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  • Have Your Say: Letters to the Editor re my Oct 4 2011 Japan Times JBC column, “Japan needs less ganbatte, more genuine action”

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on November 1st, 2011

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    Hi Blog. Two positive letters were printed in the Japan Times HAVE YOUR SAY column, regarding my October 4, 2011 column, “Japan needs less ganbatte, more genuine action“:

    The Japan Times, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011
    Ganbatte and gaman stifle debate, hinder recovery

    Nuclear debate discouraged (excerpt)

    Re: “Japan needs less ganbatte, more genuine action” by Debito Arudou (Just Be Cause, Oct. 4):

    I was wondering when such an article would show up in the newspapers. Thank you for finally commenting on some of the finer workings of how the triple disaster is being dealt with in Japan.

    Like any event on this scale, the catastrophe has brought out the best and worst in Japanese culture. While one cannot help but admire the stoicism, calmness and composure in dealing with the events in March, the lack of discussion about the future of nuclear energy, food safety and lessons learnt is shocking.

    For non-Japanese it is difficult to follow the social workings in Japan. Concepts such as ganbatte and gaman, which are raised by the author, play an important part in discouraging necessary debate. Also, the Japanese social convention of considering the expectations and feelings of others suppresses discussion….

    Rest of the letters at:


    12 Responses to “Have Your Say: Letters to the Editor re my Oct 4 2011 Japan Times JBC column, “Japan needs less ganbatte, more genuine action””

    1. kintaman Says:

      I could not agree more. Ever since 3-11 I have been hearing nothing but “Gabatte Nippon”. It is a completely empty gesture to show they are doing the bare minimum. The people should be on the streets demanding that those in power (J-government, TEPCO, Japanese media – execs, anchors and reporters who were complicit with lying to the public about the safety) be imprisoned for the crimes against Japan. Serious action should be TAKEN (not ganbatte) to fully quarantine the affected areas and seek international help to resolve, contain and clean up this issue. The people and the world also need to have the real dangers communicated to them. This is beyond insanity, really. The people need to take action now because if they do not this could very well tip Japan over the edge (if not already). This is Japan’s most critical time in its history.

    2. JFCwow Says:

      I totally agree with your article Debito. I also agree mostly with the writers at the link you have posted here, with one exception. The second writer (Robert I think it was), had to throw in the “Japan is an island nation” comment at the end of his rather well written letter. Japan is an Island nation, so the F what? Ireland, England, New Zealand and Cyprus are all island nations, just to name a few. These places are never described by the locals as an “island nation” and the same fact does not matter here. Island nation or not, people should strive to help out their fellow man in times of crisis or not. The world has become far to cynical a place (I myself am very cynical, something I must mention so as to not be a hypocrite), only offering help to others when something big happens. My thoughts on all these people are be uniform about your “caring” or be labeled a hypocrite.

    3. the strange workings of ‘gaman’ and ‘ganbatte’, again « the enigma of arrival Says:

      […] More comments on the comments here. […]

    4. DR Says:

      “Activity suggests a life filled with purpose,” is my favorite quote from “The Sound of Music” and it could easily be re-written to be, “Ganbatte suggests we’re actually doing something about the problem!” Hence the need for “gaman” when you realize that you’re on your own!

      An example of this “Ganbatte!” is on The Raw Story today, here: and it defies reason, at least to me. I am reminded of Alex Kerr’s reference to Donen/Genden’s cartoon touting the safety of nuclear power, using a character called “Pu” (chemical symbol for Plutonium), and showing said character drinking a couple of glasses of ‘Pu’ flavored water saying, “Ah! Refreshing!” It was art imitating life, aimed at primary school kids. (Book in storage, sorry, can’t quote the page.)

      Must roll another joint, inhale………aaahhh! exhale! “Ganbatte” just took on a whole new meaning for me today. Up is down, perilous is ‘safety’ and the Japanese government has lost what was left of its radiation-addled mind!

    5. Charuzu Says:

      Japan would be far better if it had a strong indigenous journalistic resource to raise the issues herein raised.

      I wish that Japan had an entity similar to this: in the US

      or in the UK

      or in the Netherlands

    6. kintaman Says:

      I may sound overly dramatic here but I personally feel that this is the end for Japan in slow motion. Given the extent of the damage to the reactors and the volume of radiation released I do not think the government can hide it for much longer. The contamination is spreading to Tokyo via the rain, air, water and food. Once the illnesses and child deformities start to appear in (my unqualified estimate) 3-5 years that will be the start of a panic and people will start leaving Tokyo en masse (it will be too late of course) and this will be the end of the Japanese economy as we know it.

      I, of course, hope this does not transpire but I do not see how it can go any other way. I am still in shock over what has happened only 7 months ago in Fukushima due to the carelessness and greed of TEPCO. To risk the safety of a nation with such a long history and deep culture over money is beyond disgusting and truly tragic beyond words.

      My sincere hope is that ALL responsible for this get what they deserve in full.

    7. Jeffrey Says:

      Charuzu Says: November 2nd, 2011 at 2:12 am

      Japan would be far better if it had a strong indigenous journalistic resource to raise the issues herein raised.

      I wish that Japan had an entity similar to this: in the US

      * * * * *


      I am a good (if grumbling about how much better it used to be) consumer of NPR and the few programs Propublica gets aired there. It’s existence, unfortunately, means nothing anymore.

      Remember, by 2003 it was common knowledge and reported even in the MSM that the Bush administration had lied it’s way into Iraq. Did that prevent the re-election of Shrub in 2004?

      We all know now that the housing and financial market were wrecked by dishonesty and the lack of regulatory oversight at the highest levels. Hell, “Inside Job” won the Academy Award for best documentary exposing this. Has this led to the arrest and prosecution of the heads of the major banks and mortgage brokerages, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the bond rating agencies?

      The U.S. probably enjoys more press and association freedoms than any other democracy. Therefore, if we don’t do it here (no, the OWS is not going to change anything), you could have every well-known and well-respected member of Japan’s press and academia on television and radio yammering on about how the Japanese government and industry are, again, screwing the public and it will amount to nothing.

      There has never been a revolution in Japan in which the “common people” led. There isn’t likely to be one now regardless of how much information is made available to them.

      — Just a point of order: If we’re going to debate the state of NJ media, please keep relating it back to Japan, as you do above, thanks.

    8. Charuzu Says:


      I think that your post conflates several things.

      My point is directed towards the ingtrinsic benefits of a far more thorough investigative journalism in Japan.

      Your points are that a small but vigorous press did not cause GW Bush to not be elected nor lead to criminal law prosecutions.

      I would argue that investigative journalism has intrinsic benefits, even in the absence of any large-scale social changes attributable to such journalism.

      Having the truth be aired has a long-term effect creating further public expectations of openness.

      Given that Japan suffers from a deficit of transparency, efforts to improve such transparency are per se beneficial.

      They need not result in an immediate benefit such as a change in ruling party or criminal convictions.

      Indeed, one should be worried about societies in which individuals are prosecuted primarily on the basis of newspaper articles.

      Criminal justice should be conducted neutrally, and on the basis of legal norms.

      Journalism ought not to be conducted using the same standards.

    9. Jeffrey Says:

      Charuzu Says:
      November 4th, 2011 at 10:39 pm


      I think that your post conflates several things.

      * * * * *

      I didn’t conflate anything. You gave three examples of investigative journalism found abroad and absent in Japan. Your point, whether stated or not, was that things change when the people know the facts. My counter point was that there is very little truth to this in the world and, further, even if the Japanese public knew all the details about what happened at the Daiichi facility, etc., and were all aware of what little effort the government has made up to this point in Tohoku recovery they still wouldn’t be up in arms. Nothing in Japan’s history suggests that anything remotely like this has ever happened and the existence of an aggressive and free press wouldn’t change this.

      Whether you understand this or not (I can’t gauge your understanding of Japan from just a couple of postings) you’re not merely advocating a change in the Japanese press but a change in the fundamental character of the nation. The only time in the last one-hundred and forty odd years that Japan has made dramatic and necessary change is when required to due to foreign influences and force. Given the magnitude of what happened in Tohoku and given the lingering post-Bubble malaise, I was hoping it would be a Black Ships moment that would finally move the government and the people as a whole. No such luck.

    10. Jim Di Griz Says:

      I agree with Jeffrey. What Japan have you been looking at ‘Charuzu’?
      I can’t be bothered to write an essay for you, but Jeffrey is right to suspect that the Japanese will only make changes when forced directly by external pressure (maybe in future the Chinese will have better luck at this than the US has had).

      I think the root cause of this is historical. The rights and responsibilities of the individual in a democratic state are internalized in the common psychology by key events. In the UK (and most of western Europe) it was the industrial revolution, and associated labour disputes, that led to a common sense of political awareness and participation in the mechanics of democracy. In the US it was the War of Independence. In both these cases, people made sacrifices and struggled physically against the status quo of the day in order to effect changes. The struggle has not been forgotten (as a cultural phenomena), hence the cultural memory that ‘you should not waste your vote/ you should vote’.
      The Japanese has never gone through any kind of bottom up, or revolutionary process. All changes enforced on the country have been passed down to the people as a done deal from their ‘betters’ (the bakufu, government, etc). The Japanese have remarkably little history of active participation in the creation of their ‘democracy’, and as such, have very little understanding of how a democracy works (vis a vis; the relationship between the people and the government). Not surprisingly therefore is there not only a lack of expectation by the people of the politicians, but also a lack of interest. generally, a feudal mindset that politics is something that ordinary people shouldn’t be too concerned about, and should be left to the class of (self-appointed) leaders (used to be samurai, now it is hereditary politicians).
      There was some hope in the immediate post-war period when the official US policy was to democratize Japan following the war-time nationalism. In this period there began a flourish of radical and mainstream parties and publications, but all was quashed by the ‘reverse-course’, which pushed the nationalists back into power so fast that (even!) MacArthur lamented that the Japan Teachers Union was the last remaining true hope for democracy in Japan.

      — Can you give us a source for the MacArthur lament? Thanks.

    11. Jim Di Griz Says:

      It was in ‘Post War Japan as History’, Andrew Gordon. Can’t remember the page number, read it when I was a student. I recommend this book highly. Covers the unrest of the 60’s very well, and the anti-Narita airport demos, and has a great section on anti-zainichi violence.

    12. Charuzu Says:


      You state:

      “Your point, whether stated or not, was that things change when the people know the facts. ”

      The “things” that change are mental perceptions, and those change only slowly and after much repetition.

      A change in perceptions need not lead to a nation in arms.

      Moreover, I am sceptical of regular analogies between Japan and the US, because I think that the USA is in many ways sui generis.

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