gaman / 我慢

The word “gaman” has been translated a million times in a million different ways, but it is difficult to really pin down. Gaman means to have patience, to endure the unendurable, to deny oneself, to restrain oneself and it’s always towards some greater purpose. There’s big, epic gaman: when there’s a famine a parent will gaman so the children can eat. And there’s little, personal gaman: when you’re shopping you will gaman and not buy that new CD you really, really want because paying the rent is more important.

In the case of the Tohoku disaster, gaman was exercised on many levels across the country. For those in the affected areas, they practiced gaman in regards to food, water, shelter, and even grief. In other parts of Japan, Tokyo, for example, gaman was exercised as people cut back on their use of electricity and stood in long lines for trains.

Japan is a nation of people whose native culture trains them to place the needs of the group before their own. This is what allows them such great forbearance in emergency situations. Many outside the Japanese community see what they do as sacrifice. For them, it isn’t sacrifice, it’s simply what’s done.

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