Wise Frogs in the Well


In Japan for these 10 years or more, “the journey of self-discovery” has got very popular especially among young people. A typical pattern (as an example) is: suddenly quitting a job, going to Machu Picchu (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 because 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.

I think the reason why the journey of self-discovery gets popular like this is because people can easily feel like developing their identities through such experiences, but careful consideration (even not very careful one) calls a reasonable question “Is it such a big deal?” In addition to the issue of the quality of experience, I don’t think such way of thinking (I personally call it “experience supremacy”) would help. It’s not experience itself but what we learn from experience that counts, though experience is sometimes said to be the best teacher for a fool. When getting cancer, would you care if your doctor has an experience of getting cancer him/herself?

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.


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