Japanese Culture and Traditions: No More Self-Discovery, Be Wise Frogs in the Well!


It’s about time to stop expecting a lot for the journey of self-discovery

In Japan for these 10 years or more, “the journey of self-discovery” has been very popular especially among young people. A typical pattern is: suddenly quitting a job, going to Machu Picchu (or some world famous spiritual sites, in most cases), and showing off such experiences after coming back. As you can see from the ironical tone, I’m not a big fan of such people. I think it’s too pitiful if experience is all that s/he has found as an identity factor even after going all the way to Peru. It’s about time we could break the spell of just seeking for wide experience for identity development.

Experience is everything?

Why the journey of self-discovery becomes popular like this? I think it is because people can easily feel like developing their identities through such experiences. Careful consideration (even not very careful one) calls a reasonable question. Is it such a big deal? It’s not only about the issue of the quality of experience. I don’t think such way of thinking would help. It’s not experience itself but what we learn from experience that counts. I know experience is sometimes said to be the best teacher for a fool, but would you care if your doctor has an experience of getting cancer him/herself when you get cancer and go in for surgery?

Our factory staff is sanding the frame of a dining chair.

The frog in the well knows nothing of the great ocean but knows the blue of the sky

I’m not just critical of a self-discovery journey. I agree that people could learn a lot through new experiences. My point is having wide experience is not enough and not only solution for identity development. For example, most of our craftsmen start their careers as woodworking specialists soon after graduation. They don’t travel around the world for self-discovery, but don’t look lost in identity. A proverb says “the frog in the well knows nothing of the great ocean.” This is very famous one, but few people know it continues “but knows the blue of the sky.” Narrow but deep view may also help us develop identity.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.

Photo credit: https://www.consciouslifestylemag.com/places-to-visit-in-peru-spiritual/