Friday, January 10, 2014

Far Out Friday - The spirit of Ganbaru

I live in Iwate, Japan, one of the three prefectures (the other two are Miyagi and Fukushima)  at the centre of the Great Northeast (Tohoku) Earthquake. One of the things I remember most about the days after the quake is that after there stopped being 100 quakes a day and life started settling into a new norm, was the "ganbatte" messages.

Ganbatte Iwate! Ganbatte Miyagi! Ganbatte Fukushima!

Ganbatte Tohoku!

Ganbatte is the imperative form of ganbaru. And ganbaru is a really difficult word to explain in English. Sometimes, there are words in one language for concepts that other languages don't have. (Like nekojita in Japanese- cat tongue- meaning that you have difficulty eating or drinking hot foods.) Ganbaru is one of those words. It's often translated into English as "fight," "do your best," and "hang in there." It's often used in situations where English speakers would say good luck, but ganbaru, unlike luck is all about you.

 For example, if your friend was playing in a football match, you'd say "Ganbaru" in Japanese or "Good luck" in English before the game. But if his team is down at half time, you can't really say "good luck," it sounds almost like you don't believe he can win. Ganbaru still applies. Maybe that's because ganbaru has an undertone of "no matter what situation you are faced with, keep your head up." Despite a disaster of an unprecedented magnitude, live each day as best you can.

Every time I'm in the West, I notice the differences from Japan. I mean I spend most of my time surrounded by Eastern mentality. And this time, one thing I noticed was the lack of ganbaru spirit. People have problems everywhere in the world -that's a given- and I don't think that you can really say that one person's hardship is greater than another. Different types of hardship hurt different people in different ways. And yet, here in the West, or at least in my little corner of it, people just accept their lot in life.

I've lost a leg so I can't go out.
The economy sucks so I got a paycheck so I'm going to spend all my time sobbing about it.
A part of my house got destroyed in this weather system so my life sucks.

I'm not saying that these things aren't terrible problems, because they are. If a guy who's lost his leg goes on to be a paralympic athlete it's impressive, because he triumphed over this huge issue. But it's kind of a norm in Japan. You're kind of expected to ganbaru. Instead of "Poor me" it's more of " So I've lost a leg. How can I deal with this, even use it to my advantage?" So when there's a disaster and people show a certain strength of character and the rest of the world is amazed at how there's no looting, it's kind of a "like DUH!" for Japan.

It's kind of the flipside of Hakuna Matata. Bad things happen. You can't change that. All you can do is play the hand you're dealt. And whether you complain about it or not, the hand is not going to change. I admit Japanese people sometimes "ganbaru" too hard and push themselves past the breaking point. But I also think that Westerners could learn a lot from the ganbaru spirit.

Because all we can ever do is make the best of what we can have.

Where you do fall on the ganbaru scale? Do you push yourselves despite all obstacles? Give up at the first sign of trouble? Somewhere in between?

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