Sisyphean Schooling

The Greek king, Sisyphus, is renowned for his hubristic belief that he knew more than Zeus who then punished him to roll a bolder up a hill. Zeus’ punishment came in the form of an enchantment that forever caused the boulder to roll down the other side of the hill. Thus, the idea of a Sisyphean task was born – fruitlessly repeating the same task over and over again with no ‘reward’ apropos, result. While not something that applies to all of my students, I don’t hesitate to say that my job is very much a Sisyphean one. Certainly, trying to do the best job I possibly can for every single student is part of what got me into my recent internal collapse. Much like trying to fill a sieve with water, and then trying to use that sieve to fill a lake, very little of what I teach is actually being learned or picked up by my students. Naturally, there are elements of their attitude towards learning and my own relative inexperience as a teacher that more than likely contribute to this however I see something else mixed into the cocktail; more than that it is something that I have seen throughout much of my times in Japan.

In the vein as the difference between a room with someone sitting silently in it is different to a room that is totally empty, Japan is not serene but soulless.

Watching my students in their classes its quite clear that beyond the vernacular ‘no fucks to give’, there is something that is simply not there. As though they missing something that is so well scarred over that its almost imperceptible that anything was there. Adults aren’t exempt from it either. Their manner is not one of tacit acceptance or tranquil reticence nor even resignation. There is simply no Will present in them. No hope. No passion. Nothing. Soulless. To the point that every Japanese person will tacitly deny that they have religion of any kind. Ironically, they believe it with more fervour than they approach most other things in their lives.

In Japan, truly. Nothing matters.

The difficulty that arises from this is twofold. Unfortunately.

I cannot help but see my students, slack in their apathy and want nothing more than to try and make their world brilliant again. Make it shine with all the colours of the rainbow shining through a diamond. Its not (usually) in me to just give up, but at the same time I know that it is at least in part because of my faith and spirituality that gives me the impetus to even try to do so. A profound part of what drives me as a Pagan and a Heathen is my NEED to see the world filled with magic the way it was so many centuries and millennia ago. My personality and Praxis resonate with that idea keep it fuelled. Gives me strength.

Some days it almost breaks me to see my kids sitting their like phantasms. Half there, with everything passing through them.

Getting fainter and fainter with every passing moment.

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2 thoughts on “Sisyphean Schooling

  1. I have not heard this of japan before, but it does interest me. Has it always been that way since you’ve been there, or did it start more recently?

    I think Japan is an interesting case study, historically. It was a country built on militarism, and one of the first countries stripped of it’s military (Western European countries have militarizes, but have been stripped of their need for them, creating countries who do not know the value of selfpreservation), but still allowed to exist as an independent nation rather than a conquered peoples. It makes me wonder if by stripping away their military, one also stripped away some vital part of their soul. To go from a nation of warriors to a nation of merchants and serfs had to have been rather traumatic to the “folksoul” as some heathen’s put it. The fact that Japanese people will now work 20 hour days, 7 days a week, and will live in their offices rather than go home to their families or even have children, makes me wonder, since this is a far cry from the people known for a 4 hour tea ceremony of centuries past.

    1. It is definitely something that has been around for at least the last twenty years or more. The eldest Japanese person that I know personally has always spoken about how schooling has been like this, however it is far more likely that it is ‘recent’ in the historical sense of ‘from the start of modern Japan’ which can be gauged as beginning from about the late 1800’s. Although the Tokugawa shogunate and subsequent Meiji restoration did a lot in terms of preserving Japan, it is around those times when the precursors to what would later become modern Japan proper, say… early 1900’s to the end of the Second World War, would start coming into effect. Those precursors and the effects of of the World War’s period would eventually come to a head in what is conventionally called Contemporary Japan, starting approximately late 1950’s early 1960’s. Its from this time period that we really start to see the Japan of Today.

      You’ve actually touched upon the very real problem. Most people think only of the militarist policy that Japan was under the sway of during the World war period and forget that in the centuries before that, while there were certainly problems, there were numerous cultural contingencies that counteracted the warrior culture. When the Second World War ended and the United States force fed a whimpering and broken Japan numerous things, not only was there a sudden vacuum where their previous warrior culture existed but also a vacuum where the many socio-cultural contingencies had existed. You are more right than you might realise when you say that they might have stripped away some vital part of their soul – Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan which had been used as a tool by a militaristic Emperor (infatuated no differently than any other dictator in history) was relegated to quaint cultural characteristic with dangerous tendencies. Over night, literally, the one thing that had been relegating one side of Japanese society was turned into a joke and something shameful to be hidden away. In essence, their “folk soul” was lobotomised.

      You might find this article interesting: http://en.rocketnews24.com/2015/01/23/nobel-prize-winner-shuji-nakamura-to-japans-young-people-get-out-of-japan/

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