"Gambate!""Gambarimasu!""Gambarou"...we've probably heard this one word in its many variations THOUSANDS of times during our nine months in Japan.It means, roughly, "try with everything you have" and can be used in just about any situation, from toilet training your kid to making a lovely swan from a small square of origami paper.A woman who attends our language school said that after her mother, who lived in Iran, had suddenly died, her Japanese friends tried to console her with, "Gambate!"("Try your hardest?"To do what??)At first we thought it was some kind of cliché, a popular catch phrase that would come and go like "totally radical," or something to say when you're at a loss for words in an uncomfortable situation.But the longer we've lived here, the more we've realized that the "Gambate" idea has actually been around for a really, really long time...and will likely be sticking around.
Last week we ordered a pizza from a local Pizza Hut.Precisely 30 minutes later a teenager with dyed-red hair came up the drive on a sputtering moped, which was slightly imbalanced by stacks of vinyl-covered pizza boxes... it was pouring down rain, and the poor guy looked like he'd been at it for hours.I paid him and said "it must be tough riding around in the rain like that, delivering pizzas..." but he gave me a perky smile and said, "no, no, rain is really good for business!"Promptly he bowed, said "thank you for buying this pizza" and was on his way.Gosh, I'd never seen anyone so intense about pizza delivery...he was definitely living up the spirit of "Gambate."It was funny to try to imagine a similar thing happening back in Dayton, Ohio.
I don't quite understand it yet, but it seems that in Japan, people "try hard" partly simply for the sake of it, partly because everyone else is trying hard, partly out of respect for authority, and partly because you wouldn't know what to do with yourself if you didn't...It's a cultural norm so engrained that you stick out like a sore thumb if you're not, say, a businessman who stays at the office for 12 to 16 hours a day, a student who also attends juku, (private after-school cram courses), or a mom who spends hours painstakingly making beautiful boxed lunches for her children.There are both strong group expectations and a sense of personal perfectionism that are amazingly intense in almost every area of life. Coming from free-flowing America, I feel both incredibly clumsy and thankful that I don't have to ultimately worry about carving flowers or animals from nutritious vegetables.
One of the most valuable things God has taught our little family is to keep right on laughing at ourselves.There is absolutely no way to comfortably "blend in" with Japanese culture, no matter how hard we may try, but there are ways to meaningfully relate to people who have been informed by radically different ideas about what's "normal."Part of our ministry here will just be listening to people who have been trying to "work hard" their whole lives.Pray for us as we continue to seek God's guidance about how to rightly be affected by, and to affect, those around us.Adam and Sarah give you all a big e-hug!
P.S.This month's picture is of a Nichiren Zen Buddhist ceremony associated with the tanabata season.We stumbled across this ceremony in nearby Kamakura, and were handed a pamphlet reminding us to "faithfully attend to our home Buddhist rituals."It also reminded people to pay attention to "Four Precious Precepts:Taking Care of Life, Taking Care of Others, Taking Care of our Hearts, and Taking Care of Precious Things..."
Dwight, Kari, Adam & Sarah Davidson