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Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011

HAVE YOUR SAY

Ganbatte and gaman stifle debate, hinder recovery

Nuclear debate discouraged

Re: "Japan needs less ganbatte, more genuine action" by Debito Arudou (Just Be Cause, Oct. 4):

I was wondering when such an article would show up in the newspapers. Thank you for finally commenting on some of the finer workings of how the triple disaster is being dealt with in Japan.

Like any event on this scale, the catastrophe has brought out the best and worst in Japanese culture. While one cannot help but admire the stoicism, calmness and composure in dealing with the events in March, the lack of discussion about the future of nuclear energy, food safety and lessons learnt is shocking.

For non-Japanese it is difficult to follow the social workings in Japan. Concepts such as ganbatte and gaman, which are raised by the author, play an important part in discouraging necessary debate. Also, the Japanese social convention of considering the expectations and feelings of others suppresses discussion.

At a wedding, I was told not to discuss Fukushima, because it was supposed to be a happy event. On other occasions, I was told not to tell anybody that we were planning to leave Japan because of food safety issues, because everybody else would not have such a choice. The social space where such an important discussion can take place seems rather limited.

Now the discussion is about how to decontaminate large swathes of Fukushima Prefecture, when the real discussion should be about whether and how to continue to use nuclear energy in this country and ensure food safety.

I truly hope that over time these issues are addressed, although I am not overly optimistic.

OLIVER STAERK
Tokyo

Drop the stoicism, show you care

In regard to the Oct. 4 Just Be Cause column "Japan needs less ganbatte, more genuine action," what Debito Arudou has written in his insightful essay is sadly so very true.

The "ganbatte spirit" is fine for such things as going to bat against the best Yomiuri Giants pitcher, preparing for an entrance exam to enter a well-known university, working overtime to win that much needed bonus at yearend, or just completing a 10 km run for the age 60+ generation (that I'm about to join).

But such feudalistic, fatalistic thinking is almost obscene when confronted by the magnitude of the man-made disaster in Fukushima.

The ganbatte spirit is as old as the Japanese language itself and rightfully has a proud place in Japan's centuries-old culture, but the folks who thought up the concept of ganbatte had never heard of such things as cesium-137, iodine-131, gamma rays, sieverts or radioactive fallout.

The catastrophe unfolding at Fukushima has nothing to do with ganbatte. It has everything to do with human folly and hubris, universal traits in the species homo sapien.

As Arudou points out, fatalism can sometimes prove fatal. The underwhelming response of Japan's first responders after the terrible Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 might have been because of this commonly felt notion that in times of disaster, one must display a stoic, ganbatte spirit — suffering is good for the soul, and all that nonsense. Funny how those who espouse such a philosophical outlook abhor suffering in their own lives.

Who was the wit who once said, "How well we can endure the sufferings of others"? This too is all too common.

In times of crisis, empathy and active support is far more important than "gaman." Japan's remarkable recovery from the devastation of World War II is partly due to the fact that the entire nation began to view its predicament as a "family crisis" or "we're all in this together".

The Japanese Emperor made a rare and very heartfelt speech just after the disaster of 3/11. It would be prudent for all Japanese to heed his remarks.

The crisis in Tohoku will ultimately have an impact on the lives of all Japanese. If the entire nation offers its support to the disaster victims in Tohoku, recovery will be far swifter and the suffering diminished.

I've heard reports that folks from around Fukushima are already being stigmatized by other Japanese for being somehow "tainted". This must stop.

Again, compassion is vital in the recovery process. It isn't just the physical rebuilding of the Tohoku region; it's also about restoring the lives and spirits of those so badly battered by the tsunami/earthquake/nuclear disaster of 3/11.

Japan is an island nation. Survival is dependent on pulling together in times of crisis.

Make yourself proud, Japan, and rebuild Tohoku with care and compassion. Let the world see that you are not a nation of cold-hearted ganbatte stoics but a nation of caring individuals who are ready to reach out to a neighbor in distress.

ROBERT MCKINNEY
Winona, Missouri

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