Why Malaysia should still ‘look East’ to Japan

Japan-MalaysiaBy TK Chua

I recently had the opportunity to visit Japan again after 10 years. Many say that the country has lost its pre-eminence in Asia. It has been struggling with growth since its golden era in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

But as a nation, there is still much to be learned from Japan. The highly industrialised and modernised country has very few of the unintended ills inflicting many modern societies today.

For a while, Malaysia had a policy to “look East” (essentially to Japan and Korea). But it has since petered out. In hindsight, perhaps we should have pursued this policy more diligently. At least we would not have the consequences of imitating so many good-for-nothing countries and their practices today.

I am sure many will agree with me that the Japanese are polite, civil and courteous. They take their responsibilities seriously and do their jobs diligently. Quality is assured in hotels, restaurants, toilets, transportation and the goods they sell in supermarkets, stores and other retail outlets.

Things may be expensive according to our standards, but they do not short-change their customers. During my one-week stay, I did not encounter a single gadget or device in any of their establishments that was out of order.

Contrary to expectations, Japan does not depend on foreign workers, at least in the places I visited. Workers at restaurants, hotels, transportation establishments, airports, retail outlets and tourist sites are Japanese, young and old.

Why is it that Japan is able to do this despite being the most developed and “expensive” country in Asia? I maintain that massive reliance on foreign workers in any country is a farce – it is a pretext to exploit the majority by a minority.

Hygiene and cleanliness are another hallmark of Japan. The Japanese do not generally provide rubbish bins in public places, yet the country is squeaky clean everywhere. They expect us to take the rubbish home or to the hotel to be disposed of accordingly. I did not see empty beer cans or uncollected rubbish anywhere, neither did I smell pungent odours in toilets or hear people talking or preaching on the religious virtues of being holy, clean and pure.

They are courteous on the roads. Accident rates are low and hardly any traffic violations like speeding are detected. So this begets a question – why are Malaysians always speeding and rushing? Why are we not richer than the Japanese if we are always in a hurry?

Safety is another plus in Japan. Snatch thefts, break-ins, robberies and muggings are almost unheard of. If we lose or leave any items behind, the chances of recovery are good. The Japanese practise honesty and good ethics, not expounding on religiosity and empty talk day and night.

We do not have to inherit all the downsides of modernisation. We do not have to look to theocracy and bigotry to protect our values and ethics. We look to practices and experiences that are successfully nurtured and inculcated in countries like Japan.

The “look East” policy was not a mistake – we look east not just for industrial and economic prowess, but more importantly for work ethics, values and quality consciousness. To me, Japan will always be the land of the rising sun, militarism and the Second World War notwithstanding.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.