Jishuku – Self restraint

“The Sakura were late this year as if they too observed some form of “Jishuku” …….quoted from a photo essay by Francis Harrison , a photographer who captured Tokyo in a somber mood after the triple disaster (earthquake, Tsunami and Radiation fears) struck the island nation….

jishukuThe Japanese history is marked by many instances wherein the citizens of the country have observed jishuku or self-restraint to express regret and a feeling of responsibility in times of great grief and pain. Jishuku is like an unwritten law, embedded deeply into the Japanese community – an obligation that one must perform when expected.

One such instance was the death of Emperor Hirohito when the government called off all annual festivals and events. Weddings and music concerts were postponed. Television comedy shows were taken off air replaced by silent prayers and monochromatic public messages. Newscasters replaced their designer clothes with unobtrusive gray suits to match the country’s somber mood. The whole country was depicted to be in grief and mourning the death of the emperor – who was considered to be divine – a direct descendant of God Amaterasu.

Personally, I had never come across the word until very recently, when the 9.0M earthquake and a huge tsunami destroyed millions of homes and left thousands dead and missing in north eastern Japan. The disaster, one of the biggest that the county has ever experienced, struck right at the onset of spring – a time of the year when normally the spirits of the people are high, and a time that is highlighted by delightful gatherings for hanami parties, graduation parties from schools and colleges as well as farewell and welcome parties for employees in companies nationwide.

Instead, the country went into a deep mourning, very quietly and informally. The government requested the people to observe a state ofJishuku, compelling people to refrain from any public display of happiness.(although later they requested people to refrain from Jishuku and to lead normal lives in order to protect the country’s economy)

Graduation ceremonies and Hanami parties were put off. Concerts, sports and other events, even weddings were either postponed or cancelled. Out of respect for the profound suffering of their fellow citizens in the disaster stricken areas, people avoided going to restaurants and bars. Several electronic and gaming companies ceased or delayed the production and launch of their products. The release of new movies was postponed…and the list is endless…

Whether or not it is good practice is something which has been a matter of debate all through these years…is it just a mindset that has been passed on to people from one generation to the other…or is it really a necessity?

Although many have willingly or unwillingly (out of fear of appearing indiscreet to others) followed what was expected of them, not everybody thinks it is a logical thing to do, especially at a time when the country is reeling under recession and at the same time trying to deal with the massive economic impact, both direct and indirect, that the recent crisis has had on the country. It is true that emotions tend to run high during such times but one has to be practical – too much of holding back and prolonged grieving can hurt the economy.

There are those who feel that at times like these, we as human beings have a moral responsibility to grieve with or console those who are grief-stricken and in pain. We cannot afford to turn our heads away and pretend as if nothing has happened. With hundreds of thousands of people displaced up north from the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, anything with the barest hint of luxury needs to be and has to be condemned, is what they propagate.

I feel Jishuku is something that probably comes naturally to us (at least most of us) when we experience such a traumatizing scale of loss of human life, for that is how we human beings are “designed” to feel and behave, and to an extent such behavior is legitimate. All we need to take care of is that it does not become an obsession and that there is always a right balance between what we want to/are asked to do and what needs to/should be done.

There should be a time to grieve and a time to refrain from it – for that is what life is about – it is all about change and does not or should not come to a stand still….it has to move on….and it is important that it does…for our own well being, for the well being of those who have suffered and for the well being of the country as a whole…

Ganbarou Japan!!

I have pasted a link to the photo essay – “Jishuku”: Tokyo after the earthquake” by Francis Harrison (mentioned above)


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