Sergeant Tony's Blog

Going Native! — Sgt. Tony Ludlow’s blog post for 4/19/2017

Wednesday, Apr. 19th 2017 11:06 AM

It turns out that I’m bi.

Who knew?

I took some graduate level cultural anthropology classes when I lived in Richmond, Virginia just before I moved to Japan. The University of Richmond professor challenged us to think about the process of cultural expression, culture shock, cultural differences, cross-cultural exchange, cultural conflict, cultural acquisition, and ultimately becoming bi-cultural.

If I was going to live long-term in another country and immerse myself in the culture of that country I had to become something of an amateur cultural anthropologist. I had to understand academically what I was about to know experientially.

The Professor cautioned that becoming bi-cultural comes with a price. There are pros and cons, we were told. One of those cons would be a constant longing. “When you’re in your adopted country you’ll miss your home country,” he said. “And when you’re in your home country you’ll miss your adopted country.”

Ashley asked me recently if there were things about Japan that I didn’t like or that irritated me. Living in Japan was one of those epic times in my life that has shaped the man I’ve become. And mostly, she’s only heard me speak lovingly of Japan and my 10 years there. So she was curious if there were things I didn’t like as well. And of course, there are.

I hated that so many Japanese men smoke and that their culture, at the time, seemed to have a laissez-faire attitude toward it. There were no “no smoking” sections in restaurants and coffee shops.

Things in Japan are expensive, about double the cost of things here.

Everything in Japan takes time. I used to say that the entire country swims in molasses and paperwork. Have to renew your driver’s license? Expect it to take all day. If you’re lucky.

I could go on. Every place has its pros and cons. I might still be living in Japan had it not been my father’s terminal cancer that brought me back to the States.

One of the things that impressed me about the Japanese people was their resilience and their commitment to doing their best or doing their duty. They have a word, “ganman,” that I really like. There really isn’t a good English word that translates the meaning of ganman. And like most words, context tells a great deal about what a word’s nuances are supposed to convey. And context is everything in Japanese.

The verb form of ganman could have a casual meaning of “do your best,” or “good luck.” For example, before a child plays his piano recital his parents will say “ganbatte kudasai.” Meaning, “please do your best.” “Good luck” in that case would be a pretty good translation.

In the days following the tsunami and flood in 2011, there were 50 workers who stayed on at the doomed nuclear reactor in Fukushima. A reactor that threatened to become a meltdown with an almost Armageddon-like effect on the Japanese people and the environment that would be felt for decades to come.

These workers, knowing the risk to themselves personally, did not abandon their posts. They knew that if they didn’t stay that a nuclear disaster was inevitable. They also knew that they would more than likely suffer and die because of their exposure to such high concentrations of radiation.

The wife of one of those workers was interviewed on Japanese television. She was asked about her husband, with whom she’d just had a telephone conversation. They wanted to know how he was and how she was holding up. Calmly, but visibly shaken, she explained that he was fine and that he was doing his duty. She said that he had explained to her that he was prepared to die in order to prevent a disaster. He was prepared, if necessary, to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country. This was an engineer speaking, not a soldier in combat. But none of what he said was surprising to the Japanese interviewer. And I dare say that it wasn’t surprising to the 127 million Japanese who watched that interview. I watched it with tears in my eyes.

Japanese people expect everyone to do their best, from the counter worker at McDonald’s to the Prime Minister. (If you ever go to Japan, go to a McDonald’s and then prepare to be amazed!) Japanese adults don’t complain or whine. Everyone is patient. There are no riots or looting after an earthquake, hurricane, or tsunami. Everyone knows that everyone is in the same boat and that everyone has to pull together and work as a team for the benefit of all.

When asked what she told her husband, the wife said that she told him “ganbatte kudasai.” She did not tell her husband, who would most likely become a casualty himself, “good luck.” In that context the meaning is much more like this: “please do your duty to the very best of your ability, do your very best to accomplish success for yourself and for all of us who are dependant on your bravery and courage. Do not give up. Never give up. Do not fail to persevere. Do not do anything that would bring shame or embarrassment upon you or your family name.”

There is a deep sense of honor and duty, as well as shame and failure in the Japanese people.

During World War II, there weren’t many Japanese prisoners of war. Advancing Marines in the Pacific Theater found, after months of fighting on one horrible little island after the other, that the remaining Japanese soldiers – knowing they were fighting a losing battle without reinforcements or resupply — committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner. They fought to the last man. The shame of defeat, the shame of being taken alive as a prisoner was too great to endure and death would be preferred. “My enemy will not have the pleasure of seeing my face lowered in shameful defeat.”

Failure to do one’s duty is a shameful thing to the Japanese. And the sense of shame and “losing face” is so strong among them that it would be impossible to overstate it.

On Monday, I watched the Boston Marathon on television and there in the crowd were Japanese people holding a sign to encourage Japanese runner, Suguru Osako. The sign said, “Ganbatte kudasi!” in Japanese. With the eyes of his country on him, Osako came in 3rd … in his first marathon!

Ganbatte kudasai, y’all!




This is in honor of the late Tom Farrar, my former CPA who died of a heart attack in March 2007.

I hope you can get your friends to join you. They can visit for a whole week for FREE!




What would you do if money were not an issue, fear were not a factor, and failure were not an option?

To your optimum health and fitness!



Sergeant Major Tony Ludlow

USMC Fitness BOOT CAMP, Commanding
Mailing address: 4888 Southern Ave., Memphis, TN 38117
Cell Phone: 901-644-0145

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