If you want to learn about perseverance — about sticking doggedly to a task despite the difficulties, and patiently bearing discomfort to achieve a wider goal — then Japan is the place for you.

I used to work alongside a French-language teacher in Kobe. The reason he came to Japan was his love of martial arts, and his desire to attend a dojo here. He found one with a reputable teacher and popped in on his day off to ask about starting lessons. He was told that the teacher was unavailable, but was invited to wait for him. Two hours passed and the teacher did not appear. The would-be student again asked if he could see the teacher, and was again asked to wait. A further two hours passed. Eventually, the teacher appeared, congratulated my colleague on passing the test of his resolve, and accepted him as a student.

If taken at face value, this is a good illustration of the importance traditionally attached in Japan to perseverance. A proverb neatly encapsulates the thought: 石の上にも三年 (ishi no ue nimo san-nen). This literally translates as, “Three years upon the rock.” Have you been working at that good-for-nothing company for a year now and are sick of it? Well, tough luck. This proverb implores you to stick at it for another two years. The uncomfortable rock beneath you might finally start to soften.