The Japanese art of Resilience

My daughter’s Roly-poly is one of her oldest toys, for obvious reasons. Weighted on the bottom, it bounces back up every time its knocked down. In her play world of battery drained and broken toys, it has stood the test of time. Like the Japanese proverb- “nana korobi ya oki” – seven times down, eight times up. Like Japan- where kindergarten kids are not only trained in survival drills but the spirit to endure.

For a country highly prone to natural hazards- Japan has not just survived but emerged stronger in the face of adversity, every time. Having witnessed and withstood the effects of disasters -from earthquakes to volcanic eruptions, tsunamis to typhoons, floods and fire- Japan has developed unique skills in coping with natural disasters. Building on their experiences and expertise in rapid recovery, the country has made disaster-proofing into an exact science.

The tenacity of the Japanese to overcome the overwhelming waves of crisis is intriguing. Especially when subject to crippling calamities, back to back, in the last 100 years. This generation has endured the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that destroyed Tokyo; the two nuclear bombs in 1945; the Kobe earthquake of 1995, no sooner followed by the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack; the triple disaster of Tohoku-  an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in 2011 and Typhoon Hagibis in 2019 that caused widespread destruction and death.

The rebirth of Hiroshima, now home to 1.1 million people, is testimonial to its Phoenix like spirit to rise from the ashes. Its restoration started just three days after the nuclear devastation. Tokyo is a miracle in itself. For a city that went up in flames more than once, it is the World’s Best Cities to Live In 2020. Not many cities have had to be rebuilt ground up as Tokyo. In 1964, less than 20 years after the devastating effects of WWII, Tokyo hosted its first Olympic Games. Yoshinori Sakai, who yielded the Olympic flame as the Games opened, was born on 6 August 1945, the same day his hometown Hiroshima was bombed.

One of my favorite reads of 2019 was Ikigai. The book addresses resilience through the notion of Ikigai. People with clearly defined Ikigai (reason to live) are resilient – they never give up, they pursue their passion against all odds. They know how to pick themselves up, and get back to what gives meaning to their lives. Active coping strategies, such as helping in the clean-up or looking after family, community support and the ability to adapt to suffering have a deep traction in Japanese culture. One that sometimes leaves the world dumbfounded. In the 2018 World Cup, even after Japan’s heartbreaking loss to Belgium,  fans were seen cleaning up after themselves, picking up litter under their stadium seats.

My fridge magnet reads the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” There’s much to take inspiration from a culture that lives this prayer. Much to learn. And humanity needs it now more than ever. It is said that a “A good half of the art of living is resilience“. Hopefully when the Tokyo Olympic torch lights in 2021, it will symbolize the resilience of a world in the midst of a global pandemic.

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