Japanese spirit

By Chihiro


In Japan, we have a proverb “Ishino uenimo sannen”. [Three years on a stone] Three years on a stone will make the stone warm. What it means is that you shouldn’t give up, and the endurance will bring great results.

In Japan, GAMAN is one of the ideas from Japan and it means people should show perseverance and endure when faced with difficult or unexpected situations and doing so maintain harmonious social ties.  We use them when they hide our opinions and personalities in order to fit in. Children learn gaman early as a part of Japanese education, starting in elementary school. As a result, the Japanese are ingrained with Gaman quality.

Many Japanese thinks that gaman is beautiful, but too much gaman can make our mental health worse.  However, a Japanese criminologist believes mutual surveillance, self-monitoring and public expectations associated with gaman are a contributory factor in Japan’s low crime rate. To avoid the conflict, they watch out for each other and everyone cares about their actions.

Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 7.59.34 AMHere are some examples. One of the examples is The Great East Japan Earthquake. In 2011, there was a huge earthquake in Japan. From the day, the people at the place of refuge had to endure a lot. The places were very cold so they wore a plastic bag to keep out the cold. Living with no privacy because they didn’t have enough personal spaces. It was too small to live so they must get tired and feel stressed. The evacuees in the place were over 62000 in the entire of Japan. Some places suffered a lot of damage and their life continued over a year in a small hall. Have you ever thought that you have to leave your home suddenly because of natural disasters and live in a small hall with people that you don’t know? I think many people get frustrated about the situation.  However, they didn’t become upset and just stayed quite calm. It was one of the important things to survive the days. I think the reason why they could get over the earthquake and survive in group life is to learn how to gaman since they were young. We should be proud of that.

On the other hand, too much gaman could destroy them physically and mentally. Paying attention and trying to please everyone makes them feel very stressed and sometimes it makes them numb. The brain works best when it is focused but in a relaxed “flow” state, but if you are in the state of gaman, you can’t be relaxed and your brain performance decline.  One of the diseases is that causes various mental and physical symptoms because they can not adapt to adaptation disorders and stress. Also, when they are speaking in their second language, they don’t want to bother people so they become quiet even everyone can understand. However, this culture is an obstacle to Japanese expansion overseas. Show the opinions and claim or the Japanese way of thinking will be gone. Japanese is too focused on English skills, so they won’t even try to expand overseas until they can speak English perfectly.

Gaman is an important Japanese spirit, but also it can be negative especially outside of Japan and I think we need to change that for the future.  For example, Japan was chosen to host the Olympics in 2020. People who are from other countries will come to Tokyo and increase opportunities to speak in English. We should show claim our opinions even if it’s in English. Recently, The Tokyo Olympic’s volunteer application rushed and capacity became full in no time. It means many Japanese people try to communicate and support visitors and I think it’s a great opportunity for the Japanese to expand overseas.

In conclusion, gaman has good point and bad point so we need to keep a balance and live with it without much of a conflict.


Work Cited

  1. “Gaman (Term).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Mar. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaman_(term).
  2. Littler, Julian. “Capital – The Art of Perseverance: How Gaman Defined Japan.” BBC, BBC, 20 Mar. 2019, www.bbc.com/capital/story/20190319-the-art-of-perseverance-how-gaman-defined-japan.
  3. “避難所でのくらし~NHK東日本大震災アーカイブス~.” NHK東日本大震災アーカイブス 証言webドキュメント, www9.nhk.or.jp/archives/311shogen/summary/evi/20/.