For a series about a group of editors putting together a dictionary, the pace in The Great Passage is surprisingly fast.
[This article contains spoilers for episode 8 of The Great Passage.]
A considerable amount of time has passed since episode seven.
Nishioka has long since been transferred to the PR department, and Araki has retired from the company, with a limited role as a part-timer. It seems like it was just yesterday that Majime was asking Nishioka for dating advice, and attempting to woo the woman of his dreams with an overly-complex love letter, but it is revealed that now they are already married. On top of that, we see that Kaguya persevered with her career and succeeded at becoming the head chef at her restaurant.
The focus now lands on the fact that Majime now has an apprentice. Enter Midori Kishibe, a young office worker originally assigned to work on a fashion magazine.
From the get-go, she seems not to be terribly excited about her new position working on “The Great Passage” dictionary. She appears a little appalled at the working conditions in the old, dingy room where the editing work goes on. And she is not too impressed by her first assignment, which is simply to organize documents on shelves.
Later on, after her welcome gathering, she explains to Majime her lack of motivation with the help of a few drinks. She believes she was transferred because she was seen as a nuisance at her previous post, after snapping back at her editors every time there was a problem with one of her articles, often developing into heated arguments. However, Majime tells her that yes, there were quarrels, but she was transferred to work on the dictionary because of her sensibility with words–in fact, Majime suggests that those arguments were probably only so impassioned because of how much importance Kishibe puts on words. Unconvinced and embarrassed for her outburst, Kishibe runs out abruptly.
Nishioka later finds her sitting in a small park area in the street. After listening to her grievances for a little while, he asks her, “How would you define ‘right’?” Of course, this is the same test that Araki gave to Majime to see if he was up to the task of being an editor on the dictionary. It showed how he was willing to think outside the box.
After a couple of self-corrected attempts, Kishibe answers in exactly the same way Majime did, such a long time ago: “When one’s body faces north, ‘right’ is the side that faces east!” Nishioka is, of course, relieved, and reassures her that she will be fine working on the dictionary.
There are two very important things happening here. One is obviously that Kishibe is presented as being a lot like Majime. However, they are not identical. Their age gap means that they are not communicating on the same level, due to the customs of hierarchical relationships–typical in Japanese society, and highly important in corporate culture. Thus, the relationship that Majime had with Nishioka, where they learned from each other–though rough and conflicted at first–ended up being very natural due to them both being in their late 20s when they started working together. In the end, as we found out, they became a reciprocal team, mutually dependent on each other’s skills and knowledge, expanding them in the process, so that their partnership became bigger than the sum of its parts.
The generational divide that undeniably exists, then, between the now older Majime and the relatively-inexperienced Kishibe points to a different dynamic at play. Majime and Kishibe have a similar affinity for words. But since they are separated by a significant factor of time, they are seeing the world from different perspectives. Conversely, Nishioka and Majime approached the world with different attitudes. There is still a lot that Majime and Kishibe can learn from each other, as before, but in a totally different way than the Majime-Nishioka grouping.
One such example comes near the end of the episode, as Kishibe is getting over her slump and being more proactive in her work. She tells Majime that many of the entries for the fashion-related words in the dictionary are out of date and need to be updated with the latest nuances. Majime, of course, knows very little about this, nor does he regularly converse with anyone who would be well-versed in it. That is where Kishibe can contribute—by being almost the modern version of Majime, for the new era.
Words change as culture, trends, and society itself changes, and at what seems to be an increasingly fast pace. Majime needs an apprentice that can apply his tried and tested logic to the new and complex world he may not be able to keep up with anymore.
The second thing we learn about the scene with Nishioka and Kishibe is that Nishioka has learned a lot from Araki about how to judge people. Compare the scene where Nishioka tests Kishibe with the scene where Araki tests Majime at the start of the series. At first, Nishioka could not understand what Araki saw in Majime. He was just weird to him. But Nishioka learned not only that Majime’s answer to Araki’s question was important, he also learned that Araki himself was very smart in asking that question—it showed a skill in revealing people’s inner thoughts and personalities. He has clearly learned well and appropriated all the tricks of his former boss. Again, this is another example of applying tried and tested skill of a previous generation to a new situation.
The Great Passage teaches us that though some may leave and move on, but they leave us with knowledge and wisdom, which we use to build upon to construct our future society. This may be especially respected in Japanese society with its sempai/kouhai and sensei/seito hierarchies, but at the end of the day, generational change is a universal truth of human life. It is everyone’s responsibility to always respect and remember the lessons of the past.
The Great Passage is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.