Teaching in Japan

So, we are getting into the late middle of the Fall semester here in North America. If you are finding the whole teaching thing is getting you down, here is something  from Sugawara No Michizane, who eventually became the Japanese God of Literature, which is sort of like making tenure only even better. As a mortal, however, he had to teach, and he sometimes found it trying.1

Professorial Difficulties
We are not a family of generals.
As Confucian scholars we earn our living.
My revered grandfather held the third rank.
My compassionate father served as a high court noble.
Well they knew the power of learning
And wished to pass it on for their descendants’ glory.
The day I was promoted to graduate student,
I determined to follow the ways of my ancestors.
The year I became a professor,
Happily, the lecture hall was rebuilt.
When everyone rushed to be first to congratulate me,
My father alone expressed concern.
Over what did he express concern?
“Alas that you are an only child,” he said;
“The office of professor is not mean,
The salary of a professor is not small.
Once I too held this post
And lived in fear of people’s criticism.”
Having heard this kind admonition,
I proceeded uneasily as if treading on ice.
In the fourth year of Gangyo [ 880], the Council of State ordered that I begin my lectures.
But after teaching only three days,
Slanderous voices reached my ears.
When preparing recommendations for graduate study,
It was perfectly clear who did or did not deserve to advance.
But the first student to be failed for lack of ability
Denounced me and begged for an undeserved grade.
I have not failed as a teacher;
My recommendations were made fairly!
How true was my father’s advice
When he warned me before all this occurred.

Obviously this has little to do with modern teachers, but I pass it along any way. He was also bothered  by the antics of his more unruly pupils. In particular, teaching seems to have interfered with his scholarship.

A brush is an implement for writing, and a scraper a tool for
scratching out mistakes. But some of that flock of crows who descend on me, apparently unaware of the proper use for such implements, pick up the scraper and immediately start hacking at the desks, or fiddle with the brush until they’ve spattered and soiled my books. On top of this, in scholarship the most important thing is to gather data, and to gather data one has first of all to take notes. But since I am not a person of very proper or methodical nature, I often find I have to lay down my brush in the midst of my researches, and at such times I leave a lot of little slips of paper lying about with
notes on them concerning the data I have collected. At such times people come wandering into my library without permission; though what they’re thinking about I can’t imagine, the clever ones, when they spy my notes, fold them up and stuff them into the breast of their robe, and the stupid ones pick them up, tear them in two, and throw them away! Occurrences like this distress me intensely, …
I am particularly ashamed to think that I have been unable to
establish the kind of unofficial academy that would attract real men of worth, but instead am reduced to laying down regulations to keep uninvited intruders out of my library. Such remarks are intended only for those who do not really understand me, though those who do understand me number only about three. I hope in spreading a small net to keep  out swallows and sparrows I won’t be driving any
phoenixes away.

I find the final bit, where he is lamenting the fact that his silly rules to keep students out of his library is making it harder for him to teach other students, particularly poignant.

PS. I am just posting this because I find it interesting and generally applicable. There is nothing going on in my life that makes this particularly relevant.


  1. from Borgen, Robert. Sugawara No Michizane and the Early Heian Court. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.  

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