Tough-looking stranger has something to say about schoolboy’s studies.

It’s pretty common to see Japanese teens studying on the train, either getting a head start on their homework for the day or doing some last-minute cramming for a test they’re on their way to take. So when Hiroshi Sasaki (@popeetheclown on Twitter), a second-year high school student, had his math textbook out while riding the rails, most of the other passengers probably hardly even noticed.

The tough-looking middle-aged man sitting next to Hiroshi, though, was an exception. Looking over at the teen’s schoolwork, the rugged, world-wise stranger felt he needed to impart some additional wisdom of his own on Hiroshi. If you’re expecting it was something along the lines of “Whaddaya need that book learning for?”, though, you’re way off. Instead, the man said:

“Make sure you pay attention to the parts about trigonometric ratios, kid.”

The stranger wasn’t pedantically suggesting that Hiroshi simply study for the sake of studying, though. “I’m a carpenter, ya see, and I have to use sines and cosines every day,” he explained, then went on to show that he had an appreciation not just for mathematics, but for history as well, adding “The Egyptians even built the pyramids using trigonometry, ya know.”

▼ We have to admit we’d have paid a lot more attention in trig class if they’d called it “Pyramid Power Math” instead.

The stranger even left Hiroshi with a “Keep doing your best!” when the train got to his station and he got off. That’s not where the story ends, though, as Hiroshi recently tweeted an epilogue, saying,

“Mister, now I use sines and cosines every day too.”

Hiroshi is now all grown up, see, and working as a biologist, with his specific research goal being to “Develop new imaging tools to uncover the mysteries of our cells.” It’s an admirable and worthwhile calling, but also one so complex and esoteric that the average high schooler might not even know it exists, let alone think “I’d better study hard in trigonometry so that I can get a job in that field.”

The stranger’s sudden words of encouragement, and the meaningful impression they left on Hiroshi, has had commenters reacting with:

“They should make this story into a cram school ad.”
“I wish my teachers had told me what formulas get used in which kinds of jobs.”
“When I was working with a surveying company, I had to measure the cross section of a slope. I wish they’d told me about that kind of application back when they made me memorize the formulas in high school.”
“In school, they don’t tell you how the formulas are useful in the real world. They just say ‘This’ll be on the college entrance exams.’”
“I’ve been having video conferences in English with people from overseas. I can’t always speak smoothly, but…if you can at least remember the things they teach you in English class, you can still communicate.”

As alluded to by many commenters, the Japanese education system, especially at the pre-college level, tends to focus on packing young minds with knowledge and skimp on examples of how to practically apply it, leaving those topics for universities and trade schools to worry about. It can be hard for teens to instinctively see any point in studying things like sines and cosines, though, since they’re not useful in their daily lives right now. That in turn can make them feel frustrated and unmotivated, so there’s definitely a benefit to having those discussions sooner rather than later.

Hiroshi’s encounter with the carpenter is all the more heartwarming since, generally speaking, people in Japan don’t strike up conversations with strangers on the train. Still, the carpenter saw a chance to do something good and took it, and his words became part of the foundation for the life Hiroshi has today.

Source: Twitter/@popeetheclown via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Wikipedia/Ikiwaner
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