Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Japanese Philosophy of "Gaman"

The blossoms have fallen,
I stare blankly at a world
Bereft of color;
In the wide vacant sky
The spring rains are falling.
                  ----Princess Shikushi (died 1201)
Gaman: Patience, endurance, perseverance.

My mother is Japanese, so the philosophy of gaman is not new to me. As a child, I watched gaman in my Japanese relatives; their stoic, proud way of dealing with not only hardship, but life.

Though I admire and respect this philosphy, I will admit there were times in my upbringing that I battled between gaman and my internal child emotions. I didn't understand why I couldn't show my sadness or anger. Even today, my adult self has two sides - the honorable gaman side, and the emotional side. Sometimes gaman wins, sometimes emotions.

In the last week, as I've watched the coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I am in awe of the Japanese ability to practice gaman. In interview after interview with people who have lost everything, the Japanese people have spoken with amazing composure. Any hint of emotion is soon masked, and the interviewee appears almost embarrassed. But I know - the pain and emotion are there, pressed deep inside.

My grandfather immigrated from Sendai, Japan, and my grandmother, from Fukushima. I never knew my grandfather, oji-san. He was killed by some boys before I was born. And sadly, my grandmother, oba-san, died before I was two. I wish I could have known them, and I've often wondered about the relatives in Japan I may never know.

As I watch the people affected by the disaster, I feel related to them, if not by blood, by culture. Then I realize at times like this, we all are related.

Excerpt from Broken Dolls:

Mama held her, and Sachi breathed in the scent of cedar in her mother’s clothes, tasted salt in the tears still on her cheek. Mama pulled her closer—so close Sachi could hear the rapid flutter of Mama's heart begin to calm.
Then Sachi felt it, too. Gaman. Endurance. Resolve. No matter what the future held, everything was going to be okay.


  1. This blog post is beautiful. You hit on so many truths about yourself and your background. You are blessed to have such a rich culture and interesting family.

  2. Thank you, everydayclimb. I am proud of my heritage, especially when I see the grace of the Japanese people at this terrible time.

  3. Beautiful. When people ask if the Japanese will be able to overcome this disaster, I always say, "yes." It's a culture centered on collaboration, honor and family. They work together to achieve a goal. There's no "what's in it for me" like so many Americans think.

  4. Beautiful passage from your book. And the richness made even greater by your graceful opening, and sharing about yourself. Nice job.

  5. Thank you, Patty and LeAynne. I'm amazed at how many of the passages in my book are still relevant today.