Interesting insight into Japanese culture

If someone says the following to you what meaning do you derive from it?  “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”

In Japanese it goes like this:  転がる石に苔むさず。  Or, if you want the romaji version:  korogaru ishi ni koke musazu.

There is a shortened/alternative form of it, but I don’t really know it.  That is, I would know it if I heard it but I don’t actually know the entirety of it.  Either way, this is the “proper” way to say the proverb.

In America, we understand this to mean that staying put or becoming content is a sure way to become old and stale.  Keep moving, keep progressing and you will avoid “gathering moss”.

For Japanese, the meaning is the complete opposite.  Apparently, Japanese people think of moss as a really neat thing.  It’s beautiful, and like water over a long course of time can be extremely difficult to halt the progress of.  This explains why many traditional Japanese gardens are green – sometimes mostly by moss.  So, the Japanese WANT the moss, they WANT to be the rock that doesn’t move. 

The proverb is sometimes used to chide someone into staying put in their life.  Want to find a better job?  Well, be that rock, man.  Want to move out of Japan and discover the world?  Moss man, M-O-S-S!  It can also be used by someone to explain why they’ve slaved away a very dull life without doing anything to “improve” their station.  I put improve in quotes because that would be the Western/American understanding of it, to a Japanese person it might be a downgrade to do something less dull/not the same.

Spend a few minutes and ponder the ramifications of all this.  I’ve heard people say Japan has a very similar culture to America minus the big obvious things like chopsticks.  I’ve always disagreed.  I think it’s completely different in many fundamental ways.  Think about how different your life would be if your country embraced the idea “staying put is best”.  Likely, it’s a very different world.

Things like this answer the question why am I here.


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