SMAC! Web Magazine

LOST (and FOUND) in TRANSLATION #007 – “ROUNINSEI”

Today’s word: 浪人生 (pronounced rou-nin-sei)

If you’ve watched any samurai movies, you might already be familiar with “ronin”, the masterless samurai. According to Bushido (Way of the Warrior), samurai who lost their masters were supposed to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). However, I imagine that not everyone found this an attractive option! Some lived on as ronin. Having lost their proper place in society, they were cut adrift, and wandered the land as vagrants…

Fast-forward to present day Japan, where the word has taken a more modern form: the rouninsei (ronin student). For a student in the Japanese school system, the most difficult year by far is the 3rd year of high school, when they have to take their university entrance exams. University entrance exams in Japan are a pretty serious business, since the name of the university you go to can heavily influence your future career. Students who fail to get into their 1st choice of university can settle for their 2nd choice. If they fail both, or if they won’t settle for 2nd best… then they become ronin students, doomed to wait a year and try the entrance exams again. And like the masterless samurai before them, for the first time since they were born, they are cut off from their natural place in society… socially adrift…

LFT_007 rouninsei

Most rouninsei will commute to cram schools. One of my favorite manga, Chobits, features a rouninsei protagonist, who lives in Tokyo, attends a cram school and works part time at an izakaya (a Japanese style bar). Rouninsei who come from poorer families often don’t have the money for extra lessons, and simply study at home. They have it particularly hard and their chances of passing on round 2 are very low…

On a lighter note: during the 80s and 90s, it became more common for children to spend at least one year as a rouninsei. Co-incidentally, this is also the period when the Shonen Jump magazine had the highest sales! It seems clear to me that everyone was too busy reading manga to study!

 

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Penmaru