Let’s Go Dutch: Career Advice from A Samurai

Suzuki Shosan (1579-1655) who had fought as a samurai in the battles of Sekihagara and Osaka argued that in the life of commoners, ordinary, daily work, could lead to enlightenment.   What mattered was internal attitude; when this was properly adjusted and focused all trades could become the roads to spiritual emancipation.”  p. 222 Marius B. Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan

Source: Wikipedia Genpaku trained himself to understand Dutch to further Japanese understanding of medicine and science.

Source: Wikipedia
Genpaku trained himself to understand Dutch to further Japanese understanding of medicine and science.

Well, despite my disclaimer samurai have crept into my blog.   First of all, let me explain how I found this quote.  I am a busy high school teacher and a father of two children and time is at a premium.  However, what I have learned All Japanese All the Time and Japanese writers on learning, is that squeezing in little moments of learning things that bring you joy is much more preferable to throwing up your hands and feeling that all is futile.   Want to play guitar?  Hold it in your hands five minutes a day and do something.

The Making of Modern Japan has been calling out to me ever since I bought it as part of receiving a Fund for Teachers grant two years ago.  But it is a huge book.  Between family, grading papers, etc the book felt like a big time commitment.   However, I’ve learned sneak a minute to do flashcards to learn Japanese, I made a decision to just read one page a day.   If the page is not interesting to me, I skip to one that is.   One step closer to a seemingly impossible goal. I don’t have the rest of what Shosan said about making work part of your enlightenment but since he comes from the Zen tradition maybe it’s about staying alive and awake at every moment, in daily tasks, and in my case, on each page.

What has especially excited me about Jansen’s book is how he explores how Japanese doctors began to open up to Dutch learning in the 18th century.   A small group of physicians decided to explore Dutch medical texts, translating word by word in little study groups and slowly opening up their vision of the possible.  Jansen highlights one doctor named Sugita Genpaku (1733-1817) , who was not a samurai but who was at the forefront of this opening.

Sugita Genpaku …. Service to Others through joy and discovery

Sugita even organized an autopsy using a Dutch book on anatomy which revolutionized Japanese doctors understanding of anatomy. Amazed by how exact the Dutch anatomy book was, the doctors resolved to study Dutch even more.  Sugita explained in his memoirs:

I suggested that we decipher the Tafel Anatomia without the aid of interpreters in Nagasaki, and translate it into Japanese.  The next day we met and began . . .Gradually we got so we could decipher ten lines or more a day.  After two or three years of hard study everything became clear to us;  the joy of it was as the chewing of sweet sugar cane.   p. 213

What I’ve come to admire is how slow steady efforts in the pursuit of what one wants to know can lead to great joy and knowledge.   Stay tuned because this has been the theme of many of the Japanese books on learning I’ve uhm, er “deciphered” and will review in upcoming posts.  Personal joy can be found in the overcoming of obstacles but it can be about more than the personal.   Finding your learning path is also about being better able to serve the world better.   You almost want to give Doctor Sugita a chill pill as he explains his excitement for what he has learned and how it can help others:

In the beginning there were only three of us . . . who came together to make plans for our studies.  Now, fifty years later, those studies have reached every corner of the country . . . And what particularly delights me is the idea that, when once the way of Dutch studies is opened wide, doctors a hundred or even a thousand years from now will be able to master real medicine and use it to save people’s lives.  When I think of the public benefits this will bring, I cannot help dancing and spring for joy.”  p. 214

I know I titled this post, Samurai career advice, and I haven’t told you how to sharpen your resume or any other such advice.  Don’t listen to me.  I am just a motivational speaker who lives in a van down by the river.  However, what it seems that these writers are hinting at here is a larger picture of what career can mean.

Instead of bullet points here are a few katana (samurai sword) points:

  • view your job or career as opportunities to stay in the moment (whatever that means, send a comment on how you think that can best happen) even if you are transitioning
  • explore the edge between obstacles and joy–the mindful (hate that word until I find a new one) and steady overcoming of obstacles can lead to more joy and service.  It’s an unvicious cycle.
  • Find a group of people that help move you along.   Dr. Sugita worked with a small group that helped each other expand the boundaries of their linguistic and medical knowledge.  The results?   Increased medical knowledge, embarrassing enthusiasm and the uncontrollable desire to get his groove on at highly inappropriate moments.   Do try this at home.
  • Revolutionize your notions of study.   There can be struggle in study, but it is also about finding where your passions, obstacles, puzzles, and opportunities lie.   Stay tuned to further posts on samuraimindonline.com.

 

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