Japan has endured a chequered history. Experiencing a devastating collapse after World War II, the country has gradually and painstakingly restored itself into the great nation and dignified culture that we know and love today.

What factors lie behind this miraculous metamorphosis? We look back over centuries of culture for the answer.

Bowing as a mode of respectful greeting is typical in Japan today. The phenomenon of bowing can be seen everywhere, among all ages, genders, and social classes. It implies politeness and forbearance. It also shows that Japanese people are humble in their presentation toward one another.

Bowing, among other typically Japanese traits, is said to help constitute the country’s idiosyncratic wonder and charm.

Tolerance in the face of defeat

When two United States atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, the culmination of World War II was simultaneously the ruin of Japan. Three million Japanese were killed, or missing, and 40 percent of urban areas  were left destroyed.

Major cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Kobe, and Kagoshima were levelled to the ground, their former stature reduced to rubble.

Japan lost everything to World War II, from its former colonies to its sovereignty. The future of the country hung in the balance.

Hiroshima City, devastated by bombing. (Photo: Pinterest)

The Japanese people, however, refused to yield in the face of adversity. Japanese identity held strong, prepared to endure, and bolstered by a burning desire: to revive the country. Putting aside national pride, the country as a whole overcame the pain of losing the war and internalized its mistakes.

Japan, collectively, focused its attention on rebuilding the country.

After 1945, food was rationed and queues of hungry citizens lined the streets. (Photo: Pinterest)

While other great international powers rushed into the arms race, the Japanese favored patience, even if it meant they would temporarily compromise their position in the international league table.

Japan quietly remained under the reliable protection of the United States. The country gradually eschewed belligerence in favor of becoming a democratic state with a free market economy. 

The miraculous story of Japan’s recovery became known to the world at large when, a mere ten years after the war, the economy began to recover in a measurable way. A decade further into the future and the country was entering into a period of booming development, growing on average 10 percent (in economic standards) every single year.

In 1968, Japan became the second most powerful economy in the world, with China as the front runner since 2010 only.

As an indication of its strength, fortitude, and immense national talent, Japan is also currently the Asian country with the greatest number of native Nobel Prize winners, spanning  fields from science to literature.

What can we learn from forbearance?

Japanese culture places tremendous importance on appreciating and respecting the cultures of different countries.  The Japanese will both learn and gain from this open-minded approach and fascinating cultural osmosis.

The Japanese are extremely practised at appreciating the culture of others. (Photo: Pinterest)

Ancient China under the Sui-Tang dynasty was at its highest developmental peak. At that time, Japan so admired Chinese civilization and Confucian culture that the country decided to send 13 ambassadors to China to study its politics, culture, regime, and nationalism.

As a result of this research, Japan created the famous Taika Reform, indicating a huge development in Japan’s history as a nation. Japan continued to exchange and learn from China in the centuries that followed.

Following the weakening of the Qing dynasty in China and the international domination of Western powers, the Japanese focused their attention instead upon learning about Western civilization, and the political and cultural practises that might benefit their own development.

A sense of national responsibility

The Japanese people’s desire to learn came hand-in-hand with a deep sense of responsibility.

At an export exhibition in Tokyo in 1985, a Mr. Kyosera (the chairman of Japan’s largest porcelain company) gave an opening speech that touched the hearts of thousands. In particular, speaking of advances in science and technology, Kyosera said that the Japanese had taken lessons and inspiration from the whole world’s technological advances. It was time for Japan, in turn, to repay the world. Japan must, he said, act as a pioneer  in fulfilling the needs of international scientific inquiry.

Japan, having rejuvenated its economy, status, and cultural pride since the numerous setbacks of the past, is today equipped with the resources to contribute in a significant way to a number of fields, including scientific research.

An emblem of development: Japan’s first four-seated Toyota automobile, launched in 1936. (Photo: Wikipedia)
National pride on display at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (Photo: Pinterest)

It is quite safe to say that Japanese people have perfected the art of forbearance. In the face of adversity, the country is willing to forgive, forget, and even understand its contemporaries. To shake hands, cooperate, and learn from one another are practised skills that have stood the country in exceptionally good stead since as far back as ancient times.

Self-respect does not equate to stubbornness. Ancient precepts and traditional lifestyles are not incompatible with a desire to learn and develop. And today, not only within the United States but internationally, Japan is recognized and respected for its unparalleled forbearance.

Indeed, a little forbearance can fortify a nation.

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