Sunday, October 12, 2008

Taking 'perseverance' and turning it up a notch or three

In my personal opinion, there is one word in the Japanese language that really says a lot about the Japanese people. It's used almost daily, in reference to a multitude of situations and experiences....most often it is used in its negative form.

Koji uses it when he has to go to the toilet and someone is already in there. Issei uses it when his DS has been put away for a certain amount of time on one of his "game days". The K-Man uses it (though not as often as he would tell you!!) when I've made something for dinner that isn't to his liking. I do it everyday...from driving in traffic to working the crazy-go-mad schedule I sometimes have. The K-man and I both use it when we discuss our financial situation.

The word is gaman. According to one of the dictionaries I use, to gaman is to "persevere, tolerate, endure, carry on despite heavy trials, have patience".
Listen to any conversation and I can almost guarantee that sooner or later, that word will be brought up. Someone is gaman-ing all the time.

In the Japanese culture, it's better to gaman a situation than it is to cause anyone a problem or embarrassment by trying to change that situation. (Sometimes, I think that there is a very fine line between gaman and ignoring....but that's just my thinking!!)

There has been some excitement here in Japan with the latest announcements of Nobel Peace Prize winners. There were quite a few Japanese given this dubious award...and one man in particular who received this award, Osamu Shimomura, is the one who has taken the simple word of gaman and made it a part of his life work......since the early 1960's....with these.....


****Sidenote about Mr. Shimomura before I continue....though he was born in Kyoto, his family moved to Nagasaki a few years later. One of my students said that he was actually blinded for a short time because of the atomic bomb. He studied and worked here, at Nagasaki University for 15 years. The people of Nagasaki are very proud of him.
Mr. Shimomura started his jellyfish research at Princeton in 1960. He was researching specifically the GFP, or green fluorescent protein found in jellyfish. During the summers, he would take his family (wife and two children) to Washington state and collect the jellyfish he needed for his research....which was up to 3,000...... a day!!!
There was a funny story about how his family members and assistants would scoop up the jellyfish and then put them in one of the 30 buckets he had placed along the pier. Many of the locals were curious as to what they were doing with so many jellyfish...did they cook them or eat them raw?
Mr. Shimomura is a researcher who is dedicated to his work....he has spent more than half his life working with jellyfish and the GFP. He has truly gamaned, in every sense of the word, and plus some.
And what does his discovery mean to you and me? Though you or I may not benefit from this research, our children and their children will. The GFP is being used in cancer and Alzheimer's cure research. Two of my students (one a doctor, the other in pharmacology and was a student of Mr. Shimomura's at Nagasaki University many moons ago) explained that the GFP will help to find the source of cancer when injected into a patients system....possibly working the same way with Alzheimer's...if you find the source and can see the course a disease is running, it will be easier to stop. Mr. Shimomura....and his ability to work so gaman in his research....I say "Congratulations!!" and "Thank you"....and bow very deeply in his direction.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I can see why Japan is so proud of him.

Mary Alice said...

What a great example. Gaman. In Latter-day Saint culture, they are forever referring to "endure to the end" It was that concept that got my husband's forefathers across the plains, one step at a time to settle in Utah. I guess that is a similar idea, to Gaman.

phd in yogurtry said...

My children could stand a bit more gamen when it comes to their homework.

Thanks for one of those posts where I add to my knowledge. Now I know. How is it pronounced, I assume gah-mon?

Laura/CenterDownHome said...

Then there's knowing when to quit ...

I guess, at the center is the goal, the reason, the purpose. Gaman-ing for gaman-ing's sake is not the same as keeping your eye on the prize. :)

Like, right now, I'm waiting for my coffee. If I were just sitting and waiting, that would be one thing, but waiting while I hear the coffee maker and smell my morning coffee,and get out my favorite mug, that's different!

I find it inspiring that Mr. Shimomura had a goal and worked toward it, employing gaman. That definitely makes it more about perseverance than stoicism.

g said...

Wonderful post. "Gaman" is a good word. I'll take it to work with me!

And how inspiring is the story of Mr. Shimomura.