Tag Archives: Japan

LSS: Words of wisdom from across the world

Thursday night we had one of those gatherings of people around our dinner table that, for me, was a thing of beauty.

Of the eight folks at our table, we were born in five different countries. Four of us were born here in the United States of America. The other countries represented were Iran, Japan, Mexico and China.

After an hour or so of polite, but interesting chit-chat, we got into one of those rare and wonderful conversations that goes beyond pleasantries and gets to the heart of things. We started talking about the complexities of relationships, focusing most of our attentions on marriage, parent/child and siblings. The interesting part of the conversation was that while there were a few subtle cultural differences, we had all really come to most of the same conclusions about how to make things work or smooth things over. I asked my guests to consider their culture and offer insights regarding how to make relationships work.

The Cajun spoke first.

“Pick your battles,” my friend Debra Broussard Taghehchian said.

“Act like you want to do it — not like you have to,” said her daughter, Layla.

And then Debra’s husband, Saeed Taghehchian, who is from Iran, offered a Persian jewel of wisdom: “It’s a lot easier to change myself than trying to change you.”

With that one, we all gave a hearty, “Amen.”

Jiro Hatano, our friend visiting from Japan, had been quiet through much of the conversation, but with Saeed’s sage adage, Jiro grabbed his handy-dandy translator and started translating ideas and axioms from Japanese into English. With each, he would do his best to explain its meaning and context.

“His conduct betrayed his upbringing,” was the first translated from Japanese and prompted much discussion. Should the verb be betrayed or portrayed? Was Jiro trying to say the Japanese equivalent of, “He was raised to know better,” or, “Raised as he was, this is what you should expect”?

Jiro said it was the latter. Basically, you get out what you put in.

The second Japanese advice on making relationships work was: You’ll give yourself away every time you open your mouth.

In other words, keep your mouth closed whenever possible.

The third was the most difficult to translate. Jiro’s original version of the sentence was enigmatic:

Inscrutable are the ways of heaven.

After much discussion, he explained its meaning: We can’t predict the future. The way of life is changing always. If we have trouble now, that trouble could turn to happiness one day.

Jiro’s thoughts inspired another Persian insight from Saeed. The first, loosely translated is: Taking the high road sometimes requires keeping your mouth shut.

“Sometimes we say in Iran, if you don’t want to lose, don’t fight,” Saeed said.

My husband, originally from Mexico, agreed and decided it was time to enter the discussion.

“For me, it’s about managing the moment,” he said. “You can’t make your decision about how you’re going to react to one thing by thinking about the future or by thinking about the past. You’ve got to do the right thing based on the circumstances at hand. If you mind that, those moments become cumulative. It’s collecting the little pieces that make a long chain.”

And with that, we finished our sherbet and agreed that if the eight of us from such different backgrounds and family situations could find such common ground around a dinner table in Louisiana, global concord is surely within reach.

Jan Risher’s column, Long Story Short, appears Sundays. Email her at jan@janrisher.com.

LSS: The crane challenge and beyond

Note to self: the idea of folding 1,000 origami cranes and the act of folding 1,000 origami cranes are two very different things.

One week ago, I decided it would be a nice gesture to fold — with the help of friends — 1,000 cranes to send to a friend in Japan. She is safe in Tokyo, but some of her family is now living in one of the camps in northern Japan. She assured me that if I assemble a senbaruzu (1,000 cranes strung in 25 strands of 40 each), she would see that other friends get it to one of the areas trying to recover from the earthquake, tsunami and now nuclear threat.

Here is the truth.

When I had this idea, I did not know how to make an origami crane, but I knew my 13-year-old daughter did. I bought supplies, and we were off. After five tries with her painstakingly walking me through the process (in the patient way 13-year-old girls have), I got it. I was an origami crane folding fool. Unstoppable.

I started saying a prayer with each crane I folded. The act was incredibly Zen.

I quickly realized that the early folds were critical. As my 9-year-old daughter said, “You get these wrong and it will come back to haunt you.”

She was right.

Her little hands and mine started focusing energy on getting the folds precise and lovely. Each little paper bird became a work of love and art for us.

I recruited friends. They came. They learned. They folded. They recruited friends who also learned the process.

Then I wrote last week’s column about the project. The response has been heartening. As I write this column, I’ve already received boxes, baskets, bags and large envelopes of cranes of all shapes and sizes. One Mississippi Mom sent a box of cranes that she and her daughters folded last week during their spring break. A Girl Scout troop in Texas is sending cranes. A lady in Vermont is sending cranes. And people all over Acadiana are making and sending their cranes.

In case you haven’t figured it out, folding an origami crane is not a simple matter. It takes time, energy and focus.

Then multiply that by 1,000.

A few people, my husband being one, have thought the little project rather ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong. If I’m happy doing it, he supports it, but it hasn’t taken a lot to figure out just how silly he thinks the whole thing is.

I’m pretty sure his exact words were, “Fold them a dollar bill and send it.”

Certainly, he’s right. The people and government of Japan will need financial assistance to recover, and I encourage people to send money however they choose to do so.


I also know that sometimes they need the hopes and prayers of people they have never and will never meet.

Right now, our soon-to-be senbaruzu is at 520 cranes, with about 300 more expected to arrive by the time you read this. I believe we’ll have this thing finished very soon. With each of those cranes is a good intention.

Nearly six years ago when my husband was very, very sick. We weren’t sure he was going to make it. Back then, we were on the receiving end of focused good intentions, prayers and hopes of family and friends from all over. In all likelihood, he will never understand just what those powerful appeals of so many did in getting our family through dark days he doesn’t remember. On the other hand, I could feel the peace, hope and strength that so many people were sending our way.

That experience convinced me that prayers could be a whole lot more powerful than money—and that is why I believe sending 1,000 folded prayers to the other side of the world is not silly.

I believe it is worth the effort.

Note: After completing this column, I learned that Students Rebuild, an initiative of the Bezos Family Foundation in Seattle has pledged $2 toward Japan’s recovery efforts for every crane sent to them. They plan to create an art installation with the cranes. Their organization works to activate our greatest creative resource — young people — to catalyze change on critical issues. As it turns out, our impromptu project will not only garner the hopes and prayers. It will also raise money — a blessing we didn’t expect.

LSS: Join the Senbazuru


I didn’t know such a word existed when I had the idea for a project that would consume much of my week and weekend.

Like people around the world, I’ve been haunted by the aftermath of horror in Japan this week. Watching the deteriorating conditions was exhausting. I kept wishing there was something physical to do to help.

Fresh out of solutions to prevent multiple nuclear meltdowns and armed with the knowledge that thoughts and prayers sent skyward are probably the best things most of us can do at this point, I still felt the need to do something.

Then, I thought about 1,000 cranes — something tangible to offer to the Japanese in their time of need.

The ancient legend of senbazuru, the folding and stringing of 1,000 paper cranes, represents hope and promises recovery for people in Japan—something we could all use right about now.

To be clear, the idea of folding 1,000 cranes and the act of folding 1,000 origami cranes are two very different things.

Anyone who has ever tried their hand at origami will attest that it’s an art of precision and grace—two traits that aren’t necessarily innate to my character. Fortunately, that’s where friends come in. Friends have volunteered to help, and we’re making some headway. Slowly the caliber of our cranes is improving.

I have no illusions of our cranes reaching the Japanese level of execution, but I want the small works of art to be nice. After all, we’re sending them to experts.

Folding tiny cranes has reinforced what we’ve watched on television this week. The Japanese are the masters of orderliness and patience. Watching so many people there face the definitive crisis with such stoicism gives insight to Japanese friends who have spoken to me about frustrations they’ve felt with their culture when they’ve wanted to express individualism.

In so many ways our cultures differ.

We know how to thrive on individualism. They seem to know so much more about succeeding together.

One of my Japanese friends lives and works in Tokyo. Since the tsunami, part of her family has been living in a camp in northern Japan. She assures me that she will use her strong network of friends to take an Acadiana-created senbazuru to one of the towns obliterated by the tsunami.

We have set an ambitious goal of mailing our senbazuru to Japan by the end of this week. By the time you read this, I believe we’ll be well on our way to 1,000 paper cranes. However, the fact of the matter is that we still need lots of help to accomplish this gesture to send to the other side of the world. We are encouraging every person who makes cranes to write a message of hope on at least one of the creations. I’m also taking photos of folks as they make cranes, which I plan to send along with the senbazuru.

Our gesture will do nothing to fix the horrible situation of northeastern Japan, but simple acts of kindness can change things by creating waves of good.

If you’d like to try your hand at making some, please do. It just takes a little practice. If you’d like to make cranes to be included in the senbazuru we’re sending to Japan, simply e-mail me.

In Japan, cranes are mystical creatures. A thousand of them represent hope, and Japan, along with the rest of us, could use a little hope about now.