On May 2019, two melons from Hokkaido sold at the prices of 45,000 USD.
Yes, you heard it right. Two melons.
They were not your “regular” melons. According to Business Insider, which published the documentary on the world most expensive melons, these two are considered the “most perfect” in terms of size, sweetness and even the cracks on their skins.
The documentary went on a great length about the culture of melons in Japan. It’s a part of a “gift giving” culture – where exchanging melons is symbolic and signifies a lux life, generosity and yes “Japanese perfection”.
The farmers featured in the documentary demonstrate the growth and development of melons from its inception. Each of these “perfect melons” is grown on beds with air-conditioning and heating in order to control the temperature, they are watered on exact amount to ensure the exact result. Each tree, although can grow multiple melons, the only “perfect” one will be kept to let it grow. Each day, they will receive hand massage to ensure the absolute highest quality – not just about the taste but how it looks.
In Japan, melons are not just fruit. Growing them represents Japanese culture of hard-work, discipline and most of all the quest for perfection.
This quest says a lot about Japanese culture. Take the Omakase, where the chefs serve the “most perfect” pieces of fish that comes through the kitchen each day.
The farmers love crafting their skills, the buyers love their cash. Win-win.
“it’s part of the culture” – so they say.
Talking about growing melons reminds me so much about the stories of Japanese educational system.
Japan has long prided itself for being competitive educational system where students “perfect” their scores and rank ahead of their peers. Japanese students go through ardent educational system that compels them to memorize rote learning, excel in exams and get into prestigious university. It is believed through “this perfect route” students will succeed and be satisfied.
This culture has pushed Japan to lead economic competition with others for decades. The 1970s saw the United States published a paper, the Nation at Risk, to outline the fear that the United States’ students were falling behind the Japanese.
Despite valuing the collective, comformative and community, behind Japanese educational success is fierce competition amongst students that cause discomfort and discontent. One can go as far as argue that such mindset nurtures distress within the society.
I have had the privilege teaching Japanese students during my teaching career. One of my Japanese students, Mami Oda from Yokohoma, brought my attention to what she called “the dark side of Japanese success”.
When she talked dark, she meant, really dark.
The growing phenomenal of youth suicide.
Mami analyzed this tragedy in plain word:
Although Japanese are known for their hardworking and it is just work ethic that has helped build this prosperous country, but such focus is detriment to their health. While thinking only about contributions to companies or organizations, they are forgetting about themselves and their own achievements. Economic affluence does not necessarily lead to happiness.
On average, there were 30,000 people annually committed suicide, in other words, more than 80 people a day committed suicide in Japan. In addition, more than 3 million are bereaved families who died in suicide. Therefore, one in 40 people were bereaved families of suicide.Data has shown that suicide is the top cause of death among 15 years old to 39 years old.
Report by CNN shows similar trajectory and confirmed this analysis.
More Japanese children and teenagers killed themselves between 2016 and 2017 than in any year since 1986, according to a government report.
The latest survey shows 250 elementary and high school age children took their own lives in that year for a variety of reasons including bullying, family issues and stress, the country’s Ministry of Education said Monday, according to local media.
Of course, suicide is multi-facet, deeply personal and highly sensitive to individual and context.
This is not to generalization. But the prevailing youth distress calls us to look deeply and critically into the values our society upholds and the impacts these values have on the mental health of our young.
The world that values perfection suggests that is one type of form that fits just right. Instead of celebrating the culture of fitting in to the perfect mold, an education system can do better than that.
Education system should encourage individual students to express their thought, senses of selves and creativity. Because a healthy and sustainable society values diversity and inclusion, we need to instill these values within our students since the start of their lives.
Cartoons, books, stories, movies and parenting – all that count to make a child a whole.
There isn’t a single activity that nurtures and ensures “perfect students”.
In education – talking about any single outcome is myopic. It is a process, an experience and the growth of that individual that defines who they are and become.
I watched this documentary about the “perfect melons” as an educator who believes, values and embraces diversity in children development. Wearing that hat, I am reminded of the educational philosophy by John Dewey, the renown educator of the twentieth century on this subject.
According to Dewey, a child is like a flower that we should let them grow naturally and organically. The family, schools and society have big parts to play like water, sun and soil that nurtures them.
As a society, we have a moral obligation to help our children develop to their fullest potential in the paces they can take, in the way most comfortable to their characteristics.
It is not just taking the village to raise a child. It takes the whole forest and a healthy forest requires diverse kinds of organisms to instill within these children to respect the differences of others’ talents, interests and ideas and of course, their own, perfectly imperfection.