[Viewpoint] Order is Japan’s flaw, Korea’s edge

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[Viewpoint] Order is Japan’s flaw, Korea’s edge

I have lived in Japan for more than half a year, and everything here always seems so neat and tidy compared to Korea. Convenience and coziness permeate every corner of this well-ordered society.

A soba restaurant I go to from time to time at lunch hour on Sundays is always clean. Watching an employee of the restaurant wiping down the top of the refrigerator with a wet duster from a perch on a specially manufactured scaffolding, I told my wife, “I wonder how thick the dust that has accumulated on top of the refrigerator at our house is.”

At Kinkakuji (known in English as “the Temple of the Golden Pavilion”) in Kyoto, a male in his late 50s crouches low to the ground to smooth the area between the lawn and the sidewalk, using a palette knife and flat brush with great delicacy. It flashed through my mind that this was wrong. It was a sacrilegious attempt to ruin natural beauty.

Japanese people take piles of newspapers out in front of their houses on their regular garbage collection day. I did not realize that they were piles of newspapers at first, because each heap is wrapped in a cube neatly surrounded by advertising leaflets, tightened firmly with a length of nylon cord. The newspaper cubes are the same size in front of each and every house, as if they were forced to meet some standard legal requirement. These were not piles of newspapers, but piles of housewives’ hardships.

About half a dozen elementary school children gather around the corner every morning. A housewife in her 30s holding a small flag appears at the appointed time every day and escorts them to class. No matter how important safety is, they look bored to death when they are forced to follow her in a row! I have begun to realize how unhappy they must be.

Statisticians insist that the final outcome of golf games are governed 30 percent by luck and 70 percent by skill. Golfers must practice with all their hearts all year round, as real ability is more than twice as important as luck.

However, the role that luck plays in professional golf is not so small or unimportant that it isn’t worthy of notice. Unless luck did play a role in golf, no one would want to play a round with Tiger Woods.

The real charm of golf depends on that 30 percent luck. If skill governed more than 90 percent of victory or defeat, the golfing population would suddenly fall and Woods would have to stay home.

Every corner of Japan I experienced was thoroughly governed based on ability rather than being left to luck; inevitability rather than coincidence; order rather than disorder. In a word, Japan was an uninteresting society. As the day of my departure nears, my soul grows to miss Korea’s chaos rather than Japan’s order.

All living things on earth are united in their ability to reproduce and undergo Darwinian evolution. Modern science is now searching for the origin of life on Earth from the spontaneous appearance of a self-reproducing molecule. The current hypothesis holds that random clashes between molecules in a concentrated medium we refer to as the “primordial soup” created organic self-reproducing molecules.

A spontaneous event that happened about 4 billion years ago breathed life into what was non-living. Meanwhile, Darwinian evolution is characterized by mutation and natural selection.

If mutation is the outcome of coincidence, natural selection is the result of inevitability. Therefore, humans, nature’s greatest masterpiece, came out of coincidence and inevitability. That means the role of coincidence in our lives is a legacy from time immemorial.

The role of luck and conscience in Korea is more important than in Japan. Korea’s dynamism is derived from the harnessing of coincidence. Chaos becomes a gateway for new order. We recall that the Korean War expelled the deep-rooted evils of the old social status system.

So, Korea’s young people, ride on the waves of chaos! Get out of the old groove and challenge the unknown “blue ocean.”


*The writer is a professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Seoul National U
niversity. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Hong Seung-soo

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