Japanese guts

In Japan they have a phrase: Yamato gokoro (大和心). It’s three Japanese ideograms sometimes translated as “Japanese spirit.” The last character, 心 — pronounced “kokoro” when standing alone — is usually translated as “heart,” but the character is a picture of not just the heart, but the heart, the lungs, and the liver — “innards,” or better yet, “guts.”

Yamato gokoro, “Japanese guts,” is the willingness of the Japanese to suck it up, to endure hardships and to give up their individual well-being in favor of their family, their group, their country.

That’s what we’ve seen in the last three weeks: Japanese guts. The example that we see the most in the United States is in Fukushima, and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) workers. Many of these people have lost their homes, their possessions, their family members and their pets to the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the almost unimaginable tsunami that reached as high as 100 feet at some places on the coast.

These people are working 24 hours a day, in immensely difficult conditions, to prevent a possible disaster. And they are by no means alone in this: read the English-language Japanese press, or blogs by people in Japan, and you’ll read a thousand stories — people sharing their hardships, helping their neighbors, working together spontaneously as they begin to rebuild.

Yamato gokoro is perhaps the most noble of human characteristics, and it’s hardly limited to the Japanese. Any time you hear of a soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his friends, or firefighters going into a burning building, you’re hearing an example of kokoro — not Japanese kokoro, but human kokoro, the guts it takes to press on, to persevere, and finally to conquer.

It’s all too easy to forget this, however, when we look at press reports coming out of Japan.

We hear of Fukushima workers “fleeing” the plant, when what happened is they left for a few hours.

We hear about the appearance of tiny amounts of radioactive iodine in Tokyo tap water — but nothing the next day, when it returns to safe levels.

We hear a thousand commentators mention one measurement that was ten million times normal — but nothing when that turns out to have been a measurement error, made by someone who had little sleep and the weight of the world on his shoulders.

We hear people spinning tales of “worst case scenarios” ten thousand times worse than anything that could plausibly happen — and almost nothing about the fact that the Fukushima reactors endured an earthquake 32 times as forceful as they had been designed for, followed by a tsunami twice as high, and still largely survived.

We hear about “plutonium in the soil” — but not that it’s an amount so tiny that pound for pound, bananas in the grocery store are five thousand times more radioactive.

The London Daily Mail reports that the workers “expect to die,” but not that the worst radiation exposure among all the workers amounts to about as much as 15 CT scans, a dose that not only isn’t fatal, but that has no observable health effects.

A lot of bad reporting seems to come from mere scientific illiteracy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jasmine-Clark/1785223171 Jasmine Clark

    ganbatte =)
    great article!

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  • bigsigh

    You miss my point. It is a huge, enormous disaster with terrible consequences, we agree on that. The difference is the response of the people.

  • MSimon

    You are assuming you can trust TEPCO. I think that is an erroneous assumption.

    OK: limit vs normal – it is hard to say without numbers but I think limits are likely to be from 10X to 1,000X normal. What does changing the base that way give you? Smaller numbers. Now why would they do that?

    From what I can see the IAEA and Greenpeace are more reliable than TEPCO when it comes to actual numbers. And I don’t trust the IAEA or Greenpeace much at all.

    How about this guy from Japan who doesn’t trust TEPCO on the radiation numbers:


    BTW – correction: radiation spew rate is considered 60% to 70% of Chernobyl. Chernobyl spew lasted 8 to 10 days. Fukushima is now going on 3 weeks. No end in sight.

    This is a very serious accident. Not in terms of human life (although it is going to cost some, maybe many – we will not know how many for a year or three). Where it is going to cost is in lost land from the exclusion zone and the cost of verifying radiation on outbound products. And unfortunately made in Japan will mean “radioactive” for some time to come. The fact that the numbers and reports are obviously untrustworthy (it will come out in time for those not following the reports closely) will hurt them long term.

    Further – there are rumors that the site is becoming too hot even for “jumpers”. If they have to abandon work because of radiation levels the SWRHTF.

    And then we have the wind blowing towards Tokyo come May. And then the monsoons. They have ordered a $ billion in concrete pumps. But unless they start amassing sand, gravel, and portland cement quickly they will not be pumping cement any time soon.

    In any case they are going to have to wait until things cool off (temperature wise) and that could take months to years.

    If you want to read some non-Pollyanna and non-hysterical (I only sound that way because I have a feel for how bad things really are) views of the accident visit my blog. You know where to find me.

    And for the rest of you just Google “Power and Control”.

  • MSimon

    “The evil government is hiding things and their response lacking.”

    But it is true of TEPCO. They are hiding things and their response has been lacking. Why? It is explained here:


    And Charlie, it is no longer radiation thousands of times NORMAL. It is now 10,000 times LIMIT. Radiation spew once this is under control is expected to be 5X to 10X Chernobyl. The rate is about 1/3 Chernobyl. But it has already gone on 3X as long. With no end in sight.

    But I will say this. For now things are not so bad. But it isn’t over.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charlie-Martin/625252424 Charlie Martin

      Simon, once again — like with the “10 million times” report a few days agao — you’ve gotten caught by an erroneous report. TEPCO withdrew that.

      I’m not exactly clear on what “it’s not just 10,000 times normal, but 10,000 times limit” is supposed to imply, but unless you’re making the erronear assumption that I dno’t think there was a reactor accident there, it’s not mvery meaningful.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charlie-Martin/625252424 Charlie Martin

        Augh. “erroneus assumption”. I had a cat helping me type.

  • MSimon


    It is WW2 all over again. Outstanding troops – lousy generals/admirals.

  • bigsigh

    The MSM makes Americans look like a bunch of whimps and whiners. Thank you for writing this article. It’s the same reaction the MSM had to Katrina. The evil government is hiding things and their response lacking. I love that the Japanese are picking themselves up and doing the best they can under extreme circumstances. The stories of the evacuation distances not being big enough make me laugh. If the people living in the “danger” zone feel threatened, they will surely take it upon themselves to leave. Remember the Superdome? I don’t see the Japanese people waiting for the government to come save them.