Gaman (term)

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Translations of
Glossary of Buddhism

Gaman (我慢) is a Japanese term of Zen Buddhist origin which means "enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity".[1][2] The term is generally translated as "perseverance", "patience", or "tolerance".[3] 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.[4]

Gaman is variously described as 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][7][10]

Gaman is a teaching of Zen Buddhism.[11]


Gaman has been attributed to the Japanese-Americans and others held in the American internment camps during World War II[12][13] and to those affected by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.[14] In the internment camps, gaman was misperceived by the 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.[15] Gaman and the related term yase-gaman are, in Japanese society, closely related to complying with conformity[16][17] and silent heroism, which seems to be hidden pride for compensation for sacrifice[18][19] and being satisfied to pay reciprocal service in advance[20] or to being seen themselves as victims by folks.[21][22] Gaman toward authority, 'unquestioning obedience'[23] or 'blind obedience'[24] is supposed to be unfit to a healthy democracy.[25]

The mentality of gaman seems to be derived from the strong conviction of Japanese way of fatalism,[26] which was reinforced by Buddhism mujo, impermanence,[27][28]nihilism,[29][30] tradition of self destruction,[31] the collective nature of its society,[32] and the forced attitudes of resignation and submission under the Edo feudal period.[33] Those world-views were depicted in The Tale of the Heike, the works of Yoshida Kenkou, Kamo no Chomei. The sequence of events of Japanese fatalism seems to be explained as dormant, ceaseless accumulation of self-righteousness,[34] which is justified by accusing other's faults[35][36][37] rarely explicitly, mainly in their thought, and sudden manifestation of aggression if suppression (gaman) fails.

After the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the resilience, civility, lack of looting and ability of the Japanese to help one another was widely attributed to the gaman spirit.[10] The 50 to 70 heroes who remained at the damaged and radiation-emitting Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant despite the severe danger demonstrated what was regarded as gaman as well.[38]

Gaman is also used in psychoanalytic studies[39] and to describe the attitudes of the Japanese. It is often taught to youth and is largely used by older Japanese generations. Showing gaman is seen as a sign of maturity and strength. Keeping private affairs, problems and complaints silent demonstrates strength and politeness as others have seemingly larger problems as well. If a person with gaman received help from someone else, they would be compliant, not ask for any additional help, and voice no concerns.[9][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Art of Gaman". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  2. ^ "Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps, 1942-1946". Archived from the original on 3 March 2011. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  3. ^ "WWWJDIC". Archived from the original on 11 April 2013. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  4. ^ DeMente 2004, pp. 74–75.
  5. ^ Lang, Kieron (19 March 2011). "Japanese resilience shines in light of tragedy". CTV Ottawa. Retrieved 8 July 2020. ... "it can't be helped", as well as the virtue "gaman" which defies easy translation, ...
  6. ^ Swann, Christopher (20 January 2013). "Atomic nightmares". Business Standard (India). Retrieved 8 July 2020. Experience with crises has shaped the Japanese ethos of "gaman" — "enduring the unendurable". Even after the March 11 disaster ...
  7. ^ a b Jones, Clayton (15 March 2011). "A nuclear meltdown in Japan? Not if these brave workers can help it". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 8 July 2020. 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. ^ a b Kolb 2007, p. 146.
  9. ^ a b Burns 2005, p. 51.
  10. ^ a b Lloyd, Mike (16 March 2011). "Japanese remain calm while dealing with quake aftermath". Archived from the original on 24 March 2011. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  11. ^ West 2009, p. 4.
  12. ^ "The Art of Gaman: Enduring the Seemingly Unbearable with Patience and Dignity". Japanese National American Museum. March 2010. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  13. ^ "Art by Japanese-American Detainees During World War Two Shows Their Struggle and Humanity". VOA News. 18 May 2010. Archived from the original on 18 September 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  14. ^ Köhler, Nicholas; Macdonald, Nancy; Kirby, Jason (25 March 2011). "Why the world is wrong to count Japan out". Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  15. ^ Niiya 1993, p. 143.
  16. ^ Dower 1986, p. 230.
  17. ^ MacFarlane 2007, p. 228.
  18. ^ Hearn 1904, pp. 245–241.
  19. ^ Dower 1986, pp. 132–133.
  20. ^ Benedict 1946, pp. 116, 230–232.
  21. ^ Takeo 1971, pp. 129–130.
  22. ^ Dower 1999, pp. 284, 518.
  23. ^ Hearn 1904, pp. 204, 243.
  24. ^ van Wolferen 1989, p. 250.
  25. ^ Dower 1999, p. 218.
  26. ^ Ian Kershaw, Fateful Choices, 2007, page334, 347
  27. ^ Nakamura Hajime, Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples,1964/1985, p352
  28. ^ Hiroshi Minami, Psychology of the Japanese People,1953/1971, translated by A.R.Ikoma, p39,44
  29. ^ Keiji Nishitani
  30. ^ Hiroshi Minami, Psychology of the Japanese People,1953/1971, translated by A.R.Ikoma, p39,43,44
  31. ^ Dower 1999, p. 284.
  32. ^ Saul Kassin et., Social Psychology,2017, page71,583
  33. ^ Nakamura Hajime, Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples,1964/1985, p366
  34. ^ Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,1946, p315
  35. ^ Matthew 11:16~19
  36. ^ Ruth Benedict, The chrysanthemum and the sword,1946, page190
  37. ^ G.B.Sansom, Japan: A short cultural history, Stanford University Press,1978, page53
  38. ^ Mateo, Ibarra C. (27 March 2011). "Japanese show power of patience, stoic discipline amid triple crises". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on 11 September 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2020. 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.
  39. ^ Johnson 1995, p. 181.


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