Thursday, May 3, 2012
The fish I speak of are the images of carp; they are the ones that are seen swimming in a pond in a Japanese garden, and they are also the kind of fish that are known for their strength and resilience shown when they swim upstream and against the current. An ancient Chinese belief is that after a carp succeeded in its struggle, it would turn into a dragon. So, as a symbol of strength, tenacity, and endurance, the Japanese fly windsocks decorated as beautiful carp in celebration of Children's day on May 5th. They are called "koi nobori", or "carp streamers". The "flying fish", as I like to call them are strung from a tall pole, often exceeding the height of the house. At the top of the pole is a large black fish, which is said to be the father; then a red fish, which is the mother followed by the children.
When I see these koi nobori, and think about the strength they represent, I am reminded of the strength that I see in the Japanese spirit, particularly in their use of the term "ganbaru", which means to "do your best". Japanese people really seem to try their hardest, no matter what they do. Whenever faced with a challenge or hardship, Japanese people say "ganbatte! (do your best)" Once when I was riding a crowded train, there was a mother with her young daughter standing, as there was no place to sit. The little girl, maybe 5 or 6 began crouching down and complaining about how tired she was. The mother scolded her and told her to stand up straight even though she was tired. So, she straightened her posture, stood upright, and calmed down. Soon, as a man stood up to get off the train and his seat became available, the little girl wanted to sit down, but the mother stopped her and said "ganbatte".
I have met so many Japanese men who work from early morning to 10 or 11 o'clock at night to take care of their families, and mothers who work so hard to take care of their children, and now especially as so many Japanese struggle to cope with their fears and the effects of the tsunami and nuclear disaster last year, I see that what they focus on is not how bad things are, but rather how hard they are going to push forward, to swim up the stream and become dragons!
This is one part of Japanese culture that I hope will become a part of me.
Here is a link to some pictures I have taken of koi nobori ---> picassa web albums