In American history what was known as the “Puritan Work Ethic” prevailed to later help spur the foundations of the Industrial Revolution which led to America’s great economic success. Deep within American culture existed the belief inferred from the Bible that disciplined hard work, ingenuity, and thriftiness would lead to success. In Japanese culture a similar concept of Gambari came about in the Meiji era which led to modernization as well as a powerful work ethic that eventually led to Japan’s economic superpower status in modern times.
Gambari essentially means to do one’s best or to continue on no matter what despite difficulty until one’s goals are achieved. This can be linked to great determination and a desire not to let others down. One is expected to have a Gambari spirit of determination in all aspects of life. This is almost equivalent to the American saying of “Don’t give up” or “You can do it!”, except that it has its own unique cultural connection. It is essentially used to keep people in check to constantly work hard no matter the condition. In Japanese history it was essential to work hard to survive lest one face certain starvation, become overwhelmed by the hardships of natural disasters, or face political turmoil that often existed. In modern times Gambari is essentially taught as the key to success in beating out others to get the placement in the best high schools, colleges, and jobs. This has placed great stress on Japanese people to this day.
While it may sound like a great attribute on the surface, Gambari certainly has a negative side to it as well. Because of the Gambari spirit people in Japan do not really have a concept of taking breaks, relaxing, or taking a vacation. In fact they can often have a hard time knowing what to do when presented with free time. Salarymen often die from over-work, having to work late hours every day of the week, and even forgoing holidays! This has also been linked to fanatically participating in cults as well as the culture that led to militarism in Pre-WW2 Japan. However, the new Japanese generation has started to rebel against this idea in many ways by dropping out of school and society. This has caused concern for the future of this nation!
How can this impact Missionary work? Unlike the “Puritan Work Ethic” there is no balance in Japan to help temper the spirit of doing constant tasks, which has unfortunately spilled over into Japanese Christianity. It is a real challenge for Japanese to become more like Mary than Martha. (Luke 10:38-42) We as missionaries must patiently endure this cultural aspect while demonstrating that it is perfectly acceptable to rest, as well as spend time with family. Please pray for us to respectfully be able to live a balance of ministry and rest in Japan.