The Japanese Earthquake-Gaman


Certified NLP Coach, Trainer

It has been very interesting for me to listen and read about the sharing of stories about the Japanese people during the aftermath of the Earthquake. Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, 3//11/11, writes about how we could learn a great deal from “the perseverance, stoicism and orderliness” of the Japanese people in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake. Not to say that the government’s handling of the 1995 quake was good, but how the culture of the people seems to provide a sense of “gaman,” or toughing it out that is “steeped into the collective soul.” He found this “collective resilience,” the stoicism and the automatic willingness to put the group ahead of oneself, and the acceptance of living with the natural world to differ from western culture. Growing up as a Japanese American, I can relate to how gaman, and how the collective belief of “shikata ga nai,” it can’t be helped, can be a resource for collective survival.

Sukeyasu Yamamoto, a nuclear physicist in Tokyo, who was educated at Yale, understands both Japanese and US culture. Christopher Joyce of NPR,, reported that Yamamoto believes that gaman might also be a factor in nuancing the devastation of the radiation from the radiation plants that have been crippled by the quakes. Since they need electric power, they feel “shikata ga nai.” Yamamoto also explains how younger people who haven’t lived through the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki may not connect nuclear power plants with atomic nuclear fall-out. Although there has been much education and a sentiment for understanding the destruction from nuclear energy, it seems to be fading from their cultural memory.

I know that people around the world grieve for the losses of life, worry for the safety of the Japanese people and the grave consequences and ripple effects of this natural disaster. I hope that we can learn many lessons from the Japanese people and from this disaster.

Question to reflect upon:
What beliefs have helped you be resilient in times of struggle?
Can you think of any beliefs that have provided a collective resiliency for your group/community?
Can you think of any beliefs that have camouflaged important perspectives?

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