Is it so bad to be useful?


Is it so bad to be useful?

Notes from the Obstacle Course
Dr. Michael Peckitt

There is a scene in Bernardo Bertolucci’s film ‘The Last Emperor’ that has always resonated with me and even more so since moving to Japan. The Emperor, P’u Yi, now in Fushun prison, bemoans his lot in life; he is no longer in power and is now under house arrest. He protests to his captor, ‘ You saved me because I was useful to you’.. The Prison Governor responds: ‘Is it so terrible? To be useful?’

It’s a scene I often think about since moving to Japan three years ago. In Britain, where I hail from, I was never useful. I never had a full time job, as generally speaking, people with a disability are rarely employed, but there is something worse than not being employed, and that is that is to have nothing be expected of you, which I why I never forget a University colleague working at Japanese university, a week after I arrived and appeared at the office, finding me there saying: ‘ Good. You’re here. We need your help with English.’

For some expats in Japan, especially those who work at eikawa, I may have just outlined their worst nightmare, you are here because you are useful as a resource to improve our English, and nothing more, is what they hear. They, apparently see the fact that they have to teach English as some kind of hardship. I hear something different, I hear the following: you are able to improve our English. Can you help us out?

Of course, everyone complains about their job a little, I understand that, and there instances of foreigners being treated unfairly, if not illegally by their employer, and such instances of abuse obviously should not happen. Yet I think if you looked through the social history of ‘being employed’, you will find many instances of workers who complain about their employer, and maybe in a capitalist society, that is the way of things.

And yes, I can quite agree that some of the business of being an English teacher in Japan is not pleasant. It can be exhausting, you have to work long hours, doing things you do not want to do, and nobody likes that. On social media, I often complain about how my disability adversely affects my life, to let off steam. But I’m sorry I have a limited amount of time for people who complain about work. Too many people do not have work, and for a long time I was one of them. However, I have to point out one thing. This is not a hard life, sometimes you may have to entertain guests to entice more students. Is that really so bad? Maybe it’s that you have to dance with youngsters, maybe explain Halloween or Christmas to them, is that so bad, because I quite enjoy it.

I like being useful.


Dr. Michael Gillan Peckitt is an academic who lives in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, Japan. He runs the Japan and disability related website ‘The Limping Philosopher’ (https://thelimpingphilosopher.wordpress.com) and you can find him on Twitter @Peckitt.

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