- Day:2011.03.12 21:37
Sympathy for Japan, and Admiration
Our hearts are all with the Japanese today, after the terrible earthquake there – the worst ever recorded in Japan. But, having covered the 1995 Kobe earthquake (which killed more than 6,000 people and left 300,000 homeless) when I lived in Japan as Tokyo bureau chief for The New York Times, I have to add: Watch Japan in the coming days and weeks, and I bet we can also learn some lessons.
But the Japanese people themselves were truly noble in their perseverance and stoicism and orderliness. There’s a common Japanese word, “gaman,” that doesn’t really have an English equivalent, but is something like “toughing it out.” And that’s what the people of Kobe did, with a courage, unity and common purpose that left me awed.
This stoicism is built into the Japanese language. People always say “shikata ga nai” – it can’t be helped. And one of the most common things to say to someone else is “ganbatte kudasai” – tough it out, be strong. Natural disasters are seen as part of Japan’s “unmei,” or fate – a term that is written by combining the characters for movement and life. I remember reading an ancient account, I believe from 16th century Jesuit visitors, of an earthquake devastating a village, and then within hours the peasants began rebuilding their homes.
I find something noble and courageous in Japan’s resilience and perseverance, and it will be on display in the coming days. This will also be a time when the tight knit of Japan’s social fabric, its toughness and resilience, shine through. And my hunch is that the Japanese will, by and large, work together — something of a contrast to the polarization and bickering and dog-eat-dog model of politics now on display from Wisconsin to Washington. So maybe we can learn just a little bit from Japan. In short, our hearts go out to Japan, and we extend our deepest sympathy for the tragic quake. But also, our deepest admiration.