Who doesn’t think the Japanese are an amazing people and culture? You have to hand it to them. Here’s a people whose history includes Hiroshima and Nagasaki and now Sendai and Fukushima—earthquake, tsunami. And with it has come missing persons, nuclear radiation, food and housing shortages, economic upheaval, not to mention destruction, devastation, disease, and death. Still, the Japanese soldier on.
“Ganbarimasu”—in Japanese it means “We must give it our best,” or something close to that. This word has become their quiet and dignified mantra. They work, they reach out, they don’t complain, and they don’t loot. They don’t loot? Amazing. Nuclear power plant workers have rightly become international heroes, a new set of first responders who are continuing to respond with long hours in what are likely suicidal conditions. These men do their duty, but they will not reach old age. Ganbarimasu.
The Japanese have always been known for the strength of their kinship culture. They are about community much more than the highly individualized and individualistic West. Sure, their culture isn’t perfect. There are some genuine concerns: issues like women’s place in family and society, underground sexuality, religious fatalism.
But the West has its problems too. Negatives shouldn’t cause us not to appreciate or admire positives. The Japanese are an industrious, frugal, incredibly hard working, educated, and honorable people. They’re proving it time and again in the face of crisis.
Ganbarimasu is something the West could stand to rediscover. Ours is a culture often captured by materialism, relativism, and narcissism. These aren’t good "Isms.” They weaken us individually and collectively. Certainly “The Greatest Generation,” ironically a generation that met the Japanese in World War, understood how to give it their best. But I don’t think subsequent generations, including the Baby Boomers to which I belong, can claim we’ve always given our best.
I wish the Japanese well. I pray for their culture, country, and individual characters. I hope they can cap the Fukushima nuclear radiation threat soon, and I hope they can rebuild with strength and optimism.
I wish and pray the same for the West in general and America specifically. I hope we learn by watching the Japanese. I hope we experience a resurrection of Ganbarimasu.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
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