“If you don’t study hard you will be cutting grass like this man here!!”

By Aya Imura

To be honest, this is the biggest culture shock I got in Singapore: I once saw a mother pointing at the hardworking landscaper, as if he was invisible, delivering her public lecture to this poor kid. It was along the lines of “If you don’t study hard, you will be cutting grass like this man here”.

It has been four years since I moved to Singapore. Every now and then I am still asked “What is your greatest culture shock since living in Singapore?” my replies are usually politically correct, such as food and lingo. But to be very honest this is the one: the lack of respect and bigotry towards a certain group of occupation. And unfortunately this is also the biggest shock shared among a lot of the Japanese here in Singapore.

In Japan, the very first thing we teach children is “Every job is respectful and precious”. We cannot go imposing our values on other people’s work.” In Singapore however, many adults would tell their children to study hard so they would not end up a cleaner or bus driver in the future. Worse still, they make it an effort to be exceptionally condescending towards such professions to make sure they got their point across.

We have a tradition to value every established form of craftsmanship and professional occupation in Japan. As long as we take our job seriously and strive to improve ourselves, people will both admire and support us.

In Japan, professionals with great craftsmanship and skills are considered our national treasures. In fact we have a “Living national treasure” system and there are 166 living craftsmen (like cloth weavers, bamboo craftsmen, potters etc) acknowledged as “Living natural treasures” and the state supports them in passing of their skill-sets to the next generation.

We also have a tradition of respecting every individual, regardless of the amount of education they accumulate.

Take for example: the ex-prime minister Mr Kakuei Tanaka. The man left school at the age of fifteen and worked as a construction worker, yet he was never discriminated and eventually rose to become the head of a proud nation.

Mr Konosuke Matsushita aka “The God of management”, founder of Panasonic, dropped out from the school at the age of nine. With determination and hard work, Panasonic is arguably the largest consumer electronics company in Japan. Upholding the true spirit of knowledge and education, he founded The Matsushita Institute of Government and Management in 1979 keeping a “No prior education requirement” for their new students up till today; 43% of their graduates have gone on to become key politicians and policy makers.

If we want to work at the headquarters of big companies like Toyota immediately after we graduate, yes going to a good university does help a lot. But if we leave school at fifteen years of age and decide to become a craftsman, people will equally respect us as a professional.

I remembered reading the results of an interesting survey. A survey was commissioned to understand children’s ambitions from 9 countries in Asia. The question posed was: “What do you want to be in the future?”

In many countries like Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam, becoming a medical doctor was the most popular answer.

In Japan, the most popular answer was to be a Patisserie (Pastry chef).

Guess what was the top answer given by Singaporean kids?

Interestingly, it was: “Manager”.

This article first appeared on Five Stars And A Moon. It is reproduced with permission.


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