#AtoZChallenge: G is for Gaman

Day 7  of the A to Z Challenge is the letter “G”:

G is for Gaman

I’ve signed many copies of The Red Kimono with “I wish you the peace of ‘gaman.'” Hopefully, after reading the book, you will understand what I mean. But, in case not, posting about the letter “G” gives me the perfect opportunity to explain what gaman means to me. First, click here to read what Wikipedia says about gaman. Wikipedia states:

Gaman (我慢?) is a Japanese term of Zen Buddhist origin which means “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity”. The term is generally translated as “perseverance” or “patience.”

So why have I wished readers “the peace of gaman?” From my experience, in times of hardship, when I have resolved to persevere, a kind of peace settles over me. I realize that no amount of worry will change the situation, only taking one step forward at a time.

In The Red Kimono, each of my characters faces hardship. Sachi and Nobu understand the concept of gaman, thanks to Papa’s constant efforts to teach them the philosopy. However, they struggle with it throughout the book.

The following scene takes place at Nobu’s high school, five days after Pearl Harbor has been attacked. He has grown angry and impatient over his classmates’ stares and whispers.


DECEMBER 12, 1941

The clang of the school bell echoed in the emptying halls of Berkeley High School. Nobu couldn’t put off going to class any longer. Hissing whispers hushed when he entered homeroom, but his classmates’ stares followed him to his seat.

He gritted his teeth, trying to heed Papa’s words. Do not cause trouble. Nothing to draw attention. Papa had even used that word again after the Feds confiscated Japanese customers’ accounts and he lost his job at the bank.

Gaman. One can endure more than one thinks.

Angry thoughts scattered feverishly, resistant to being controlled by his father’s sentiments. How could Papa not get mad about being fired? Ready to explode, his heart raced, face flushed. But this wasn’t the time or the place.

When he tossed his books onto his desk, the loud clap silenced murmurs that breathed again, like a beast that refused to die. Before sitting, he nodded at Kazu, who sat in the desk behind his. Did his friend feel as angry?

Chalk screeched as Mr. Bailey scribbled math problems on the blackboard. He wore the same thing he always did—a white shirt and brown cardigan. The only part of his teacher-uniform that ever changed was his bow tie, and on this day, he wore a black one.

After covering the board with a jumbled mess of algebra problems, he turned to the class. “Good morning, students,” he said, opening his roll book. “Sarah Andrews,” he called.


Nobu and Kazu snuck notes back and forth to each other, while Mr. Bailey continued roll call.

Kazu: Joe and Terrence are coming over to shoot some baskets after school. You coming?

Nobu: Why’d you ask Joe? He’s a troublemaker.

Kazu: Best guard on the team.

Nobu: That’s if he can manage to stay on the team without getting kicked off. Okay. Guess I’ll be there.

“Nobu Kimura?”


Bailey scanned the room over his wire-rimmed reading glasses.

“Nobu Kimura?”

“I’m here!” What was the deal with calling his name twice? Didn’t Bailey hear the first time? Or was it his way of drawing attention to a Jap?

Bailey continued through the list, ending with Steve White, then announced, “And now, class, please stand and join me in saying the Pledge of Allegiance.” Books slapped shut and chairs scooted as everyone stood and faced the flag hanging at the front of the class.

Nobu put his hand over his heart. “I pledge allegiance, to the flag . . .” They were words he’d always recited mindlessly, until a phrase caught in his throat. “…one nation…”

One nation? Yeah, right.

He couldn’t help but notice Kazu’s silence when the rest of the class said the words, “with liberty and justice for all.”

This entry was posted in Excerpt, History, Prejudice and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to #AtoZChallenge: G is for Gaman

  1. Mustang.Koji says:

    Indeed, “gaman” is an extremely tough word to translate, isn’t it? It is just not the task of finding words to translate “gaman”, but there’s an embedded emotion that’s interspersed with the letters. Very ancient. Similar to “ganbare”. You can assign an English word to translate it but the generations-deep substance is indescribable.

  2. I like that word, Jan. What a great signature line!

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Thanks, Madison. It’s funny that though I saw the philosophy throughout my life in my mom’s family, I didn’t know the word until I started writing the book. 🙂

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