Japanese at pains to hold out for more

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ENDURANCE is one of the supreme virtues in Japan. So when Yuko Arimori won a silver medal in the Olympic marathon last weekend, the whole nation were glued to their television sets.

'Yoku gambatta Yuko (Yuko, you held out well),' shouted her uncle as she crossed the finishing line in Barcelona after 2 hours, 32 minutes and 49 seconds in a gruelling race that started out in the 30C heat.

The Western imagination is fired above all by the 100m sprint with its glamorous prize for 'the fastest man in the world'. But in sport, as in many other spheres of life, Japan is in for the long haul. It is one of the few countries in the world where entire marathons are regularly shown live on television - apparently capturing large audiences.

The cult of endurance has deep roots in Japan. It underlies the long working hours and the up to four hours of commuting on crowded trains of the Tokyo wage earner. It explains the general reluctance of most Japanese to complain openly about low standards of living, and the relatively low usage of the courts to settle social grievances.

It has even been satirised in a popular television serial, The Gaman, a ludicrous endurance show which pushes contestants to physical and mental extremes to amuse viewers at home after a long day's work. The show, faithfully reproduced by Clive James on British television, had contestants seeing how long they could sit on ice blocks wearing swimming trunks, or how many bowls of steaming noodles they could eat wrapped up in jumpers and blankets in mid-summer beside a bonfire.

It is the culture of gambaru, which means to hold out, or endure. Gambaru is often used in daily conversation to encourage a friend or colleague to ever greater determination in the face of life's treachery. 'When a Western friend once told me to 'take it easy' when I had a problem, I got upset,' said a Japanese acquaintance recently. 'I thought it meant he had no respect for me.'

Ms Arimori thrilled her nation as she 'held in there' with the eventual winner of the race, Russia's Valentina Yegorova, for the last five miles of the race. Way ahead of the rest of the field, the two ran shoulder to shoulder until Ms Yegorova finally broke away outside the stadium and finished eight seconds ahead of her Japanese rival. In true gambaru spirit, Ms Arimori said after the race: 'I will not let this silver medal go to my head, as I'm determined to keep on challenging myself.'

(Photograph omitted)