deep in their hearts that the Japanese women tend to be more “financially savvy” and they will end up saving more money that way. If the husband is not happy with the amount of his allowances, he can negotiate with his wife. However, it is usually met with a comment from his wife such as “YOU need to make more money in order to do that.”


Survey conducted by a major Japanese insurance company, Sompo Japan

It’s just how the average Japanese homes are run.  In some cases when the wife is not so financially savvy,  the husband may be in charge of the finances at home. This translates into the figure of 20% of the Japanese husbands said they are responsible for managing the domestic finances in the survey.

It is noted in a Japanese book called “Daughters of Samurai” (Bushi no Musume) by Chikuma Bunko Publishing that the wives of Samurais were responsible for managing the finances at home in Edo era (1603 – 1868) .  The author was shocked to learn that the American wives on the other hand had to ask permission from their husbands to spend money because men controlled the domestic finances before the women gained equal rights in America.


Amaterasu, a female divine figure in Japan

I don’t have a clear answer to why this unique phenomena is happening in Japan.  One reason I can think of is the underlining matriarchal culture of the “prehistoric” Jyomon era is still deeply embedded in the Japanese culture. To this day, the word “Kakaadenka” which literally means “under the rule of Mother” is used to describe when the wife is the dominating force at home.

In the oldest Japanese historical publication called “Kojiki (Furukotofumi)” which was edited by Oono Yasumaro in AD 712, the evidence of the underlining matriarchal society in Japan is clearly stated. According to Kojiki, one of the most prominent divine ancestral figures is Amaterasu omi kami (Amateru).  She is seen as the political leader and the goddess of the sun.  Amaterasu is considered one of the most famous “founding mothers” of Japan and the Emperors of Japan are considered to be the direct descendant of Amaterasu.

The word “kami” in Japanese language means “god” or “divinity” but it also means “leader” at the same time. The government itself in the feudal era was called “okami” and the local leaders were called by a name which combined the name of the area and “kami” as in “Tosa no kami” which meant “the leader of Tosa.”  The word “kami” is still used to mean “leader” or “owner” in Japanese language.  The female proprietors of traditional Japanese restaurants and inns are also called “okami.” At Japanese households, the wife is sometimes called by their husbands “kami-san.”

In Japanese culture, women have been playing leadership roles for millennia. It must have worked out well for the people. Otherwise, this tradition would not have survived so long.

The Japanese civilians were protected during the Samurai Wars


The Battle of Sekigahara, AD 1600

The non-samurai people during the feudal era in Japan were much more protected than the people in other feudal societies in the world.  As a general principle, the battles between the feudal clans were done between the samurais and the civilians were not involved. The Samurais were living under the strict code of ethics and their honor was considered more important than their lives.

There was a famous Samurai war which determined the course of the Japanese history called the battle of Sekigahara in AD 1600.  During this battle,  a number of civilians went to the nearby mountains to watch the battle from the higher ground.

In a publication called “Gienjugonikki” written by a Shingon Buddhist priest, Gien (AD 1558-1626) , it is noted that there were civilian spectators at the time of the battle of Fushimi Castle (AD 1600) lead by Ukita Hideie.

In a Edo-era painting depicting the battle of Kuisegawa called “Kuisegawa Kassenzu Ebyoubu” owned by Gyoda City in Saitama Prefecture, Japan, several non-Samurai spectators are drawn.  On the right panel, a man who seems to be a farmer is sitting on a box. On the second panel, one priest is depicted and on the third panel,  a merchant is selling rice wine to two soldiers.

Gyoda City’s Official Website


A Japanese castle surrounded by moats. (Matsumoto Castle, Nagano)

Itazaka Bokusai (AD 1578-1655) , a physician who searved the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu
has also written in his book “Keicho Nenjuki” about the civilian war spectators during the feudal times. It is noted that the villagers were bringing their lunch and watching the battle of Sekigahara in the Kanondo building in Mitsui Temple.  It has also been written that the spectators were turning the “Gojyo Bridge” into a theater in the battle of Kyoto in  1300s.

These records are the proof that the battles in Japan were traditionally done between the soldiers and the general non-Samurai people were safe enough to be able to watch.  There were no “walled cities” in the feudal Japan because the villagers or the civilians were largely protected by the Samurai code of ethics.  Even if a Samurai clan lost a battle,  the people living in that land were not killed by the opposition.

Hardworking Rice Growing Emperor of Japan

Rice Growing Emperor

From time immemorial, the Japanese Emperors have been the keepers of the tradition of growing rice. The current Japanese Emperor, Akihito (83) , the 125th Emperor is still keeping the tradition of growing rice and conducting agricultural ceremonies.

Prince Hisahito who is the third in line for the Chrysanthemum throne is already growing rice at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo at the tender age of 10 and keeping the tradition which dates back more than 2600 years since the first Emperor Jimmu was throned in AD 660.


The famous poem on rice stalks by Emperor Tenchi (AD 626 – 672)

Over 1300 years ago, Emperor Tenchi (AD 626-672) also known as Prince Nakano Oenooji or Amatsumikoto / Sakiwakenomikoto has written a famous Japanese poem which is in “Ogura Hyakunin Isshu,”  a classical Japanese anthology by one hundred poets. This poem was the first and the most important poem in the anthology.

At the humble hut made of the rice stalks in the autumn rice field,  my sleeves are collecting the dews while I weave.

Emperor Tenchi

It reveals that not only the Emperor himself was weaving a mat or some form of a craft using rice stalks but he was also involved in the process of growing rice just as the current Emperor is.

The Japanese people are considered to be very hardworking people. People have been telling each other for at least a few thousand years that we must work hard because even the Emperor himself works in the field. In Kojiki, even the divine figures or the “gods” work in the rice field.

The Japanese Emperor’s lineage has lasted this long because they were originally the rice growing peaceful, hardworking vegetarians who were constantly praying.  Since they were considered spiritual figures in the ancient times who were called Tenshi-sama (Child of the God or Heavenly Child) or Ookimi (the Great one), the Emperor has been always respected.  There was no need to have a “revolution” and kill the Emperor in Japan because they have been respected for their hard work and self-sacrifice as well as their divine lineage.The Japanese Emperor’s family is considered to be the direct descendants of Izanagi and Izanami who are said to have created the islands of Japan in the Japanese classics, Kojiki.

Growing rice since 6000 years ago

According to the current research,  the tradition of growing rice dates back to the beginning of “Jyomon Era” which is approximately 6000 years ago.  According to the report by Kyodo Press in 2005, the professors from Okayama Rika University and Notre Dame Seishin Women’s University have uncovered the evidence of ancient rice called “plant opals” from “Hikozaki Kaizuka” in Okayama prefecture which dates back 6000 years ago.

In the recent years, more evidence have been uncovered to prove that the practice of growing rice started before Yayoi Era (BC 300 – AD300).  It used to be believed that the technology of growing rice was brought to Japan from the Chinese continent. Several archaeological findings disprove this theory now. The plant opals of rice were also found from the ancient porcelain piece found in Mikamo Himesasahara in Okayama which dates back 4500 years.

Uniquely Japanese ancient utensils and values

One of the most important ceremonies conducted by the Japanese Emperor at the Imperial Palace is a “Thanksgiving” ritual called “Niinamesai” which is conducted on November 23rd.  In this ceremony, he eats the newly harvested rice of that year along with other crops for the first time using an oak leaf and a bamboo pincet called “Oribashi.”  Oribashi have widely used in the Japanese Jinja or shrines in the old days. This utensil is unique to Japan and it suggests that the original Japanese people did not use chopsticks as in China or in the Korean peninsula.

This ceremony which has been passed down for thousands of years also suggest how their ancestors were eating rice in the old days. It suggests that people were originally eating without a bowl and chopsticks.  It means that the tradition of growing rice and eating rice came BEFORE they started making porcelain bowls and using chopsticks.

The fact that this ceremony is still preserved in the Imperial ceremony suggests that they considered it important enough to maintain this humble way to eat along with the tradition to give gratitude for the new crops. Understanding how long the Japanese Emperor and the people have been growing rice and eating rice is the key in understanding the Japanese culture.