Gaman (term)

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This article is about the term. For the film, see Gaman. For the Japanese television show, see Za Gaman.

Gaman (我慢?) is a Japanese term of Zen Buddhist origin which means "enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity".[1] The term is generally translated as "perseverance", "patience", tolerance, or "self-denial".[2] A related term, gamanzuyoi (我慢強い gaman-tsuyoi?), a compound with tsuyoi (strong), means "suffering the unbearable" or having a high capacity for a kind of stoic endurance.[3]

Gaman is variously described as a "law,"[4] a "virtue,"[5] an "ethos,"[6] a "trait,"[7] etc. It means to do one's best in distressed times and to maintain self-control and discipline.[8][9][10][11][12]

Gaman is a teaching of Zen Buddhism.[13]


Gaman has been attributed to the Japanese-Americans and others held in United States' internment camps during World War II[14] and to those affected by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.[15] In the internment camps, Gaman was misperceived by non-Japanese as introverted behavior or as a lack of assertiveness or initiative rather than as a demonstration of strength in the face of difficulty or suffering.[16]

After the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the resilience, civility, lack of looting and ability of the Japanese to help each other was widely attributed to the gaman spirit.[11] The 50–70 workers that remained at the damaged and radiation-emitting Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant despite the severe danger demonstrated what was regarded as gaman as well.[17]

Gaman is also used in psychoanalytic studies[18] and to describe the attitudes of the Japanese. It is often taught to youth and largely used by older Japanese generations. Showing gaman is seen as a sign of maturity and strength. Keeping your private affairs, problems and complaints silent demonstrates strength and politeness as others have seemingly larger problems as well. If a person with gaman were to receive help from someone else, they would be compliant; not asking for any additional help and voicing no concerns.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smithsonian, "The Art of Gaman", "Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-1946"
  2. ^ WWWJDIC
  3. ^ DeMente, Boye. (2003). Japan's Cultural Code Words: 233 Key Terms that Explain the Attitudes and Behavior of the Japanese, pp. 74-75., p. 74, at Google Books
  4. ^ "Crushed, but true to law of gaman," The Australian (Australia), 16 March 2011; headline excerpt, "...true to law of gaman"
  5. ^ "Japanese resilience shines in light of tragedy,"CTV Ottawa (Canada), 19 March 2011; excerpt, "... "it can't be helped," as well as the virtue "gaman" which defies easy translation, ... "
  6. ^ Arnold, Wayne. "Enduring the unendurable," Business Standard (India). 15 March 2011; excerpt, "Experience with crises has shaped the Japanese ethos of “gaman” — “enduring the unendurable”. Even after the March 11 disaster ...."
  7. ^ Jones, Clayton. "A nuclear meltdown in Japan? Not if these brave workers can help it," Christian Science Monitor(US). March 15, 2011; excerpt, "One noble trait that the Japanese admire is gaman. It is their word for the ability to persevere, endure, and overcome, with patience .... Japan may remember them for their gaman despite personal exposure to dangerous levels of radiation.
  8. ^ Shibusawa, T.: Japanese American Elders In: Kolb, Patricia J. (Ed.) (2007). Social Work Practice with Ethnically and Racially Diverse Nursing Home Residents and Their Families, p. 146., p. 146, at Google Books
  9. ^ Burns, Catherine. (2004). Sexual violence and the law in Japan, p. 51., p. 51, at Google Books
  10. ^ "A nuclear meltdown in Japan? Not if these brave workers can help it," Christian Science Monitor(US). March 15, 2011; retrieved 18 March 2011; Arnold, Wayne. "Enduring the unendurable,"Business Standard (India), 15 March 2011; retrieved 18 March 2011
  11. ^ a b "U.S. troops exposed to radiation," Detroit Free Press (US), March 16, 2011; retrieved 18 March 2011; Lloyd, Mike. "Japanese remain calm while dealing with quake aftermath," National Post (Canada). 16 March 2011; retrieved 18 March 2011
  12. ^ "Japan as nuclear crisis worsens," USA Today (US). March 17, 2011; retrieved 28 March 2011
  13. ^ West, Mark I. (2009). The Japanification of Children's Popular Culture: from Godzilla to Miyazaki, p. 4., p. 4, at Google Books
  14. ^ Japanese National American Museum, "The Art of Gaman: Enduring the Seemingly Unbearable with Patience and Dignity," March 2010; retrieved 18 March 2011; "Art by Japanese-American Detainees During World War Two Shows Their Struggle and Humanity," VOA News (US). May 18, 2010; retrieved 18 March 2011
  15. ^ Köhler, Nicholas and Nancy Macdonald with Jason Kirby. "Why the world is wrong to count Japan out," Maclean's (Canada). March 25, 2011.
  16. ^ Niiya, Brian. (1993). Japanese American History: An A-to-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present, p. 143., p. 143, at Google Books, citing Betty Furuta, (1981). "Ethnic Identities of Japanese-American Families: Implications for Counseling," in Understanding the Family: Stress and Change in American Family Life (Cathleen Gerry and Winnifred Humphreys, eds.), pp. 200-231, 212.
  17. ^ Mateo, Ibarra C. "Japanese show power of patience, stoic discipline amid triple crises," Philippine Daily Inquirer, 27 March 2011; excerpt, "Fueled by gaman ..., the workers did not abandon their posts even if it seemed suicidal to go on. They showed another Japanese trait: putting first their country, community and group over their individual concerns."
  18. ^ Johnson, Frank A. (1995) Dependency and Japanese Socialization, p. 181., p. 181, at Google Books
  19. ^ Burns, p. 51., p. 51, at Google Books; Kolb, p. 146., p. 146, at Google Books


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