April 14, 2005

Kaisha and Shakai

I was sitting at my desk (now at different desk typing) this morning, studying Japanese during my spare hours (the classes have started, but unfortunately I cannot start teaching until the official schedule is released). I noticed that the word for civilian and worker, society and work, are the same two kanji flipped around. 会社 or kaisha means "company" or "business." 社会 or shakai means "society." Perhaps the whole country, if you are dislexic, is one enormous corporation, thus making all members of society employees of some unseemingly immanent bureacratic body. What am I getting at, though, in this strange, perhaps obvious, comparison between Japanese "society" and "companies?" Does this little point of linguistic irony mean that Japanese speakers think of society as a giant company, or vice versa? Am I merely reading my way into things that Japanese people have never considered? Sometimes I think that perhaps even little things like this, that is, words that we use to represent who or what human beings are, self-identifying words, deserve some, much more, attention. After all, the 50-something, balding bodybuilder at the gym still refuses to call me by name. Instead, he uses "へんな外人" hen na gaijin (strange foreigner, or, strange stranger). Perhaps this man has killed many brain cells in his years of lifting and drinking shotchu into the wee hours at a local snack bar (God forbid I should ever do that), but I had to confront him in my functional but nonetheless inadequately inarticulte Japanese. Anyways, these words, 社会 and 会社, have led me to think about why Japanese workplaces seem like their own world, and why their world runs like a well-oiled machine...sometimes.

Though this sounds like I may be critiquing Japanese culture as a whole, I find that I have grown tired of critiquing, or beginning to critique, my own culture. Maybe no criticism is necessary. Maybe I am not criticizing, but in an inexplicable way, appreciating that which is simultaneously wonderful and unceasingly troublesome in this world.

Last night I had one of those dreams that sweeps one through a myriad of settings, situations, encounters with people, etc. Now, awake , just about one of ever two people I see seems to remind me of some part of those dreams. Back to strange, suggestive reflections on the idea that, at the moment of death, we see our entire life flash before us. Well, not my whole life flashed before me, but let's just say enough flashed before, behind, above, or below me to make me wonder about my life in relationship with the people I have met thus far.


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