This dour term, but seemingly inspired slogan in Japan, says much about a culture that worships work above all else. Grit counts for a lot, but not when it becomes the only means to overcome challenges. Looking back, I used different versions of this word often, often mistiming its use in Japan. When I think about ganbaru today, I think about Japan’s ruling class. It’s unnerving to see Japanese Prime Minister Abe resign at the relatively young age of 65. Abe was a trooper amongst the ’Ganbaru’ generation. I pray he gets better soon.
Japan was not doing too well in its response to Covid-19. What’s clear is that Japan and it’s patriarchal culture enables a ruling class that draws from an ancient ‘never say die’ era. Japan has become a senior citizen terrified of falling behind the rest of the world, yet unwilling to give up the keys to the car. The same story is getting air time in America. What’s clear is that certain countries are doing better in this chaotic time by emboldening younger leadership to take the reigns and work smart, not just get stuck on a hamster-wheel. Next-generation leaders like Jacinda Ardern and Sebastian Kurz are more in tune with young people and show a willingness to try new ideas.
I can’t name a single young person in Japan who has any chance of overcoming its wealthy geriatric scions. However, there are many rising stars in America and Europe, whose ceilings continue to be set by never-say-die politicians and businesspeople unwilling to go away. It’s shocking to see America continue to anoint leaders who should have retired from professional life many years ago.
The brightest lights in the world are self-motivated young people, not trapped by the past. They are eager to step up and transform the world with brilliant ideas. The era of Ganbaru needs to give way to the culture of Seishun all over the world. When I vote, I prefer newer, faster wheels versus my father’s Oldsmobile. When I travel again, I expect to see two worlds, one doing much better than the other because young people took the reigns.