Only some lies can be tolerated

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Only some lies can be tolerated

In American writer O. Henry’s short story “The Last Leaf,” a young artist named Johnsy, who has pneumonia, believes she will die when the last leaf falls from outside her window. On a very stormy night, an old artist who lives in the same apartment building as her paints an ivy leaf on the wall. Johnsy, who is tricked into believing that the leaf has remained on the branch and receives a new lease of life as a result, survives.

“The Last Leaf” somewhat frees us from the concept that all lies and tricks are bad. You may feel it is more truthful to say “yes” rather than “no” when asked if you lie often. Last year, the Japanese Cabinet Office surveyed young Japanese and foreigners between the ages 13 and 29.

When asked if they lie often, 28.9 percent of Japanese people, 27.6 percent of British people, 27.2 percent of Koreans and 23.3 percent of Americans responded yes. But it would be hasty to conclude that the Japanese are liars. Crimes like fraud, embezzlement and breach of duty are relatively low in Japan. But the survey revealed that the Japanese are comparatively tolerant of lies.

There is a saying in Japan, “A lie is a tactic too.” Sometimes, white lies are better than honesty. They also say, “Some truth comes from lies.” Meiji University’s social psychology professor Kenji Suzuki says that the Japanese value harmony with others and tend to tell a lie in order to avoid conflict. They sometimes hide their true intentions and answer to please others.

Lately, a controversy over a lie is stirring up in Japan. Former Japanese national swim team member Naoya Tomita was charged with stealing a camera that belonged to a member of the Korean media during the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon. More than a month after he returned to Japan, he now denies taking it. But the public is not buying his claim. Popular comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto said, “If I have to choose between O and X, I would have to choose X.” Singer Akiko Wada advised, “If Tomita is falsely charged, it is a big deal. But if not, he should bring himself together.”

Now that Tomita is claiming innocence, the Incheon District Court plans to demand a formal lawsuit if he objects to the charges. If he is really innocent, he should go through a trial. If he wants to save face by lying, he won’t be forgiven in Korea, or even in Japan, where people are more tolerant to lies.

*The author is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 18, Page 34

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