I’ve been very struck by the Japanese response to the unimaginable horrors of the past few days. This reaction may in part be that of a nation in shock – but it has demonstrated a depth of character and bravery which, from a Western perspective, is bewildering and inspiring.
How can we understand such stoicism?
John Nelson, a cultural anthropologist, comments that,
In Japanese culture, there’s a sort of nobility in suffering with a stiff upper lip, in mustering the spiritual, psychological resources internally. There’s even a word for quietly enduring difficult situations: ‘Gaman” or ‘calm endurance.
This is in contrast to our Western emphasis on self-expression and even protest. And it’s not the only difference. In 1998, a study was carried out comparing US and Japanese values amongst the student population. These were ranked as follows;
|6||Happiness||Life/Reverence for life|
Other key Japanese values are social obligation, indebtedness (especially to parents) and loyalty. Speaking too much is seen as a sign of empty-headedness or immaturity, whilst silence is highly revered.
Perhaps the differences are historical, as well as cultural. Japan’s history is one of repeated catastrophe and resurgence – as recently as 1995, nearly 7,000 people died in the Kobe earthquake. Japan lost a world war, saw two cities destroyed under the ministrations of the atomic bomb, watched the collapse of its monarchy, learned to embrace democracy, and not only survived in the post-war years but became a global economic superpower. That’s some going, by any standards.
Although it numbers more than 127 million people, Japan is roughly the size of the US state of Montana. For this reason, community and perhaps co-operation may be part of the Japanese psyche. Where Western cultures are focused on the individual, Japanese are focused on the group. Allied to this is a fierce national pride, the belief that a country should provide for its own people and submit to its authorities, as well as an emphasis on the importance of decorum, respect and self-control.
Writer Kundo Koyama argues that Japanese fortitude represents less of the ‘spirit of the samurai’, than that of the farmer. He cites Japan’s agrarian roots, as well as hard-learned truth that, ‘however much you work, one weather change can cost you everything’.
The challenges facing the Japanese people are enormous. But we trust in a powerful and loving God who listens, cares and acts. Here are some prayer points, if like me, you’re not sure where to start;
Pray that believers everywhere would trust in the Lord, especially during these times.
Pray for those that are stranded or trapped – that search and rescue teams would reach them.
Pray for assessment teams to successfully gather information regarding the status of churches and communities hit on the coast.
Pray for more workers. Pray for skilled workers. Pray for their strength and safety. Some are working in areas where there are still aftershocks and nuclear danger. Pray for their mental and emotional health.
Pray for the Japanese leaders – for wisdom and discernment as they coordinate the country’s efforts.
Pray for resources – food, water, blankets, gasoline, and other supplies to reach those in need.