Ohori Meshibe

In my seeking to understand Japanese culture, I found this YouTube video, and found it very interesting.

 

Ohori Meshibe (also known as Ohori Megumi, but that was her name for this recording) was a 25 year old AKB48 member who was given an opportunity, but with a catch:  we’ll give you a solo debut, but you have to sell 10,000 CDs within a month or you’ll have to graduate.

So for a month, she went all over, selling one CD at a time, giving little performances all over the place, and even ended up sleeping on the ground one night (though there was a cameraman there so I’m very much doubting that she was truly in any danger).  Finally, the month was over, and this documented her trying to get over the finish line in the last day.

Halfway through the day, she had a nervous breakdown, and Sata and Kiyoto ended up having to go out and entertain the crowd while she pulled herself together – and it was a close thing, she even started to hyperventilate a bit.

But there are a few observations about this, some of which I found out through other means.

Many westerners would have given up and accepted their fate, honestly, at about the time that she had her nervous breakdown.  We would have ran out and never looked back.  But she pulled herself together, went out, and ended up meeting her goal, after many of the other members came by and helped out.  Her fans also pulled together and filled the last “hug event”.  This is the Japanese idea of “ganbatte” – or “try your best” – anything less than your best is not an option, and it seems they just pull themselves together and get it done.

This is even more poignant because of something they don’t tell you:  she lost her beloved grandmother – the only person in her family who supported her idol career – two days before the producer pulled her into a room and offered her the solo debut.  So she was already dealing with a lot, and then…

I don’t know how much of this was scripted, to be honest.  Probably more of it than appeared.  I’m also not at all sure if she would ever have been allowed to graduate.  I’m even not sure if the timing of it wasn’t an accident so that it would increase the drama.  But it shows a lot about Japanese “ganbatte” culture.  She tried her best, even surmounting some pretty incredible odds.

And it’s hard to not find that inspirational.

Lately she got married and had a child.  Which seems to be the ending of all idol (or gravure) related activity, as Japanese culture seems to expect women to raise children when they have one (something I generally respect, tbh).  Still, I wish her well.

Ganbatte

“Ganbatte” is a word that, in Japanese, means “try your best”.  It seems to be a very frequently used word, particularly in competitive contexts, such as variety shows, etc.  But looking at the context in which it’s used, I don’t think it translates very well.  The reason is, as with many things, cultural.

In English, “Try your best” has a connotation of “Do the very best that you can, and it’s okay if you still fail”.  I mean, obviously you don’t want to fail, but English speakers tend to have a very laissez-faire approach to failure – it’s only not excusable if you deliberately slacked off or didn’t do your very best.

I don’t get that vibe when “ganbatte” (or maybe more often “ganbare”) is used in Japanese.  The context with that word seems far more driven – if you say “ganbarou” (I’ll try my best) there seems to be an undercurrent of “and then I will succeed”.  It seems like, the cultural assumption is in Japan, that if you try your best, you will succeed.  There is no such cultural assumption in English (or at least American English).  So, if you say “ganbarou”, and you fail, then it is seen as not trying your best.  We said we’d try our best, it seems to say, and we failed, so we didn’t.

This seems to underlie a seeming assumption in Japanese culture that it’s not okay to fail.

Perhaps we in America should hew just a bit more towards the Japanese idea of putting everything you have into something because failure is not an option.  And perhaps those in Japan should take a little of the pressure off by saying “it’s okay to fail” a bit more.  Perhaps, as with everything else, our cultures have something to learn from each other.