Book Review: Confucius Lives Next Door

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Confucius Lives Next Door by T.R. Reid is an interesting read about What Living in The East Teaches Us About Living in the West.

This week, Japan become #3 economy, behind China and the U.S. Let us not forget the great democracy that Japan is and despite the devastation of WWII and massive cultural differences, we have much in common.  Although the book is now ten years old, the author captivated my imagination as I wondered: what would it be like for an American father to bring his family and living in Toyko?

I’ve always been fascinated with the Japanese culture, especially: low crime rates, non existence divorce, respect for the elderly, Japanese shiatsu therapy, focus on the common good, amazing longevity, and more.

As I found out, many of these principles can be traced to the influence of Confucius – the great Chinese thinker and nobleman from 500 B.C. The name is derived from the Chinese name of Kung Fu-tzu and was “Latinized” by the Jesuits to Confucius. (Note, in Japan, Confucius is referred to as Mister Koshi.

The book chronicles family life and explorations throughout East Asia (but primarily in Tokyo where T.R. Reid was bureau chief for NPR and the Washington Post). His many observations of the Japanese fascination with certain American icons and culture are spot on. The family is a bit of a novelty, but quickly learns to adjust and learn the importance of everyone doing their part to build community and benefit society.

This mantra contradicts with our American sense of individualism and the author does a great job of contrasting drivers of East Asian vs. Western cultures. For example, in the late 1990’s President Bill Clinton remarked on “a stunning breakdown of community, family, and work… and we must give young people something to say ‘yes’ to…” This is juxtaposed to the two billion people in East Asia saying ‘yes’ to the Confucius-influenced society that stresses the importance of enhancing the community, not the individual.

Want to act as a noble person? In this world, anyone has the ability to become a chun-tzu – a magnanimous man of virtue. Confucius taught that any man could be virtuous, key elements of virtuous conduct had to be taught. In the West, we have come to believe that it is important to education the individual vs. educate society.




9 points on which a gentleman should take care and be mindful of:

  1. When observing – to see clearly
  2. When listening – to hear distinctly
  3. In his expression – to be amiable
  4. In his attitude – to be deferential
  5. In his speech – to be loyal
  6. When on duty – to be respectful
  7. When in doubt – to ask questions
  8. When angry – to ponder the consequence
  9. When gaining an advantage – to consider whether it is fair

This well-paced book spans a number of topics that provide insight on how the Japanese recovered from the devastation of WWII and continues to be a strong democracy and economic power. Overall, it was a wonderful read. I learned a great deal about how the Japanese people tick – how they conduct business, show respect, and mold their youth. I remain fascinated, wanting to learn more and visit Japan in the future.


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