Older Japanese people have a deep respect for work that has always touched me and made me think. They believe a person receives many benefits from working, the least of which is money. There are a husband and wife in their seventies that have a lovely restaurant in my neighborhood. The wife is a fantastic cook and she and her husband are always friendly and kind. I asked them recently if they had done any thinking about retiring, and it was as if I had spoken a naughty word.
"Oh my goodness," the husband said, "What would we do if we retired?" "We have made many friends by serving our neighbors through the years, and we would both be very sad to not see them any more."
"Yes indeed," the wife said, "Losing touch with our customers would be sad." "But the other thing," she said, "The more important thing, is that we would lose our opportunity to be of service to the people in our community. The reason for having this restaurant has never been simply as a means to make money. The most important reason for our having this restaurant, and perhaps the most important reason for having any job, is to be of service to the people of your community. It gives you the opportunity to not be selfish, and to do something for others. There's no finer activity in life than serving others!"
I smiled and nodded my head, and felt blessed to know these two fine people.
"You know Tabata-san who often comes here for lunch," the wife said. She's the janitor for the local community center. Her biggest enjoyment at work is keeping the toilets spotlessly clean. She has talked about this more than once. She strives to keep the toilets so clean that everyone feels ‘at home' when needing to use them. She takes great pride in providing this service."
"How about Shimizu-san the husband said." "He came in second in the window washing competition our local area has started to have, and there was a big party here afterwards to celebrate. He takes great pride in his job, and hopes his son will some day follow in his footsteps."
"Whatever one does, I think it's important to do it well," the wife chipped in. "To do your job to the best of your ability. When you do this you feel good about what you're doing and thus you feel good about yourself. Usually, as an extra added bonus people will compliment you on a job well done, and that leaves you with a smile on your face and feeling very satisfied."
"With all the benefits I get by working, perhaps it's a selfish activity after all," the wife said with a twinkle in her eyes. "It really helps me to stay young and healthy, by getting up early in the morning knowing I have somewhere to go, and something meaningful to do. Much better than staying home and using my next doctor's appointment as an excuse to get out of the house. When my first customer of the day comes in and I bow and say "Welcome!" I know there's still a reason why I'm alive."
"Without good service, the world would be a very lonely place," the husband said. "The basis for good service is respecting others. The basis for respecting others, is being thankful for all you have. I would love to have the opportunity to serve a meal to the leaders of North Korea. I would say, ‘Please sit and enjoy yourselves. I will do my very best to serve you well.' Regardless of the political outcome, I know on some level my message would be felt!"