text and photo by
Grigoris A. Miliaresis
Anyone who happens to come to Japan after “that day”, March 11, 2011 won’t fail to notice the slogan “Ganbaro Nippon!” (がんばろう日本!) which can be loosely rendered as “Hang in there, Japan!” Translating the verb “ganbaru” though, is not easy because it is one of the most widely used words of the Japanese language with many nuances; another way to render it would be “I do what I can”, “I don’t give up”, “I keep on trying”, “ I give everything I got” –all this and something more. Maybe together with “shoganai” (“what can we do”, “it can’t be helped”), ganbaru is the motto of the Japanese people.
What is impressive with “Ganbaro Nippon!” though is that it is written in the volitional form which means it can be better translated by an expression such as “let’s try together” or “let’s all hang in there”. And it is impressive because it gives to the tragedy of March 11 a national dimension. The areas stricken by the disaster might be in the Tohoku area of the north-eastern Honshu but the Japanese share the feeling that the strike to Tohoku was a strike to Japan as a whole. And that overcoming its impact is a common effort; whether they live in Tohoku or anywhere else.
Among the many things that excite me in Japan, this sense of unity (which, by the way is not limited to the disasters and the response to their consequences) is probably what I would chose first. Anyone wondering how Japan managed to overcome the multi-faceted shocks from the Meiji period’s (1868-1912) modernization, from World War II and from the various natural disasters, should search the answer there, in the still dominant sense of social and national unity of the Japanese people. The age of the samurai might be long gone but in Japan the personal is always national and vice versa; with everything good and bad this might entail.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.