On Being God in Japan

godThat’s right, I know.

The title of this post “On being God” in Japan, is likely to be misunderstood and some people would miss the point entirely. So I’m going to explain a bit. I’m not going to talk about religion in any real sense, but in a more practical sense.

God as creator is a very old concept, but the idea of creator also implies the idea of an unmaker – that a creator knows its creation so well that anything that the creation thinks about itself can be quickly stripped away from the creation by the creator. Thus, the thing can be brought back to its real state. This is often very humbling.

It’s like if an orange decided that it was instead an apple. I would easily be able to explain to the orange that it isn’t an apple, because it is a citrus fruit and contains large amounts of citric acid. By this standard, it cannot be an apple, despite what it believes about itself. Or, if a person decided that instead, he was an apple. An apple doesn’t have the faculties to decide whether it is or is not an apple, thus the person cannot be an apple at all.

In Japan, I have that power. I wield it with an irrefutable authority. My job is to walk around and play God with people’s English ability.

In January there is going to be an English speech contest in my town, where many of my students will compete for judges to tell them that they’re good at English, despite none of them being particularly good in the scheme of all non-native English junior high students.

I expected to do some very basic work correcting their very scripted speeches, but I never expected the teachers to get involved.

Almost unanimously, the teachers edited and changed the scripts to be “funny.” Unsurprisingly, Japanese humor does not translate well to English, especially when the translation is poor. Teachers who quite often flexed their English ability “muscle” were soon shown to be rather fraudulent.

Reading through the scripts, there were several places where I stopped, reread the entire paper and still have no idea what the sentence was trying to say. When I asked questions concerning my proofreading to the teachers, I could see their eyes get wide and a little tremble came into their voice.

“I’m not sure what this sentence is trying to say here. Is the student trying to give a hint?”

“Oh! Yes! Yes!”

I’m not sure if they were telling me the truth, because I could ask any question, like “Do you think the student likes to eat roast beef?” and get the same response.

It was interesting to watch the process of unmaking. The penetration of a layer that had hitherto been left quite alone. It’s especially obvious in Japan, where making other people look bad is about as taboo as screaming profanities in a quiet movie theater.

Even the conversation around the topic of proofreading was quite reverent. Corrections were avoided and if I had rewritten the entire script to sound like a copy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, they would have had no objections.

It was interesting to watch someone be laid bare in just aspect of their life. They and I were both aware of their inadequacies despite 8+ years of English education.

What I found even stranger is that we don’t treat deities this way whatsoever. I’d reckon that few people are terrified of the process of being unmade in the presence of a god. Even Christians seem to shy away from this idea, despite it being featured fairly prominently in Christian theology, (see Isaiah’s meeting with God).

Sometimes you learn something by having the role of god thrust upon you.



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