First rough draft of a new chapter for the book. (Almost up to 58,000 words total now!)
How Shall We Live?
One of the perks of being an American in Japan is that many people want to practice their English on you. Strangers will come up and start conversations, buy you drinks or even dinner, just to chat.
You get to meet a wide cross-section of people. Usually it's just small-talk, "Hello", "Where are you from?", and so on. But one Osaka businessman gave me a interesting lesson in ethics along with a round of drinks.
I had come to an jazz club (called, charmingly, "Rugtime") to see my friend Eric's band play. Eric is a former Buddhist monk and acupuncturist, current elementary school vice-principal and drummer in several bands. During a break Eric and I were chatting, and an older Nihonjin gentleman approached us and asked in (extremely good) English if he could buy us drinks. We of course readily assented.
We engaged in some of the usual small-talk, and our new friend asked us our impression of Osaka.
Now, Osaka has a unique place in Japanese culture. It's known as the home of both gangsters and of comedians, and for its unique dialect. It's the place where people cross the street against the light and park their bicycles right under the signs that say "No Bike Parking" -- compared to other Japanese cities, that's wild behavior.
Osaka has always been a mercantile hub, and because its merchants were key to keeping the imports of foreign luxury goods flowing during the centuries that the shoguns ruled Japan, they were always granted a little extra latitude. So Osaka never quite fell fully into line with the social norms enforced in Tokyo.
I tried to explain to this gentleman how I liked Osaka's energy, its hustle, its willingness to make a deal and get down to business.
His eyes lit up. "Yes, yes! Let's do business. Make everybody happy!"
The idea that a business transaction should leave everybody involved happy is something that we rarely hear these days, drowned out by talk of quarterly profits and shareholder value. Going deeper and considering not just the customer satisfaction but the effects of our business dealings on broader world, we see what Jacob Marley learned only after his death: Mankind was his business.
In Buddhism, this is the concept of "right livelihood", a big part of Buddhist ethics.