“Sadame” and the Pursuit of Meaning

I first learned of the concept of sadame this past summer while sitting in on a modern literature class at a Japanese high school.

During my few weeks there, the students were reading a short story called “Sangetsuki” (山月記). Set in ancient China, the story brimmed with archaic language and kanji decidedly out of my league. Even so, I came home and doggedly parsed the text, with the occasional input of my host family, in hopes of being able to follow along in class.

Months later, one line from the story still lingers in my mind:

「理由もわからずに押し付けられた物をおとなしく受け取って、理由もわからずに生きてゆくのが、我々生き物のさだめだ。」

A possible (rough) translation: “Obediently accepting that which has been forced upon us and continuing to live, without even understanding why, is our sadame as living beings.”

What is sadame?

It’s this kind of concept that describes how all people are resigned to a certain destiny decided before birth. In the western world, we’re familiar with the trope of fate deciding the course of characters’ lives, like the star-crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet. But what struck me about the use of fate in this story was that it described not the content of our lives, but the mere state of existence.

Here, some context is needed.

The protagonist of “Sangetsuki” is a prideful former poet who undergoes a man-to-tiger transformation. In the aforementioned quote, he speaks to his old companion and laments the reality that he is no longer human, and that he has no choice but to accept it. He must live as a beast.

When I asked my host mother about the meaning of sadame, she responded that we are not born into this world because we want to be; we do not have a choice.

It required almost a different frame of mind for me to consider life as a burden and not the immense privilege we are taught to worship. But the more I think thought about this view, the more it made sense to me.

We continue living for lack of a feasible alternative and because we have never known anything else. When our basic needs for survival have been met, we have the luxury of trying to comprehend our own existence. The thought that there might not be any reason is so paralyzing that we adopt comprehensive belief systems and philosophies and chase after abstract goals to fill the void.

“I want to be happy.”

For me, this had long served as an adequate enough motivation to live and to keep advancing towards the next phase.  But now as a senior in high school contemplating what it is that I want in the future, I realize that “happiness” is not substantive enough. It can’t be the end goal.

Happiness is nothing but a transient state of mind, an emotion that is both constantly within my grasp and constantly slipping through my fingers like sand.

Life is not the search for happiness; it is the pursuit of meaning.

Unlike tigers prowling the forest in solitude, us humans have the option—the responsibility—to exist for something more.


Please excuse the cheesiness. This post was written almost a full year ago and banished to Draft Land for further revisions.

Things that have changed:

  • I have graduated high school!

Finally. She will not be missed—at least, not for some time.

  • I am (hopefully!) taking a gap year to study in South Korea through NSLI-Y, corona permitting

It should come as no surprise that this is the catalyst behind the sudden revival of this blog (commitment issues acknowledged). I am cautiously looking forward to returning to Korea, but the current situation is understandably hard to work with, and I can’t say with certainty that my cohort will be able to leave in September as planned—or at all, for that matter. I’d like to explain more about this is in a future post, but right now I’m just hoping for the best 🙂

  • Writing is a bit awkward these days

The reason behind this is more or less a bizarre number of college app essays, which sounded less and less like me as time went on. Writing began to feel stressful, forced, and not at all like the enjoyable hobby it always has been for me.

I haven’t wanted to write in a while, but hopefully casual entries like this with no real purpose or audience will at least help me to start getting words out of my head and onto a page.

Things that have not changed:

  • I have yet to figure out the meaning or purpose of my life

No surprise there. I don’t really think was ever a priority—even as I was writing this essay.

But I must say, those were some big words for a confused high school senior hard-pressed to decide on a major, let alone the purpose of her life. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether the work I pursue in the future really needs to align perfectly with my passions, and…I still have no clue.

  • I still do love writing

And talking about languages! In the interest of ending this on a more positive note, I wanted to clarify that, though writing is more difficult these days, I still enjoy it and intend to keep updating this blog—despite the huge gaps in between posts that might suggest otherwise.


To anyone who’s taken the time to read through all of this rambling, I appreciate you a lot 🙂

I hope to be back with more interesting posts in the near future!

Photo by Benjamin Child on Unsplash

Lost in Kawagoe

Kawagoe

I find myself back on this blog whenever I’m looking to procrastinate other writing (read: I am drowning in college application essays). There are so many unfinished posts that haven’t made their way to this blog yet, but they will hopefully begin to surface after first semester ends and I have a bit more free time.

This is a draft I wrote a week or two after returning from a study abroad program in Japan that I had the opportunity to pilot this past summer. I was feeling nostalgic, so I hope you’ll excuse the slightly melodramatic tone 🙂  Continue reading

Goals for My Time in Korea

TEN DAYS LEFT!

Ahem.

Our implementing organization, iEARN, emailed us all a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Relevant, Time-bound) goal setting worksheet to complete by Pre-departure Orientation. They had us list out a language learning goal, a goal for building cultural understanding, and how exactly we plan to achieve these goals. They weren’t exactly all that interesting (viewable through this link), but they got me thinking about what my personal goals are for the six weeks I’ll be spending in Korea. Continue reading

Pre-departure Thoughts + RDs + OPI

18 days left!

The moment we entered June, I began freaking out. I can’t believe it’s so close. I swear it was just a few days ago that we were counting down from sixty days in our group chat…

Needless to say, I’m the most excited I’ve ever been in my life. But it’d be a lie if I said that I’m not nervous. I’ve never been away from home so long, and I have a pretty justified fear of getting lost. It’s so much worse than whatever you’re thinking. I get lost within buildings. Within hallways…that I’ve been in before…

And the thought of navigating my way in a foreign country where I need to coherently articulate myself in Korean if I end up getting lost is just a tad bit overwhelming.

But hey! There’s so much more to look forward to, and even I can’t get lost every day.

I think.

It also occurred to me that there’s a lot I meant to write about in this past month. To any prospective NSLI-Y students, know that the months after you’re accepted leading up to your departure are filled up with preparation.

There’s video conferences where you meet your residence directors, your oral proficiency interview (if you have prior knowledge of the language), A LOT OF FORMS TO FILL OUT, pre-program language preparation, thinking about what gifts to bring your host family (which I’ve kind of done), and thinking about what to pack in general (which I haven’t done at all).

So this isn’t actually all that much. It’s just that balancing all of this with the last few weeks of school (A.K.A last-minute finals cramming) can make you feel a bit stressed out. But now that school’s finally out, everything’s so much easier to deal with it. I don’t know how the kids getting out a few days before departure are staying sane.

So, I want to go more in depth about some of what I’ve mentioned above, but it’s not super exciting. Read on if you’re curious, but you won’t hurt my feelings if you couldn’t care less. Continue reading