Monday, October 13, 2003
soul, swine, and spiritually speaking
Well, my 2nd week of work has been going much faster than I thought it would. It's already pretty much past me by, and I look forward to another weekend (2 days off). My students have been great at recommending places to visit here in Japan, so I already have some ideas in mind of where to go next... perhaps the city of Himeji is next? Hrmm.
Part of my English teaching everyday is usually a 50 minute "free talk" session that is nicknamed "VOICE". At my school, there's this nice room that has been reserved especially for Voice - couches, a lounge chair, coffee table, and a white board. Basically, the entire idea behind Voice is giving students a chance to use English in a natural and conversational manner, talking about particular topics or playing a certain game - whatever the teacher wants to do.
I find these lessons to be very educational, at least in that I always gain some insight into Japanese culture from them... my most recent Voice lesson that was interesting was this past Saturday with a student named Shuji, or as I liked to call him, Professor Shuji.
--- Who is this guy?
As his name implies, Shuji is a professor at a local Japanese university, in the department of medicine. His specialty happens to be transplant surgery and apparently he's one of the best transplant surgeons in the country. He oftens travels abroad to attend medical conferences, and hence, his interest/fluency in English comes from the need to communicate internationally. However, because of the culture of Japan, he hasn't had a lot of opportunities to practice his craft - in fact, transplant surgeries are so rare in Japan, Shuji has turned to research to keep busy.
According to Shuji, the problem with transplant surgey is a cultural phenomenon here in Japan. It's not that there's a lack of willing patients here in Japan - the reason behind having so few surgeries is that there is huge lack of organ donors. To compare on average, a city like Houston in Texas may have as many as 100 various transplant surgeries a year, while in Osaka, the average is only around 5 surgeries a year.
Apparently, the problem lies with Japanese people themselves, in Shuji's opinion - despite most Japanese people claiming to be non-religous, there is fundamental belief held in the culture by most people that their soul is connected intrinsically to their bodies. Most people believe that unless their body is cremated after death (in accordance to tradition), they run the risk of some sort of haunted/restless afterlife. People here are therefore very reluctant to donate their organs, even though Japan has a similar organ donor sign-up system that America has - people have the option to sign-up when they register official personal documentation, such as a drivers license.
Shuji and I discussed that in comparison, one of the factors in the relative frequency of organ donor sugery in the West has much to do wth the Judeo-Christian belief, that post-death, the soul and the body are separated and the body is nothing more than an empty shell. Having a belief like that makes Westerners more open to the idea of donating their organs, since in death, the body no longer has any sort of strong spiritual connection to the soul. While organs availablity in the West is by no means huge, it's overwhelming in comparison to Japan.
So since Shuji has had few opportunities to do surgeries, the majority of his time is now spent on research - transgenic research. Shuji's research right now is directed at developing transgenic pigs that can be basically used as organ farms, thus solving the lack of organs for transplants - imagine pigs that have hearts completely compatible for transplant to a human being. The idea isn't quite as far-fetched as one might think, either... Shuji mentioned that scientists already have for years successfully synthesized human insulin from genetically modified pigs and it's been used by people for years.
To think that someday the comment "you are such a pig" may be less an insult than a statement of fact is an odd thought indeed, eh?
--- don't mind me, i'm rambling
I guess my conversation with Shuji is on my mind right now because I still haven't found a church to attend here in Kobe and I find I often itch to have spiritual conversations with people. Here in Japan, it's a place where the convergence of a traditional (very spiritual) culture and Western-style hyper-consumerism is so obvious, yet also invisible. Hundreds of shrines and temples dot the landscape, yet what about the people themselves?
In a way, I guess Japan reflects America in that for your average person, spiritual beliefs have been relegated to either academic discussion or the yearly visit to the church/temple. It's not that Japanese people are completely soul-less and unspiritual (not any more than Americans, anyways), but I suppose I expected to find in a country as old as Japan, a stronger inclination toward the pursuit and practice of truth.
Then again, maybe I just have met a complete cross section of Japanese people? Afterall, most of my students at the Ashiya school are bling-bling doctors, businessmen, housewives, and young kids.
But yeah... I think in terms of relating to another human being, if you can't hold a conversation with them about the great mysteries of life (AKA spiritual things), it's a huge gap in terms of the experience of being a living, breathing person. For many of most closest friends, guys I've known since I was a kid, I think the fact that we can frankly and honestly to each other about God, faith, spiritual things, etc. allows us to enjoy a bond that we wouldn't otherwise have. Layers, I suppose... the layers of human relationships.
Did I mention the first and only time I've been to church here in Japan, most of the congregation were women, children, and a handful of foreigners? My homie Mel was right and I didn't believe him...
On a related note: the NY Times has an interesting article here about the decline of Christianity in Europe. Interesting stuff.
Oddly enough, I agree... religion is a bit outmoded, at least religion where people file into a building once a week and separate what they do from what they believe. But the spiritual nature of man... that will always be relevant. I don't any amount of intellectual debate can dismiss the fact that human beings have as an intrinsic part of them a sense that there is something other then this world out there and we want badly to connect to it. History shows that.
Hrmm... the spiritual versus the spare-ritual.
On a less serious note, Ahhhhhnold is now governor. That means the movie Predator now can claim it has boosted the careers of two politicians, hahaha. Ah yes... Arnold is gov'nor.
God definitely has a sense of humor.
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