• Melbourne, Australia


One of the many interesting and unique aspects of Japanese culture that I experienced as a foreigner in Japan from 2003 to 2010 was jishuku. Jishuku refers to voluntary moderation in one’s actions, typically after a terrible event or occurrence involving loss of life or human suffering. Jishuku is a personal choice; no one is forced into it. It is a way of showing solidarity.

For example, in April 2005, in Hyogo Prefecture near Osaka, a commuter train derailed, killing 106 passengers and injuring more than 500 others. Four months later, a local city’s annual fireworks festival, which customarily drew tens of thousands of spectators, was canceled.

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami brought immeasurable devastation to the northeast coast of Japan. April saw significantly fewer people out and about drinking and enjoying themselves during the much-revered cherry-blossom festivities. Extravagant weddings were scaled back, travel plans canceled, and frivolous shopping trips abandoned.

Amid the sweltering heat this summer, saving electricity formerly supplied by the disabled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is more important than ever. Air conditioners are set at 28 Celsius, lights are turned off, and workers use the stairs rather than elevators.

Few people seem to be complaining. It is this sense of community and cooperation that I believe to be one of Japanese people’s most admirable and inimitable qualities.

Notwithstanding that, Japan has significant obstacles to overcome: massive national debt, a high yen undermining the export-dependent economy, a stagnant birthrate, an aging population and a declining number of taxpayers. Fundamental economic and social security reforms must be developed and enacted swiftly.

Recently, some of the English-language university teachers with whom I speak refer to the younger population as “lost” and “lacking hunger,” compared with their counterparts in China and South Korea.

Yet, I still sense that many Japanese people 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 once again.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

ben humphreys

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