Sacrifice, teamwork & optimism - Japan on road to recovery

By Ben Humphreys

As a foreigner in Japan from 2003-2010, one of the many interesting and unique aspects of Japanese culture I experienced was that of ‘’jishuku.’’

“Jishuku,” put simply, refers to the act of voluntary restraint, or use of moderation in one’s actions or activities. Jishuku typically occurs after a terrible event or occurrence, in particular, when there has been loss of life or human suffering. In April 2005, in Hyogo Prefecture, a seven-car commuter train derailed, killing 106 passengers and injuring over 550 others. In August, four months later, the annual fireworks festival held by the local city, usually drawing tens of thousands of spectators, was canceled.

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami brought immeasurable devastation to the northeast coast of Japan. In April, the usually festive and much revered season of “hanami” or cherry blossom viewing, saw significantly fewer people out and about drinking and enjoying themselves during parties in April. Extravagant weddings were scaled back, travel plans canceled, and frivolous shopping trips abandoned.

However, no-one is forced into jishuku; rather it’s a personal choice. It is a way of showing solidarity during a time of crisis. With the recent sweltering Japanese summer, and the ongoing power supply issues resulting from the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, saving power or “setsuden” has been more important than ever. Air conditioners were set at 28 degrees rather than 26, lights turned off, and workers were using the stairs, rather than the elevator. Despite these little sacrifices, few people were complaining. Risa, 40 an office worker in Osaka, says: “Some public areas like train stations and supermarkets are dim, and a bit hot to save electricity. But I don’t feel inconvenienced at all. It’s bearable.”

It is this sense of community and selflessness, which I believe to be one of Japanese people’s most admirable and inimitable qualities. The teamwork, synergy and the consciousness of one’s actions can and do affect the lives of others.

Notwithstanding, Japan has significant obstacles to overcome -- massive national debt, a high yen undermining the export dependent economy, a stagnant birth rate, aging population and fewer taxpayers to support them. Fundamental economic and social security reforms must be developed and implemented swiftly, and many are hoping that the new government has the necessary fortitude to instigate these changes. Recently, English language university teachers I speak to refer to the younger population as “lost” and “lacking hunger,” compared with evolving countries like China and Korea.

Despite all this, I still get the sense that many are optimistic, if not a little anxious about the future, and are working hard for a full recovery. I hope that this sense of unity and diligence triumphs, and the great nation recuperates and prospers again.

Ben Humphreys is an EFL Instructor and JACET member living in Melbourne, Australia.

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However, no-one is forced into jishuku; rather it’s a personal choice.

Are you kidding? THe nail is not made of glass.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

In April, the usually festive and much revered season of "hanami" or cherry blossom viewing, saw significantly fewer people out and about drinking and enjoying themselves during parties in April.

Yes. Actually the pointless avoidance of having fun cost Japan's economy. They would have been better to have the hamani events but have a two minute silence before the start in respect for the dead.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The author forgot to add that "jishuku" implies to make the persons feel bad who don't follow all these ideas.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Japan will make it through these hard times. Considering that Japan is only about the size of California and has become one of the world money making countries, it will take some time, but Japan will succeed.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

@Gurukun will take some time, but Japan will succeed.

Yeah, I feel exactly the same. But when some hard-nosed economic realist asks me what evidence there is for my beliefs, I've got no answer at all. It's just a feeling....

3 ( +3 / -0 )

God Gurukun and lucabrasi I hope you are right, I really do.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

At least the examples for jishuku given by the author are not at all special to Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I think the teamwork thing, the Japanese "all pulling together," is really overstated, if not a canard. The Kobe quake, for instance, never created much national solidarity or "selflessness," while now Japanese consumers/tourists are generally avoiding the Fukushima region and its products. The most energized volunteers and cheerleaders, from what I can see, are disproportionately members of the gaijin community.

Not saying that Japan is bad in this respect; just that it's not special.

(BTW, businesses love the 28-degree rule and shutting down elevators. It allows them to cut costs at a critical time of time of year when their energy costs soar. Still, if the private sector en-mass refunds these savings to relief activities, then I'll be impressed.)

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Nice article, but though I agree with the sentiments of jishuku, its economic impact can only be negative. I agree with 2020hindsights that a 2 minute silence at events like hanami and matsuris would not only be appropriate, but more economically viable than full fledged abstinence. On another note, while Tokyo (which is closer to the disaster zones) had fireworks this year, we in Kanagawa didn't. Please explain?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sacrifice, teamwork & optimism - Japan on road to recovery

Is this a statement, a wish, or a question? IMO it clearly is not a statement, since Japan's recent economic performance does not support it being strongly on the road to recovery. So that leaves only a wish or a question. Neither of which is very reassuring about Japan.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

@ JeffLee well said..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Recovery is a rather broad and multifaceted concept. I think few would argue that Japan's economic performance indicates that a recovery is complete. However there is also the recovery of the people, their spirits, hearts and minds. Indeed most Japanese people that I have met during my lifetime are hardworking, good natured and optimistic.

So yes, the title embeds an implicit hope of my own-the author's, plus the optimism and conscientiousness of those around me, coupled with a strong desire for some wise policies from the present government, so that the great nation can continue to recover.

Be it the people, the land, the economy or otherwise.

Ben Humphreys

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Sir, The real greatness and strength of character can be seen only during the time of crisis. The problems can bring best out of us and show the true colour of one and all. The Japanese have shown their ways of bouncing back to the world

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I don't know Jeff, while I can agree that there is a level of apathy, at least the Japanese for the most part, did not loot TVs, shoot each other, and cause massive chaos like in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. Recovery is slow and patience is running thin. Even so, a disaster of that scale, we won't be seeing stable recovery until 1) the global economy starts to strengthen 2) the politicians stop joking around 3) The troublesome reactor in Fukushima is covered with leadlined cement and buried for eternity.

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I fear that a real recovery is not possible this time, because of the ongoing nuclear crisis. Every day I read many heartbreaking news about the contamination, it seems that this tragedy will be worse than Chernobyl, and maybe Japan will become an unvivable country. You could think that I'm too pessimistic, but it's not my fault, it's what I read that makes me feel like that. Believe me, my heart is broken because Japan is my dream since I was a kid. I don't care if it isn't economically strong anymore, I don't care if it isn't a perfect country...I only love it and I want that it continues to exist. I'm Italian, but my heart is in Japan. I dunno why, but I can't stop my emotions.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

unvivable country Sorry, I meant unlivable. My english sucks.

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