I was talking to a good friend the other weekend about my blogging. As much as she enjoys reading my posts about family and parenting, she mentioned that perhaps, I branched out a bit. You know, talk about something else other than baby poo and DIY disasters.
With the extended time I’ve studied, lived and worked there; Considering it’s the country where I’ve made life-long friends; She suggested I write about Japan.
(Geez, I might as well start up an entirely new blog, in that case).
But, for now, I will talk about one important aspect about the Japanese people:
The expression of emotions.
There is a popular belief among Westerners that the Japanese people do not show much emotion. If any. We picture Japan to be a society where bowing or kowtowing is as expressive as it gets. Very rarely are there hand-shakes.
Hugs and kisses are totally out of the question.
Furthermore, within the Japanese language, there is a particular verb, Ganbaru
‘to bear’; to persist’;’to hang in there’; ‘to do your best’, ‘to persevere’.
It’s a term you use during sporting events to cheer on a team; to encourage a school child to do well in an exam; to wish someone luck when venturing out a new project or challenge.
It’s a way of telling someone to stay focused, to keep your personal feelings at bay and concentrate in achieving the task or challenge at hand.
It seems that it is a word used broadly. Yet, ironically, for Japan, it’s also used under present excruciatingly difficult times.
Indeed, the devastating past events of the earthquake, tsunami and continuing nuclear power plant nightmare would be testing an entire nation beyond human control.
In the nine years of living there, I have only seen my Japanese friends cry a handful of times.
This earthquake has been one of those harrowing moments.
Four months pregnant, a dear friend of mine was on the 20th floor of her Tokyo office building when the quake happened. Scared, frightened, seeking protection under her office desk, she watched her entire office sway with her roller-wheeled chair cart itself from one end of the office to the other.
In a brief moment of calm, moving quickly before the next after-shock, my friend found herself walking down the 20 flights of the emergency staircase to reach safe grounds. Then, as all trains had stopped, she was left with no choice but to walk two hours to get home. Picking up her little girl from pre-school on the way, she had to wait the next morning for her husband – who was on the other side of town – to make it back home.
In the meantime, her younger sister, who was on a business trip in one of the hardest hit cities in the north, was stranded.
Talking to my friend on Skype soon after arriving at home, she broke down. Seeing her so devastated was not only so hard for me to witness, but made me feel so stupidly helpless.
Yet, as terrifying as her story was, she and her family are more fortunate than countless others.
The long standing effects of all these disasters have taken its toll for many homeless and destitute families.
And as we all know, the harder we try to cling on, to keep going; We will eventually crack.
After all, we are just human.
This is when we discover that the notion of Japan being a nation of mysteriously ‘closed books’ is misconstrued.
During my time in Japan, what I have learned about its people, is that it’s not about the inability or the social taboo of exhibiting one’s true sentiments.
For a nation known for its resilience and super-efficiency, I think, it’s in their nature to be able to stay strong. Through the thick and thin. Fleeting, fair-weather problems or inconveniences barely get a mention.
For the Japanese people, raw emotions are reserved for circumstances that have reached the pinnacle of trauma and tragedy. When something is completely breaking their heart . When it’s hurting them beyond repair.
It is in fact, about holding onto intense grief until all that is left, is to open up and reveal – in all its pain – that the burden is finally too much to carry.
Please keep praying for Japan.
A nation who can no longer go through this ongoing crisis on its own.