“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

Three Months Later

Just over three months have passed since I left the beautiful city of Seoul, and a considerably hectic schedule has defeated my earnest attempts at posting consistently on this blog. I’m currently in the midst of applying to be an alumni representative (!) for the Dallas area, and I was revisiting some of my posts for some essay inspiration.

Just in case any applicants out there waiting for their semi-finalist notifications are binging blogs like I did last year, I thought I’d write a quick update on what I’ve been up to since NSLI-Y. Continue reading

NSLI-Y Application Tips

I’ve been back in America for about two weeks now! I have so much to write about and share, but as application season has just begun, I wanted to give whatever advice I can to this year’s applicants.

It’s strange to think that I’ll have the opportunity to write a blog similar to the ones I pored over for hours on end while waiting for my notification. I don’t plan on going too much into depth on the application process, as several others have done a great job covering the topic already, but I’ll definitely provide any tips I can think of 🙂 Continue reading

A Quick Update

It’s been a busy week with barely enough time to sleep let alone blog. There’s a dull ache in my head after several days of insufficient sleep.

This week of classes has been considerably more intense than the last in terms of homework. The workload isn’t nearly as bad as it is during the school year. It’s just that by the time I get home after activities like supporter meetings, weekly meetings, and 장구 (traditional drums) classes, I eat dinner with my host family and want to spend more time with them before starting homework. Or, I ride the wrong train, get spotted by some friends off to explore Myeongdong, and decide to tag along. My plans these days are spontaneous, but going along with things always seems to work out.

This schedule can be physically and mentally exhausting (sometimes as a result of my own choices). And yet, I don’t feel annoyed at all by waking up early, sleeping late, or doing loads of homework. Unlike school, everything I’m learning now is genuinely enjoyable and interesting to me. And for all the studying I do, I go out and have fun just as much.

For someone as introverted as myself, being around people almost 24/7 should be uncomfortable. But I’ve found that it doesn’t bother me, and I’ve had the chance to meet so many interesting individuals from all different backgrounds.

I’m in a pretty good place this week.

Hoping to catch up with other things I’ve been meaning to post this weekend!

Evening at the Han River

It’s Friday!

After class ended, we had our first cultural club meetings. I was put in the music class, in which we learn how to play a traditional Korean drum called 장구. My first choice was cooking, but the drums now seem equally as fun! There’s a lot more technique that goes into playing this drum than you would expect (or maybe that’s just me). There’s a certain place on the drum you have strike, a certain way to hold the sticks, and a certain way to keep the drum in place with your feet. By the end of today’s lesson, we were physically exhausted, and I had an acute aching sensation on my left pinky from the way we had to hold the stick.

But we still had enough energy to go explore more of Seoul. A group including myself and three other awesome NSLI-Yians spontaneously decided to go Yeouido to see the Han River. Continue reading