Wataru Takekuma, 36, is a government worker in Toyama Prefecture's Kurobe City. With a population of 43,000, Kurobe is one of the four areas in Japan that made it to the 2008 UNESCO list of the 12 most abundant subsurface water resources in Asia. Takekuma was born and raised in this town where people still gather around outdoor wells overflowing with fresh water to cool melons, wash vegetables and crack jokes. He adores his wife and two kids and considers himself a typical country boy, having grown up learning judo and living by its moral code of helping others without expecting anything in return. So far he has given blood 146 times, and last year he even donated bone marrow, acts of kindness he says are nothing to write home about.

If you grow up surrounded by treasures, you assume that everyone lives that way. In my home town of Kurobe, if you drill down 30 meters anywhere, a spring will appear that provides an unlimited supply of fresh water 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, at exactly 11 C. We have our own spring inside our house from which water pours nonstop out onto the street, where there are open pools at which neighbors gather to chat. We have so much water so close to home that you hear, smell and see water everywhere.

The strong perform well even if they don't get cheered on, but the weak need all the encouragement they can get. Even if they still can't make it to their goal, that's not the point. Japanese love cheering the underdog. A great example is Haru Urara, a racehorse the whole nation adored and bet on, even though she never won. She ran as fast as she could but lost all of her 113 races. It is a telling statement about our national psyche that we loved her anyhow and didn't mind losing our money on her.